Some people typically think that accountants are introverts who lack social skills and prefer to work in quiet, private environments. The modern reality, however, is very different from this perception.
Accountants are core members of the corporate team and, as such, they must interact and communicate with people constantly. Forensic accountant Ric Jazaie puts it this way: “You are always presenting as an accountant to large and small groups and communicating with people one-on-one. The era of the guy in the green visor and the lamp is over.”
Because of this changing reality, employers are increasingly looking for candidates with excellent communication skills. Advanced degrees, such as the University of North Dakota’s Masters in Accountancy online program, offer training in communication in accounting as well as many other essential skills. This degree can put candidates on the road to a rewarding and successful accounting career.
Who Is the Audience?
In their day-to-day work, accountants must communicate with a varied audience that includes both internal and external entities. Internal colleagues include an accountant’s direct management and employees, as well as colleagues in other departments who require accounting input.
External colleagues may include corporate and individual clients, financial agencies, governmental agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and perhaps even the general public. In short, an accountant may be required to communicate with any person or entity who has the need or the right to know about an organization’s financial aspects and activities.
According to the American Institute of CPAs, the communication skills needed to address all of these audiences fall into three primary channels:
- Interpersonal—Accountants must be able to work with individuals from different areas of a company and must address diverse business issues. They also need to work well and communicate effectively within a team.
- Writing—Accounting professionals prepare myriad types of written communications, including financial reports, interdepartmental memos, strategic plans and proposals. Poorly written messages lack clarity and credibility and may be dismissed altogether.
- Verbal—Accountants must be able to convey complex information in terms that everyone can understand. Doing so requires not only good communication skills but also a knowledge of the audience and what they need. With a little preparation, a good communicator can deliver his or her message with confidence and impact.
The communication skills needed to deliver accounting-specific information can be considered “hard skills”—skills that require specific training and expertise. One example would be a thorough knowledge of general accounting terminology. In a recent article, CPA Sheila Shanker lists some additional hard skills for accountants:
- Helping management to make good decisions—The most important use of accounting data, says Shanker, is to communicate meaningful information, allowing management to make good decisions. Information that does not make sense to a non-accounting audience becomes just an unhelpful list of numbers. The accountant’s job is to communicate this information in clear but accurate ways.
- Showing investors how the business is doing—Required reports, such as balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements, must be presented in the clearest possible manner, keeping in mind that most of the audience probably will not have an accounting background.
- Proving that you have paid your taxes—Tax information needs to be communicated properly and clearly to government entities, all of which have different reporting requirements. Accountants should understand these requirements and make sure communication is carried out accordingly.
- Showing that you’re good for a loan—Information about a business’s financial situation, such as cash flow, short-term accounts receivable and payables, must be communicated clearly to existing or potential lenders. If the communication is poor, unclear or inaccurate, the business may not qualify for the loan.
Along with hard skills, accountants also need “soft skills”—general communication abilities that help them to collaborate effectively with others. The website Small Business Trends lists many general ways to communicate effectively in the workplace, including:
- Displaying confidence and seriousness—Uncertainty can lead team members to discount your information.
- Using simple words—When ambiguous words are used, you can be misunderstood or waste precious time having to explain yourself.
- Using visuals—When your audience can see as well as hear your message, comprehension improves.
- Listening to your team members—Communication is a two-way street. Don’t just talk without listening to anyone else. Encourage your audience to open up.
- Using body language—Stand and sit up straight when you speak. Use smiles, handshakes and eye contact.
- Using the appropriate tone of voice—A proper tone can communicate your message without discouraging or intimidating your audience.
- Avoiding mumbling—Your audience must be able to hear and understand you clearly.
- Gesticulating—Hand motions and signals hold the audience’s attention and lend gravity to your subject matter.
Efficient and Effective
Accountants who master the art of effective communication position themselves for career success. Just as important, they play an essential role in the success of their organizations.
As the website Small Business Trends points out, “Remember that the point of working as a team is to share ideas and boost productivity. When effective communication in the workplace is hampered, it can sidetrack the entire effort.” By honing their communication skills, accountants can do their part in building an efficient, productive operation.
University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy online degree
The University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.) online program helps students master accounting principles as well as related skills necessary, such as communication techniques and abilities, for a successful career in accounting at the highest levels.
UND is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, which only recognizes about 30 percent of business programs in the United States. The Master of Accountancy online program offers practitioner and fundamentals tracks. Coursework is done online, which allows busy professionals to study accountancy and earn their degree without disrupting their work or personal lives. For more information, contact UND today.
Changing role of accountants – Ric Jazaie
Audience and communication channels – American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
Hard skills – Chron
Soft skills – Small Business Trends
Working as a team – Small Business Trends