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New-Age Skills for Accounting Professionals

Today’s accountants are navigating through an increasingly global business environment.

October 18, 2007
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Business today is more connected and more integrated internationally, with interactions and transactions spanning continents. According to the Robert Half International Financial Leadership Council — a group consisting of executives from public accounting, business and private industry, academia and professional associations — the relentless progress of globalization means that U.S.-based accounting professionals can no longer rely solely on the rules and standards they learned in the past.

To maintain their marketability and prove their worth to current and prospective employers, today’s practitioners will have to learn and apply new skills. Following are some of the competencies identified by the Financial Leadership Council that accountants will need in a changing business world.

  • International reporting standards — The growing convergence of financial reporting standards requires accounting professionals to be proficient with international usage. The generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) long used in the United States for filing financial reports coexists with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), used by many countries, including those in the European Union.
  • Fair-value accounting — The international business community is rapidly migrating to measuring assets based on their fair market value rather than historical cost figures. Accountants and auditors will need to learn new valuation techniques that are less cut-and-dried than historical cost. To complicate the issue, historical cost and fair value are frequently presented side by side, requiring professionals to be familiar with both methods and apply considerable case-by-case judgment.
  • Corporate social responsibility reporting — A new reporting model becoming more important to multinational companies measures a firm’s progress in social and environmental issues. Driven by the demands of investors, customers and other stakeholders, companies are embracing the “triple bottom-line” of measuring and reporting on the social, environmental and economic effects of their business activities. Today’s accountants will need to help companies develop effective ways to measure corporate responsibility.
  • Risk management — As companies move operations offshore and increase their dependence on foreign suppliers, they need improved oversight and controls to effectively manage distant activities. A variety of practitioners will find risk management a large part of their responsibilities. Professionals will not only evaluate and report on risks and provide risk assurance but also develop risk management strategies for the approval of the board of directors.
  • Cultural literacy — Another effect of increasing globalization is that accounting professionals in all countries will find themselves working closely with colleagues in other parts of the world. They may interact with people who have backgrounds, outlooks, assumptions and expectations that are different from their own.

    To operate effectively as a part of this new international workforce, accountants must develop a more international outlook and increase their understanding of and familiarity with other cultures. This increased cultural literacy goes beyond simply learning another language. Success in a global environment requires understanding the social, political and business environments in other parts of the world to develop a true multicultural outlook.
  • Flexible thinking — One of the most important skills for a new, international era is flexibility. A common thread in recent developments in the world of accounting and finance is the absence of clear right-and-wrong distinctions. Accountants will need to abandon the idea of hard-and-fast rules with no exceptions and instead rely on their critical thinking to exercise professional judgment.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 350 locations in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.