Guest comment by Adam Zoucha
A lot of accountants are not okay. According to recent research, they lack fulfilment and confidence, and crave transformation in their organisations. Three out of five would give their on-the-job fulfilment a C-grade or lower.
Four in 10 aren’t fully confident in the work they do. And only a third believe their leadership views them as valuable strategic partners. In short, the mood music coming out of the profession is worryingly downbeat – and business leaders should be taking note.
At the same time, the much-reported shortage of skilled accountants is becoming increasingly visible in financial statements. In other words, the brain drain in accounting cannot be dismissed as a blip or merely a case of negative perception.
It’s real and it’s damaging the quality of reporting, even in major businesses. As the availability of talent continues to dwindle, accountants’ low job satisfaction will worsen – unless finance leaders can make material changes that enable them to deliver their best work.
To explore how businesses can improve the situation in their accounting function, we first need to unpack exactly what accountants are crying out for. Only then can effective change be made.
These insights were drawn from research which surveyed 284 accountants in May 2023. The majority (66%) were CPAs and 77% had worked as auditors at some point. While respondents represented many job titles, the two most prevalent were simply Accounting Manager (34%) and Accountant (15%), and the average number of accountants on respondents’ teams was 14.
They’re crying out for their businesses to invest in redesigning the way things are done, not just apply new slogans. Good intentions alone don’t bring change
Most importantly, 70% of accountants believe their company is in strong need of serious change. Their opinions on their working environment and the challenges and opportunities they face all point to a need to overhaul their organisations, in such a way as to better harness the potential of accounting and finance teams.
They want to be enabled to provide faster, more accurate insights and so contribute to better strategy and improved business performance in an often challenging market.
The key word here is ‘transformation’. Accountants are getting the job done, but they know that there’s a better way to do it. They’re crying out for their businesses to invest in redesigning the way things are done, not just apply new slogans. Good intentions alone don’t bring change.
Our research underlined the need for such change by highlighting the reciprocal relationship between accountants’ sense of fulfilment and confidence in the work they’re doing. Given the nature of work in accounting, confidence in the work is critical.
Mistakes, omissions, and other issues can have serious consequences. Indeed, understaffed teams can be seen in the quality of year-end reports. On the other hand, if accountants don’t just feel they’re ‘making the best of it’ but are actually confident in their work, they’re much more likely to be fulfilled.
Likewise, accountants who are more fulfilled are more likely to get the work done and feel confident about it. In short, prioritising financial transformation is key not just for business success but for accountants’ professional wellbeing.
As one accountant with over 20 years’ experience said: ‘I would like to see more effective processes and less manual tasks. We need to update all processes so that it’s not so time- consuming. We shouldn’t be working holidays and weekends to get things done.’
New technology is opening up time, resource and insight that together enable accountants to deliver far more than an accurate picture of what’s already happened; instead, they can derive predictive recommendations on the best actions to take going forward
Second, accountants are crying out for the chance to do more than count the beans, as important as that is. New technology is opening up time, resource and insight that together enable accountants to deliver far more than an accurate picture of what’s already happened; instead, they can derive predictive recommendations on the best actions to take going forward.
This is a key desire for many accountants – they want to be part of strategic project teams, to feed into frontline business operations, and ultimately to put their expertise to work for the company.
Clearly, this is a win-win situation; harnessing the financial know-how of the accounting team to feed into strategic decision-making can enable the C-suite and team leaders to make more accurate calls about the financial needs and opportunities facing the business.
Finally, accountants are asking to be taken seriously at C-suite level. Many have to struggle against a perception that they are too far removed from frontline operations to meaningfully contribute to operational strategy, but there is a clear case for involving accounting expertise in the decision-making process.
Given accountants’ unparalleled understanding of the financial standing and outlook of the business, their input is crucial for a thriving business, particularly in the current unstable economic climate.
Again, the benefit here is twofold; not only is there an obvious business benefit to their presence at the top table, but there will also be an uptick in accountants’ sense of fulfilment and involvement in the life of the business if they’re more deeply involved in strategic discussions.
Currently, 67% of accountants would like to be a catalyst for change in their organisation, but only 26% feel that the organisation’s leadership sees them as such a catalyst. This perception has to change, for the sake of staff and the overall business.
To address this wish list, businesses need to embrace innovation, fix broken processes, reduce manual grunt work, and alleviate stress points. Implementing tools that encourage greater cross-team collaboration, transparency, and productivity is a key way to do this.
For example, professionals who have a ‘synergistic’ relationship with their accounting tools reported it empowered them to offer more value-add services (37%), kept them engaged (36%), allowed them to get their job done and have a life outside work (35%), saved them time (34%), and increased their productivity (32%).
With the right technologies and processes in place, accountants can be freed up from the repetitive, low-value tasks that lead to poor job satisfaction – alleviating the impact of the talent shortage. They can be enabled to extract maximum strategic value from financial information.
And, they can be empowered to bring that value to the decision-making forums within the business – with appreciable benefits for their own job perception and the health of the business.
Adam Zoucha is MD EMEA of FloQast