Accountants prefer problem-solving over number crunching, survey says

By Jack Hagel

Accounting and finance professionals said solving problems gives them the most career satisfaction, ahead of working with numbers, according to a new survey.

An online survey conducted by financial recruitment service Robert Half Finance & Accounting asked more than 2,600 U.S. finance and accounting professionals: “What part of working in the accounting and finance profession do you enjoy the most?”

Respondents said they liked solving problems (41%) over working with numbers (22%), making strategic recommendations for the business (17%), learning new technologies (9%), and collaborating with others (8%). The remaining responses were listed as “other.”

“Accountants are key success drivers for their businesses, and they contribute more than many people presume,” Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, said in a news release. “Accounting and finance teams are responsible for accurate financial reporting, but they also help to ensure their organizations remain in regulatory compliance, identify growth opportunities, and provide strategic guidance from the department level to the executive ranks.”

Data skills

The volume of information now available to businesses increases an accountant’s value even further, McDonald added. “Accounting and finance professionals regularly mine data to identify historical trends and make projections based on those findings,” he said. “They also can uncover potential areas for concern and put their problem-solving skills to work in the process.”

In recent years, the role of the finance professional has evolved from more of a backroom function to that of a business partner, explained Joe Michel, CPA, CGMA, the vice president of finance at Constellation Brands in Victor, N.Y.

“We have examples in practice that show that, as a finance leader, you need to have a broad set of skills,” he said. “The basics of technical competency are important, but [so is] an understanding of operations, certainly an understanding of technology and its impact on the company. You’re also challenged to be more creative, challenged to … support risks and understand risks for new products and ventures as well.”

Solving technology problems

One of those support areas is helping organizations implement new business software solutions. The process involves several phases—everything from planning and evaluation to implementation and training.

Financial professionals “make sure that the vision is kept in mind as you step through that process,” said Bob Gaby, CPA/CITP, CGMA, principal of Arxis Technology, a California-based technology consultancy that specializes in accounting system solutions.

Finance professionals can help with the evaluation and selection of a solution, assisting with the development of a detailed requirements list, assisting with really making sure that an unbiased evaluation is done, and bringing the right people to the table to ensure that an unbiased decision is made, he added. They also can assist in testing the system, walking through and documenting business use cases, doing a start-to-end walk-through and documentation of processes, and facilitating a go-live readiness meeting to ensure the new system is ready.

Financial professionals, especially those who are process experts, can ensure that no stone has been left unturned to ensure system readiness, thorough testing and a positive return on investment, Gaby said.

Jack Hagel ( jhagel@aicpa.org ) is a JofA editorial director.

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