As technology evolves, accountant soft skills are a critical element in building a profitable accounting firm and in the profession in general. 

In this post, I’ll dive into 

  • What soft skills are
  • Why you need them
  • How to work on developing them

Let’s get started.

What are Accountant Soft Skills Exactly?

Soft skills. It’s a phrase accounting professionals grow more familiar with each passing year in our industry. These particular skills also present an opportunity to set yourself, and your firm, apart from competitors.

What are they, exactly? 

A quick search of the term shows that, According to Oxford Languages, “soft skills” are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Why are Accountant Soft Skills Required?

While the need for technical skills will never go away, they are no longer sufficient for success in accounting.

With the advancement of technology and available tools, the challenge for accounting firms is to remain relevant. Not in a “doom and gloom” sort of way. But also not in a rosy world devoid of facts, either. 

As I laid out in my Future of Accounting Guide, the capabilities of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are improving rapidly. This includes things like:

  • Performing accounting technical skills and tasks
  • Processing data and issuing accurate reports and forecasts
  • Even handling things typically attributed to advisory, like reasoning and decision-making

The bots will continue to improve in all areas where data is available. By 2025, business leaders expect machines to complete 50% of even complex tasks. Again, this is not a gloomy outlook for firms. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to hone your offerings and skills to position your business that works with the future — not against it. 

How do we remain relevant?

There are two ways to remain relevant in the accounting world’s automated future. 

One is to implement this technology for both use in your firm and for your clients. Setup, onboarding, and maintenance is a very important (and often outsourced) aspect of ML/AI tools.

But even if you’re the best at implementing technology, it’s not enough. When certains situations arise, business owners want to speak with a real person, not look at a report or screen.

It doesn’t have to be on a worldwide scale (like what we’ve all been going through the past few years). Big industry changes, local economics, legislation, and a large number of other external/internal factors affect businesses enough to need someone with the expertise to help. 

Top Soft Skills to Remain Relevant

We don’t need to go off the cuff to list out trending skills. The World Economic Forum has done the legwork, and little surprise, many at the top of the list are…soft skills.

Here’s a list of hyper-relevant skills for accounting:

  1. Critical Thinking and Analysis
  2. Problem Solving
  3. Creativity and Innovation
  4. Working with People
  5. Communication
  6. Active Learning

Let’s break down each, explain it a bit more, and relate it to staying relevant and serving your clients.

1) Critical Thinking and Analysis

One recent study, from the International Journal of Higher Education, explored critical thinking skills in accounting education. They defined the term as, “the mental process of analyzing or evaluating information.”

The study went on to break down multiple subskills necessary to think critically. Almost all of which point to using technology to understand what the numbers and data mean.

Why it’s important to your firm: The better you gather, disseminate, and interpret information from the growing number of tech and automation tools, the better you are at seeing what those numbers are really saying. Then, relaying that information to your clients in the form of meaningful advice.

2) Problem Solving

This is a great soft skill for gaining and growing relationships with clients. The core of every business is solving problems. And it just so happens that a lot of businesses struggle with their accounting. 

Here’s the thing, you have to position yourself as a firm that solves those problems, not just someone who provides tax and audit services. So, instead of “tax filing” it’s about “navigating the requirements for claiming the R&D Tax Credit.”

The difference? One tells what you do and the other communicates how you solve the problem (of your potential clients).

Why it’s important to your firm: The overwhelming majority of accounting firms throw services at leads. But those who drive home the solutions and benefits will remain relevant for years to come — AI or not.

3) Creativity and Innovation

Being creative isn’t only for artists. Advancements, no matter the sector, always come from out-of-the-box thinking. 

More and more organizations encourage everyone on the team to come up with and suggest ideas or improvements. Daily work (to improve processes and productivity), creative financial solutions (to better serve clients), and virtually any other idea.

Why it’s important to your firm: Foster an environment of creativity by encouraging those in your firm to share their ideas, talk through them and test the ones that make sense. Doing this for both your internal processes and client work may add to your efficiency and deliver a higher level of service to customers.

4) Working with People

We all work with people, in one way or another, but are you actively trying to improve how you get along with and boost the output of your co-labored effort?

There are a number of ways to move the needle on teamwork (one of the big ones is the next soft skill), but it’s not all on you. Part of working together includes someone else. Your part is all about:

  • Setting expectations (for yourself, the team, and clients)
  • Devoting time to make yourself available to key people
  • Fulfilling your promises/part of projects

Why it’s important to your firm: Pretty self-explanatory here. Without working with people, you don’t really have a business.

5) Communication

Many of us think of face-to-face interactions when considering communication skills. But that’s only a third of it.

As one AICPA article points out, there are three types of communication skills:

  • Interpersonal: More of the longish-term relationships in the office and with clients.
  • Written: Writing skills are essential in a professional environment where so much information travels through email and messaging.
  • Verbal: From discovery calls to team meetings, improving your verbal communication is a big step toward better overall communication

Why it’s important to your firm: Communication is how everyone gets on the same page. Mastering it helps you feel more in control, because you likely are in a better position.

6) Active learning

The 6th soft skill is “active learning” and it deals with how you educate yourself. Instead of reading books and thinking about theory, it’s a more “in the trenches” style of learning. And this is an example of what you’ll find inside the Future Firm ® Accelerate program

Why it’s important to your firm: Continuous learning is so important, it’s required in many cases. But you shouldn’t actively learn to remain compliant. Learn to improve your skills (including many of the accounting soft skills on this list).

Ready to Advance Your Skills?

The firms that demonstrate strong soft skills are going to excel far beyond those that don’t. In accounting, these attributes offer a competitive advantage and differentiator for your firm.

The better you become at interacting and understanding both your customers and the insights provided by tools — the more likely you are to succeed in the future of the accounting industry.