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The 7 Traits of Today's Accountant

You may or may not subscribe to the view that compliance is shrinking - that’s not the point.  You may or not agree that Advisory or Business Development Services are what’s needed to remain relevant to your clients - that’s not the point either.  What cannot be denied is that our industry is going through significant change and we need to adapt our skills.


Embracing Change

Accountants have been adapting to change for years - think how quickly we got rid of cheque books, bank statements are essentially gone, cloud technology has been embraced rapidly and we consume endless amounts of compliance rule changes (no wonder we are so busy!).

A great mindset to have in embracing change is called The 5 A’s of Change:

  1. Awareness - knowing what needs to change.
  2. Acceptance - accepting the change that is needed.
  3. Action - taking action.
  4. Accountability - having someone hold us to account makes sure we take the action.
  5. Acknowledgement - celebrating success when change is made.

It's not the strongest of the species that survives; it’s the ones who are most adaptable to change 

- Charles Darwin

The Seven Traits of Today’s Accountant

With these industry changes, the skills needed to remain relevant have also changed.  We refer to them at The Gap as the Seven Traits of Today’s Accountant (these traits are needed NOW).

  1. A very good Accountant.
  2. Ability to numerate.
  3. Rounded tax knowledge.
  4. Commercial (The ability to speak wider than the numbers).
  5. Good communicator.
  6. Sales skills.
  7. Empathy.

The first three skills are the recruitment filters Accountants have traditionally adopted.  Today, Accountants need to be good with numbers and have a good understanding of accounting, but brilliance is not essential - it’s simply a matter of knowing what you don’t know.

The four most neglected skills

The remaining four skills are generally not taught at University.  Traditional tax and compliance courses don’t help either and there are very few educational courses run by Accountants for Accountants that cover these. 

Let’s look at each skill individually...

The ability to speak wider than the numbers or being able to interpret a set of financial statements or management accounts in your client's language and translate (no accountanese). 

Just as a Doctor checks your symptoms to identify the root cause, so too must an Accountant see through the numbers to identify underlying problems that need fixing.  Things like poor sales or margin, cashflow and lock-up issues.  Ultimately these are risks to the business if not resolved.

Communication skills then come to the fore as the Accountant engages the client on these issues, highlighting the consequences of inaction, and sharing experiences and anecdotes from other client scenarios.

Having taken the client into the ‘valley of despair,’ sales skills are needed to show the client the vision of a brighter future, the ‘what’ not the ‘how.’  Rather than blurting out the answer, today’s Accountant will show the client that they can achieve The Three Freedoms.

Then, they will explain how they can work together to, offering services we consider to be best practise such as Business Planning, Organisational Structure Review, Cashflow Improvement Coaching and Accountability Coaching.  The outcome of these services being more time, mind and financial freedom.


Without empathy, the Accountant will not build trust with the client.  A trusted relationship is essential to achieving recurring revenue and ongoing performance improvement for the client.  Empathy is having the ability to see things from the clients’ perspective AND being prepared to do something about it. 


Today’s Accountant can see and share what will happen if the client’s cashflow issue is not resolved (speaking wider than the numbers).  They will articulate the future pain that client will have if cashflow does not improve (communication) and offer a solution in the form of a service (selling).  

Today’s Accountant does this, not because they want to make more money out of their clients; but because they care about their clients and genuinely want them to have better outcomes in business (empathy).

Stop selling; start helping

- Zig Ziglar

If you want to fast-track learning of these four neglected skills, see our website for details of our upcoming Gap workshops.


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