The in-demand soft skills in 2021

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If hard skills are those that give someone the ability to do specific tasks, then the ACCA Qualification goes a long way to ticking this box for an abundance of accounting, finance and business roles.

But the ACCA Qualification alone does not make a complete finance professional. People need to develop soft skills that complement their hard skills and to consider them when applying for a job or seeking promotion. 

Think of soft skills as those that help you best perform your core tasks and responsibilities better, or like the oil in an engine, the sugar in a cake - without oil the engine would work, but not well, while you could eat the cake, but it wouldn’t taste great without sugar.

In the old days, soft skills for accountants didn’t seem that important, after all, you don’t need to be an amazing communicator if all you do is work on a spreadsheet all day. But this is an outdated idea of what an accountant does. The back office number cruncher is increasingly a thing of the past.

The hybrid worker

For example, recruiters Robert Half are seeing the rise of the ‘hybrid worker’, where technical people, including those in finance, are having to rapidly level up their softer skills. 

‘Our research has shown that nearly half (46%) of all job adverts for securities and finance dealers want candidates to be able to effectively establish customer rapport, while a quarter (25%) of management and organisational analysts are now being asked to demonstrate applied conceptual thinking as part of their job. And, as the nature of work evolves post-pandemic, we can expect to see the number of hybrid worker roles being advertised continue to increase,’ said Henry Morse, associate director at Robert Half UK.

The Covid-19 impact on soft skills

‘It’s been estimated that 14 million UK workers will need enhanced interpersonal and advanced communications skills by 2030 to effectively do their jobs, and thanks to Covid-19 that number is likely to rise even further,’ said Morse.

With so much contact happening virtually, an extra layer of communication is required, so the ability to develop and maintain relationships while being largely unable to do so face-to-face is important.

Yet perhaps the pandemic has bolstered our communication skills, as the lack of variety in our physical interaction may have pushed us to really focus on our softer skills, to communicate clearly through the sometimes unreliable and unfamiliar medium of video calls and interviews, to be more understanding and empathetic with people who might be finding to difficult.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

‘The most important soft skills are undoubtably the ability to communicate well and develop a strong rapport with customers and clients,’ said Morse. ‘Crucially, these skills aren’t just required for traditional customer facing roles such as sales, but across the board. Today, half of all software developer adverts (51%) require candidates to be able to build good customer relationships, an indication of how few purely technical roles there are these days and why interpersonal skills are so important.’


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These are also the key skills that Tom Wood, manager - Public Practice at recruiter Morgan McKinley, thinks accounting and finance professionals should prioritise. ‘Working in finance requires the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Many roles within the profession require building strong personal relationships with and explaining complex problems to non finance people that don’t understand the technical side.’

To this end, an accountant who can tell a story or a paint a picture with the financial information and business data will be highly valued. 

Empathy, EQ and inclusion

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is another skill that’s been honed, or at least tested, during lockdown and remote working. An ability to empathise with others, to recognise when people are struggling and to offer support, time or patience will hopefully be qualities people can maintain, whether back in an office environment or continuing to work from home.

Empathy and EQ are also vital in making workplaces more inclusive and encouraging of diversity. And not just for leaders, but for all employees, being able to appreciate the unique perspective that all people can bring to a situation is valuable for any organisation.

Up-to-date technology expertise

As accounting firms and organisations in general continue to implement and expand their accounting automation capabilities, knowledge of cloud accounting and finance-specific software programmes will feature in virtually all finance roles.

The areas of technology to which accountants are increasingly exposed include cloud accounting software and apps such Xero and QuickBooks for SMEs or SAP and Oracle for larger organisations, advanced Excel, enterprise resource planning (ERP), Hyperion (for analyst and financial reporting roles) and Microsoft Visual Basic skills. While knowledge of programming languages such as python and C++ is useful for those working closely with large volumes data, such as audit analytics.

Willingness to learn

A study by Deloitte Access Economics posits that soft-skill intensive occupations will make up two-thirds of all jobs by 2030. The study cites a willingness to learn as the most requested soft skill in the world of work today.

Hiring managers want the ideal candidate to be proactive and take the initiative to continuously develop themselves, as well as communicate this to others.

This could involve listening to webinars and podcasts, looking at what the competition is doing, keeping an eye on customer feedback, recommending news articles to existing colleagues and creating email alerts for themselves surrounding this topic.

Business partnering and commercial acumen

Accountants are increasingly called upon to be business partners with different elements of an organisation to promote and communicate the roll and outcomes of the finance function, but also to develop close, mutually beneficial ties between departments. To do this requires a solid level of commercial acumen and business sense to understand the implications and impact of decision-making on a broad-based business level.

Top accounting & finance soft skills

  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Influencing
  • Critical thinking
  • Flexibility
  • Resilience
  • Collaboration
  • Problem solving
  • Empathy and EQ
  • Business and commercial acumen
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Initiative, dedication and willingness to learn
  • Creativity
  • Persuasion

 

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