The requirements to be an accountant today are something very different to what they once were. Simply having knowledge of numbers and tax does not mean you are automatically going to thrive in the cloud accounting world. I am seeing evidence of this fact more and more in my role as Chief Operations Officer of Xcelerate Business Solutions.
Today, flourishing in accounting requires a new way of thinking. It is less about the technical expertise and number-crunching, and more about whether you can handle systems, communicate well, innovate, solve problems, and build a rapport with your clients. If someone on your team is unable to do this, their accounting expertise does not matter—they simply will not be a very good accountant in the client’s eyes.
It takes a certain type of person to succeed in cloud accounting. Even if a person does not have all the knowledge, if they possess certain personality traits they have a very high chance of growing into a great accountant and being an outstanding addition to your team.
In my opinion, these are the three personality traits common across the very best cloud accountants.
An accountant who is genuinely curious and has an ability to follow-up that curiosity by searching for a solution to a problem, will be a great addition to any team.
In previous years, accountants did not spend a lot of time learning about systems because they were not important. Then, the few systems we did use were like QuickBooks desktop—they simply did the work for us. But today, cloud accountants are basically IT trouble-shooters. We are required to explain to our clients how to use an app, show them how to filter out data, or help them to understand a report.
One of my members of staff, Jen, comes from an engineering background. She knows how to go into systems and solve any problems related to them. When a system is not behaving in the way she expects, she dives in, researches, and figures out the solution on her own. She is one of the best I’ve ever seen at this. And that is largely due to her curiosity.
If a staff member is not a natural at technology, it is OK, so long as they are aware of their shortcomings (more on that soon) and are curious to learn. Being a good cloud accountant is not age-related, it is attitude-related.
You need your staff to have pride in what they do. The best accountants have true ownership of their work—they know that what they deliver reflects on them personally, and on the firm they are working for.
My best staff are relentless in their ownership of a client. If they have a problem, they do not give up until they have figured out their issue and have delivered a solution that meets or exceeds the client’s expectations.
Adrienne on my team is an excellent example of this. She loves to solve problems and will work tirelessly to explore all potential options and develop the best solution. She does not cut corners because she knows that her final result will reflect on her. If Adrienne did not have this pride in her work, it would be a very different story.
In my view, self-awareness is the single most important personality trait for a modern accountant to possess. You need to be aware of what you do not know.
I have seen countless examples in this industry where accountants have not been aware of their own shortcomings. Often, they have had a lot of accounting knowledge, but have struggled with the other side of being a cloud-based accountant—systems. They have failed to acknowledge that simply being an accountant, does not make them a good accountant in the cloud-based world.
Those without self-awareness do not look to improve, often because they do not think they need to. They do not know their own shortcomings so they don’t move forward, don’t reach out for help, and die a slow death.
Not having all the skills in modern accounting is OK. But you need to be aware of this, and be prepared to put in the effort. I see far too many accountants in denial.
But the most self-aware know that it is OK not to know the answer. They have found that elusive balance of being aware and comfortable with what they do not know, and being prepared to put in the effort to develop that knowledge and those skills (this too, requires an element of pride).
I encourage my team—especially new staff—to ask questions constantly. This shows me what they know, what they do not know, and how they are learning. If they are not asking questions, we can never figure out how effective our training is and how quickly they are developing.
Sarah on my team models this well. She asks great questions, learns from the answers she is given, and is aware of what she does and does not know. I know if I give a challenging project to Sarah that it will be completed correctly. She reaches out to the right people for answers, and she learns so that the next time she can own the project herself.
Everyone is confident in what they do know, but those who are equally confident and aware of what they need to work on are the accountants who thrive in cloud-based accounting.
Think about the best members of your team now. I am guessing that you can identify elements of all three of these personality traits in all of them. Anyone who is curious, self-aware, and takes pride in their work will be a force to be reckoned with. They will constantly be looking to improve themselves, develop quickly, work hard, and deliver outstanding service to your clients.
When hiring new staff, these are traits you should be on the lookout for. Remember the ubiquitous advice—hire for attitude train for skill.
Jessica started Parable, an offsite accounting firm, when her family needed to raise $10,000 for an adoption. She soon found herself managing too many clients on her own, and began to hire dedicated stay-at-home moms to join her efforts. As a 2016 Firm of the Future runner-up, you can find her enjoying the business one minute, and being present with her family the next.