Part I – Accounting Is This, Not That: The Future of People Skills in an AI World

By: Brandon Smith, CPA

If you had a crystal ball back in 2002 and told me as a young database programmer that I would one day lead a top, mid-sized accounting firm, I would have been surprised. I didn’t know then how much the accounting industry would soon rely on analytics, key performance indicators and financial projections to advise clients. Reliance on data and technology is only going to grow from here.

The accounting industry, once defined by compliance and history, is now defined as a comprehensive business toolkit. Today’s accounting clients are looking for a sounding board for the entire C-suite: soft skills, problem-solving skills, people skills. These skills are just as important as financial and data analysis.

Accounting professionals are no longer focused on debits and credits because advanced software is doing the calculations. Our primary job is to translate what the financials mean to the client and advise them on what to do next.

We still need people in accounting who are technically strong with math and calculations in order to confirm the accuracy of accounting, taxes and financial statements. Professionals who prefer solitude and spreadsheets can still find a home in this industry.

We also need professionals who are great with people. Teamwork skills. Research skills. Communication skills. When you find a problem, can you work in a team to solve it? When a client has a question, can you do the research and offer options? When new laws and regulations arise, can you translate what it means in plain language?

As data processing and calculations and compliance testing are increasingly automated, one real advantage of accounting automation and AI will be our ability to create more space for analysis, client conversations and guidance. If you are interested in business management, enterprise systems, human resources, personal finance, the environment, charities or cutting-edge technology, there is a place for you in the accounting industry. You will be advising business leaders and individuals to help them accomplish their goals and serve their communities.

Have a Life and Make a Difference

I also want to dispel the myth that accountants wear suits and have to work 80 hours a week (and every weekend and holiday) to be successful. Most of us ditched the ties a long time ago, and I like to be home with my family.

We are using tools to automate more tasks and reduce the time burden on our people. Allowing for more opportunities to volunteer, attend a child’s activity or have a night out with your partner is vital to our existence as happy people in this industry. It makes us better advisors when we can tap into the humanity of making a difference professionally and personally.

I have been in advisory situations with clients who I talk to every day for months as they navigate the emotions of selling their businesses. Should they do it? Should they not do it? Some of them grew businesses from the ground up. Some have their kids working there. Some are concerned for the future of their employees. It’s more than numbers and transactions. It’s their lives.

If I can leave you with anything to think about as a potential future accountant, it is that you will make a huge difference with your talents. If you can understand accounting, you can work anywhere, because accounting is needed everywhere.

Contact me with your questions about what the accounting industry is really like. I’ll take out my crystal ball and we can talk about your future.

Brandon Smith, CPA, MAcc, is Managing Partner at Anglin Reichmann Armstrong with over 15 years of experience in public accounting. Before 2005, Brandon worked as a database programmer with a degree in management information systems (MIS)-computer science.

To learn about internship and career opportunities at Anglin, visit our Careers page.