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The top 10 soft skills for successful accountants

September 14th, 2022 by Ignition Team 7 minute read

What skills do you need to become a successful accountant?

If you answered ‘accounting skills’ or ‘solid mathematics skills’ you would only be half right.

While it’s true that knowledge of accounting principles is essential, succeeding in our line of work takes more than formal education and technical knowledge. To build a thriving business, you must also develop a number of soft skills that would enable you to better serve your clients.

This is exactly what you'll discover in this post. We’ve compiled a list of 10 essential soft skills for accountants to help you provide more value to clients.

Let’s check them out!

1. Accounting communication skills

Never underestimate the importance of communication skills in accounting. Remember that as a financial expert, you rely on the ability to effectively convey critical information to your clients. This includes educating them on tax laws, recapping the performance of their business, and informing them about their financial obligations.

In many cases, the information you present involves a lot of facts and figures that can go over people’s heads if they don’t have a financial background. To that end, you must be able to communicate complex information in a way that’s interesting and relatable to your clients.

When you have strong accounting communication skills, your clients will be able to easily understand important information, which in turn will help them stay on top of their books.

2. Relationship-building skills

The importance of building client relationships cannot be overstated. As a service-based business, your ability to connect with clients over the long term has a direct impact on your success.

For this reason, accountants must hone their relationship-building skills.

The first step to doing that is to get to know your clients better. Gather more information about each individual and their business, and build client profiles that let you track their history.

Also, bear in mind that relationship building isn’t a one-time only activity; it’s something you do over the long term. To that end, keep your client profiles updated and make a point of checking in regularly to ensure each client has their specific needs covered.

3. Time management skills

Time is of the essence when you’re running an accounting firm. There are a lot of important dates to track, including tax filing schedules, license renewal periods, and document submission deadlines. You may also need to juggle multiple clients and tasks, so it’s a must that you budget your time and ensure that everything gets done.

Staying on top of all these tasks requires strong time management skills. Be mindful of the time you have and your daily or weekly capacity, and then structure your days in such a way that you’re able to meet all your deadlines and obligations.

To make time management easier, you can leverage time-tracking apps and client engagement software such as Ignition, which streamlines tasks like sending proposals and billing customers.

To speed up your engagement process you can take advantage of Ignition’s proposal and engagement letter templates, created by leading industry experts.

4. Customer service skills

Prioritizing customer service is critical for any accounting business. Ensuring your approach to this is client-centric will help make client retention efforts more seamless and can strengthen your new and existing client relationships.

So, how exactly do you serve clients better?

Industry data suggests that serving as a strategic advisor or consultant to your clients greatly increases your value to them.

Research by CPA.com found that accounting companies may increase their revenue by up to 50% by offering strategic advisory services. According to the survey, businesses that purchase advisory services from their accountants spend around 43% more per month, compared to companies that don’t buy these services.

CPA.com's survey also found that businesses are willing to pay accountants more for helping them address challenges such as planning for growth and improving cash flow.

Keep these insights in mind when serving your clients. Carefully consider positioning your firm as an advisor or service provider so you can help them run and grow their businesses. Rebecca Mihalic, Ignition’s Head of Accounting and also a practice owner, does most of her client engagements at tax planning time, and finds this is an ideal time to also focus on growth.

“This is when we discuss with clients what’s going on in their business. They may need more help freeing up cash flow or even securing funding for an acquisition. Having that conversation tied to an existing project is more natural than cold calling a client and trying to sell them something,” she says.

5. Analytical skills

As an accountant, you’ll be doing a lot of analyses. You may need to pour over financial documents to determine how to optimize cash flow for a client. In some instances, you’ll need to analyze metrics such as sales, margins, and expenses to be able to propose measures that can make your clients more profitable.

All of these things require strong analytical skills. You need to look beyond the surface of basic reports to spot trends and surface useful insights.

6. Organizational skills

Successful accountants are highly organized. Having solid organizational skills will enable you to do your best work and establish a higher level of trust and professionalism with your clients.

As such, you must hone your organizational skills and develop the ability to track the many moving parts of your business (and your clients’ businesses). Part of doing this lies in creating systems for tracking and organizing information. Adopt a digital filing system that keeps your documents organized and consider using a client management platform that keeps all of your customer details in check.

In doing so, you can make sure that files and documents are always in the right place, and you can quickly and easily retrieve the right information when the need arises.

7. Tech skills

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, said it best when she wrote in the Journal of Accountancy that "advanced tech is no longer optional" for accounting firms.

Financial services are increasingly becoming more digitized, with major initiatives such as Making Tax Digital in the UK, and the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping businesses globally. Tasks such as filing taxes, renewing business licenses, and paying fees or penalties can now be done online.

As an accountant serving businesses today, keeping up with these developments is essential. Being set in your ways and insisting on paper-based processes will not serve you well.

So, strive to develop your tech skills. Learn the fundamentals of accounting and tax software and keep yourself up to date with the digital initiatives of states and government agencies.

8. Creative problem-solving

Creativity in the realm of accounting has little to do with being artistic. Rather, it’s all about being creative with your problem-solving and business strategies.

When meeting the needs of your clients for example, you’ll sometimes need to think outside the box. Let’s say one of your clients wants to lower their tax bill every year. In this scenario, you can work with them to find creative ways to legally deduct certain business expenses.

Creativity will also help you grow your accounting practice. With the landscape being more competitive than ever, you need to implement unique marketing or advertising strategies to set yourself apart – and that requires imagination and clever vision.

9. Attention to detail

There’s no room for guesswork when you’re preparing your clients’ taxes or performing bookkeeping services such as categorizing expenses. These things must be done to letter; otherwise, you risk serious consequences. For example, overstating business expenses can trigger an audit, which is a major pain to deal with.

As such, you must develop a keen eye for detail. When going over your client’s tax forms for instance, you need to be able to effectively review it line by line to make sure all figures are correct.

Being detail-oriented allows you to guarantee the accuracy of your work, thus ensuring that your clients stay compliant with business and tax regulations.

10. Love of learning

The financial industry doesn’t stay stagnant. Laws are constantly evolving, plus there are always fresh tools and solutions that enter the market.

CPAs are also required to go through ongoing training and improvement activities. In the United States, there’s Continuing Professional Education (CPE), and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in Australia, Canada and the UK. Both activities are designed to help accountants maintain and develop their industry competencies.

All this to say that learning and education are constant in the accounting profession. Being appreciative of the learning process will serve you well in this regard. If you love learning new things, you’ll find it easier to keep up with the latest developments in your field. Not to mention, regularly acquiring new knowledge and skills will allow you to stay relevant with the times.

Ignition now offers a free on-demand Certification Program which is eligible for four hours of verifiable CPD in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, and two hours of verifiable CPE in the United States.

Over to you

Being good with numbers and having knowledge of accounting principles will only get you so far. If you want to stand out in your market, serve clients better, and ultimately run a thriving accounting firm, you also need to hone the soft skills discussed above.

Set yourself up for success with the right tools. Ignition makes it easy to be organized and detail-oriented, so you can focus more on relationship-building with your clients. Watch a demo of Ignition today and see why thousands of accountants use our client and engagement platform to help run their firms.
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