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A New CPA Profile

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA/CFF, CFE

Some of us have been around long enough to remember when “CPA” conjured up visions of green eye-shades and a trusty calculator. Our profession has undergone major changes during the past several years, however. Welcome to a new world of CPAs.

According to a recent survey by Grant Thornton that queried 500 senior finance executives at public and private companies, today's CFOs are searching for a whole new set of skills when recruiting, training, and retaining accounting professionals (www.grantthornton.com). Here are a few that topped the study's list.

<div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Soft skills</h3><p>As International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) looms on the horizon, with its reduced rules in comparison to U.S. GAAP, it will become more crucial for CPAs to exercise professional judgment and be able to articulate the reasoning behind decisions. For CPAs operating under IFRS, soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation, and communication will be increasingly important. In fact, the Grant Thornton study confirmed what has been widely speculated: 55% of CFOs said the lack of soft skills among potential accounting employees presented the most significant challenge in recruiting qualified candidates.</p></div><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Technical skills</h3><p>Many accountants believe that building a strong foundation in accounting principles is the most important skill for professional success. To some extent they are right—a solid technical understanding of the rules and regulations governing financial reporting will always be essential. This includes keeping current on the continuously evolving guidance from standards setters and regulators. But in a study by Accountemps last year, CFOs indicated that it is the soft skills that distinguish otherwise “similarly qualified accounting and finance candidates.” After all, what good is knowledge of accounting principles if judgment to ensure their proper application is absent?</p></div><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Technology</h3><p>In addition to the technical and soft skills, today's accountants must be familiar with technology. Computer skills can help CPAs to: 1) analyze data efficiently to assist with more timely and accurate decision making, and 2) understand the underlying data structure of organizational information systems to recognize how data is used and manipulated.</p><div id="FU1" position="margin"><a target="_blank" href="/cpaj-images/CPA.2010.80.8.080.uf001.jpg"><img runat="server" src="/cpaj-images/CPA.2010.80.8.080.uf001.jpg"/></a></div></div><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Leadership and management</h3><p>The downturn in the world economy has made it imperative for all organizations to utilize their available resources in the most efficient way, and one of the most valued resources for any entity is its human capital. Those who can lead and manage people are especially in short supply, so honing these skills can make a professional stand out from the rest of the field.</p></div></div><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Bridging the Gaps</h3><p>As the Grant Thornton study makes clear, recruiting candidates with specific skills is one option that many organizations choose; however, the supply of qualified candidates is falling short of the demand. The profession needs to focus now on providing CPAs and CPA candidates with the skills required to succeed in this new environment.</p><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Education</h3><p>The additional 30 hours of education mandated by most states for CPA licensure provides a great opportunity for colleges and universities to tailor the content of that extra education to meet the needs of businesses today. The academic community has historically given students a theoretical understanding of the technical side of the profession, but in many cases fell short in the application of that knowledge. Likewise, soft skills weren't high on the list for most students majoring in accounting.</p></div><div class="articleSection"><h3 class="sectionTitle">Continuing professional education (CPE)</h3><p>Licensed CPAs are required to complete a minimum number of CPE credits annually to maintain licensure. This provides another opportunity for CPAs to shore up critical skills. Courses in the category of specialized knowledge may include business writing, oral presentation skills, and training in computer software. Most states allow this area of learning for CPE credits, including New York. Companies are increasingly opting for in-house CPE seminars for their employees because this training can be tailored to better fit the organization's needs.</p><p>Regardless of whether learning takes place in a college setting or as part of an in-house or external training program, CPAs need the support of senior management to pursue the skills needed for success in our dynamic profession. As economic and employment conditions improve, voluntary turnover is expected to increase. Organizations that support professional development for their employees, and thereby increase the potential for career advancement, are more likely to experience greater employee loyalty and increased retention of their best accounting professionals.</p><p>As always, I welcome your comments.</p></div></div></body> </div> <div class="bodyText"> <div class="authorBlurb"><div class="author">Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA/CFF, CFE. Editor-in-Chief, ACFE Endowed Professor. 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