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5 Ways Accountants Can Protect Themselves from the Accountapocalypse

In an earlier post, I listed what types of firms and accountants are vulnerable to the Accountapocalypse. Since then, I’ve received a number of tweets, LinkedIn messages and hate mail (thanks guys) centred around this:

Well let’s pretend that you’re right, and assume that most of the accounting value chain will be automated or outsourced, what skills does an accountant need to do to mitigate the risk?

Excellent question! Accordingly, I have made a list of what I think are the key skills that an accountant should acquire to protect themselves from the Accountapocalypse.

Please don't take this as an accountant chest-thumping on his pocket protector, but rather as someone who's learned a few things after making more mistakes than an audit junior that hasn’t slept in three days.

1. Communication Skills: Sales, leadership and client relationship management cannot be automated or outsourced. At the end of the day all business is about people (sorry). And if you’re bringing in clients and turning them into raving fans, you cannot be replaced.

After three years in public, at age of 22, I was a disgruntled young accountant sitting at a job interview. After a solid five minutes ranting about how good an accountant I was (lol) and how many chargeables I’d clocked, the partner looked up from his beer (we drink alot in Australia) and said, “Chris, I don’t give a f*** how good an accountant you are, how many clients can you bring in the front door?”

I then set about learning everything I could about sales, influence and communication skills. I digested three hours of audiobooks every day (I had a long commute) and would attend networking events whenever I could.

2. Technology Skills: PwC said it and Caleb said it and even KPMG expects you be Mr Robot with a ten-key.

Jokes aside, instead of fighting the accountapocalypse, join it. Instead of learning how to code (because see point five), I do think accountants should become proficient in business information systems, or at a minimum, technology literate (the number of partners I see without smartphones is astonishing). Your newfound skills will enable you to implement systems in your company or in your clients’ business.

I’ve had to learn a lot about technology very quickly to keep pace with the rapid changes lead by cloud technology. I am at a point now where I am now consulting to other firms on this technology, and I have seen a number of young players joining me at high level meetings because, “Joey is the head of our cloud transition team.” Joey is now highly paid and safe from the mass layoffs about to go down at his firm. Good for Joey.

3. Business Acumen: Your clients (or your company, if you’re lucky enough to be in industry) want you to help them improve their businesses. Whether you’re an auditor tightening internal controls or saving tax clients tons of money, accountants need to move beyond basic compliance and add more value wherever they can.

In addition to my studies in communication and technology, I invested quite heavily in general business training. You’ll notice that accounting isn’t even mentioned until point five on my LinkedIn profile.

4. Specialize: I said it in one of my previous posts:

Accountants who specialize in complex areas are going to be safe, and highly sought after. Regulatory complexity paired with unique client circumstances will ensure that this work can neither be outsourced or automated.

I spent two years as a specialist in a niche area of practice called “self managed superannuation.” This area is complex from a tax and accounting perspective, and requires additional study and certifications. The result: I was promoted quicker and could walk into these specialist positions at other firms.

5. Run For The Hills: If none of those options sound appealing, you can always get a job in another profession. I hear medicine won’t be automated any time soon.