While accounting studies and ongoing professional development may ensure accountants are technically competent, those who wish to become advisers must look beyond the textbooks.
Lily Viertmann FCPA, chief finance officer, chief risk officer and general manager of finance of the risk and planning division at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), says that technical skills alone are insufficient to make the grade as an adviser.
“Technical people have a tendency to quote accounting standards and rules, instead of speaking a language the business can understand. You need to develop good interpersonal skills. Understand what’s keeping stakeholders awake at night.”
The art of the sale
CPAs need to demonstrate that finance is an essential part of the organisational decision-making process and position themselves as consultants.
The founder of business consultancy Synthesis Group, William Pegg, says that accountants need to master the art of persuasion.
“You need to be able to elegantly ‘sell’ your solution, encouraging stakeholders to work with you. The message needs to be less focused on your technical skills and more about how it will directly contribute to their objectives.”
A critical part of being a trustworthy adviser is the ability to generate real insights from data. Often, this analysis is missing.
Corporate educator Alan Cameron-Sweeney suggests using automation to enhance the value of reports and save time.
“Automate your data with business intelligence systems to free up your time. You need to report on the numbers that matter, so start having conversations about the metrics that drive growth in the business,” he says.
Those who can offer insightful commentary will become highly valued team members.
“Simply reporting that salaries are behind budget, for example, doesn’t cut it. You need to explain why. Perhaps machines kept breaking down and so fewer staff were required. A more insightful piece of advice may be: we need to look at replacing our machines, as they are not cost-effective.”
The ability to persuade is also vital, says Cameron-Sweeney. “It’s one thing to give a presentation; giving one that persuades requires a different skillset. You need to be aware of what people want and need.”
Partnering skills are also important. “You need to know how to manage up and across. You also need to be able to give effective feedback on ideas in a way that moves things forward and is not confrontational,” he adds.
Start the conversation
Moving from accountant to adviser is a process that takes time and planning.
“Being an adviser doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey and not a right,” Viertmann says.
“Be open about changing how you work, and emphasise that it is to help stakeholders. Change takes time, especially with big teams. At this point, there’s an opportunity for the CFO to demonstrate the benefits of finance becoming more integrated with other teams.”
Moving from service provider to trustworthy adviser requires being integrated with the wider business. Focus on adding value to the business and take the initiative in broadening your skillset. Making the transition can be challenging, but it is a rewarding end result.
Learn more about the future of accounting at CPA Congress 2019. For event dates and details, visit: https://www.cpaaustralia.com.au/training-and-events/cpa-congress