19 April 2023 — Stories

Beyond the books: soft skills as important for accountants as technical knowledge

By Jens Poll, Accountancy Europe Deputy President

Beyond the books: soft skills as important for accountants as technical knowledge
By Jens Poll, Accountancy Europe Vice President

Contrary to the general perception, being an accountant can be incredibly rich and fulfilling. With the sustainability challenges we face, accountants now have a new mission: guiding SMEs so they can integrate sustainability within their businesses. The conversation is starting, and accountants can provide so much input, ideas and inspiration. Positions such as marketing and sales are already well established in a business, but that is often not the case with a sustainability officer. Sometimes, these roles will have taken some ESG considerations, but bringing these together coherently and taking sustainability to the next level can be a purposeful goal for accountants.

A pivotal role in supporting small businesses

There are many ways SMPs can help SMEs in the sustainable transition. For example, I recently worked with an established German sweets and pastry producer who needed help with lowering their carbon footprint. With energy prices soaring, we first considered looking into alternative energy suppliers and sources. However, there were many technical difficulties that we were not able to overcome. But this was only one specific angle we looked at. As we could not improve the energy side, we started looking into other aspects of the business and realised efficiency gains could be made in internal logistics, travel and storage. The improvements in terms of carbon emission after streamlining these processes were considerable.

This was a striking example of accountants’ pivotal role. It is not necessarily about having all the skills to cover all needs but knowing our clients and taking them and their business seriously. We can see the whole picture, initiate the sometimes challenging discussions and involve the right people with adequate technical expertise. To make an analogy, accountants are like the GP of medicine. Together with the owner, we determine the issues and work with the relevant specialists until we find a solution.

Openness and entrepreneurial mindset

A trusted, dedicated accountant can fill many roles; they are an outsourced strategic partner, an advisor, but also a motivator. The accountant’s versatility responds to SMEs’ smaller structure and limited resources but diverse and broader needs.

An entrepreneurial mindset is not necessarily needed for all types of accounting professionals. But it is definitely a personality trait that can enrich one’s experience. It goes beyond the technical knowledge or successful accounting exam results. If the profession wants to be a part of the transition and accompany clients through it, we must adapt and be open to change. Soft skills and openness help build long-lasting client relationships based on mutual communication. With time and trust, our advice becomes more diverse and personal.