Skip to content


Accountants need high emotional intelligence, survey finds

Tablet with accounts data ready for interpretation by an accountant

Once the perception was to be a successful accountant, you needed a calculator, a good head for figures, and a less than sparkling personality.

But the top three skills for accountants wishing to be successful in the coming five years are adaptability/agility, emotional intelligence and critical thinking.

The findings come from a survey of accountancy firms conducted by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) as data was gathered for its second annual list of the top 30 accounting firms.

And they don’t surprise Sue De Bievre from Beany, the firm which topped CAANZ’s “emerging firms” list but just fell short of the revenue needed to get into the top 30.

“When we hire accountants, we test for empathy,” De Bievre said.

Increasingly totting up the numbers, and preparing financial statements, can be done by artificial intelligence, but it still requires humans to interpret the numbers, and advise business owners on how to take their next step forwards.

An accountant these days is as much adviser as number cruncher.

“The unspoken subtext to advice, is around translation,” De Bievre said.

There’s no shortage of accountants with the right technical skills, she said, but they need to be able to speak in a jargon-free, empathetic way clients can relate to.

“If you can’t, you will be delivering a perfect message that people won’t be able to hear,” she said.

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand chief executive Rick Ellis said: “As automation moves in, the communicators, the problem solvers and the adapters will take over. Human and technology skills will be even more in demand.”

Ellis said the profession was changing rapidly, with more diversity and disruption than experienced in the past.

“Technology in particular is driving these changes, shifting the focus of work away from traditional skill sets of accountants, the numbers and the analytics.

“Instead accountants are now using technology to free themselves up to add further value to businesses and take on a more strategic advisory role with clients.”

“Our prediction is that in 2030 there will not be fewer accountants than there are now due to automation, but most will be doing very different work.”

Accounting is a massive industry, dominated by five giant firms.

PWC and Deloitte top the CAANZ list, both recording revenues in the $250 million or more range.

Below them is KPMG and EY, both of which earned revenue in the $150m to $199.9m band.

Next is BDO, which had revenue between $100m and $149.9m.

Under them is a grouping of seven firms earning revenue of $10m or more –Findex, Staples Rodway, PFK, Moore Stephens Markhams, RSM, Johnston Associates and Nexia Christchurch.

The sector, which is increasingly outsourcing basic number crunching to accountants in places like India, remains a large employer.

The top five firms alone have just under 470 partners, and just under 4800 employees.

CAANZ launched the Top 30 list last year to highlight the expertise in the accountancy sector, and match the Australian Top 100 list in Australia.

Peter Vial, the New Zealand country head of CAANZ, said the accountancy profession was changing in the face of digital disruption.

“Accountants are moving away from just doing the numbers,” Vial said.

“Yes, people will see their accountants about those things. But they will also be seeking strategic planning advice, valuation advice. It’s an ongoing relationship.”

That change appears to be captured in replies accounting firms seeking a place on the Top 30 list gave when asked about which divisions in their firms were delivering the fastest growth.

Advisory services was by far the most common answer, followed by tax compliance.

​Being able to find, and retain top staff was equal first in the list of concerns keeping accountants awake nights.

It ranked equally with “recession” as the biggest concern accounting firms had. In second place was cyber attack, which can leave a firm’s clients data exposed to criminals.

Originally Published by  – 28 Oct, 2018