Top Skills for Certified Public Accountants

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Today’s CPAs need to be able to identify business trends and focus on creating forward-facing strategies rather than financial reports based on past events.

Today’s CPAs need to be able to identify business trends and focus on creating forward-facing strategies rather than financial reports based on past events.

Mathematical abilities may be the foundation of the accounting profession, but communication skills, strategic thinking and up-to-date technical knowledge are becoming as important as number-crunching for today’s successful Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).

“Financial reporting and auditing are not becoming unimportant. On the contrary, robust capital markets depend on trusted financial information. But management needs information on where value is being created or destroyed in real time and projections that respond and provide insights to…increasingly dynamic and volatile markets and economies,” according to the International Federation of Accountants.

Whether CPAs serve corporations, small businesses or individual clients, they should be able to identify trends that can promote business sustainability and increase wealth. Their focus also needs to be on creating forward-facing strategies rather than creating financial reports based on past events.

Many contemporary accountants are choosing Master of Accountancy degree programs to prepare themselves for this strong and rapidly growing sector of the global economy. Such programs, including the University of North Dakota online degree, offer students the opportunity to advance their accounting skills and strengthen their operational, strategic and leadership abilities.

CPA skills valuable to modern financial professionals include:

  • New Technology Skills

As technology has become standard in the industry, CPAs have been able to take on advisory roles in addition to their traditional competencies. Remaining marketable in the field means being familiar with such tech advances as:

  • Cloud computing, which has automated a number of lower-level administrative tasks. Successful CPAs should focus on managing the processes and controls of these online systems rather than running the data themselves.
  • Data analytics, which lets financial professionals test and analyze whole data sets, such as expense claims or company logs, as a way to provide company executives with more complete insight into the business.
  • Hardware and software trends, including the latest updates to popular accounting, payroll or spreadsheet software including Microsoft Excel, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle. CPAs who do the books for multiple clients may need to understand how different banks manage their online account services, USA Today notes. Those who run their own firms also should be able to manage their websites.


  • Strategic and Critical Thinking

Strategic thinking, John Park writes for the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants website, “means you are able to see one or two steps ahead. You have vision and are aware of your environment. You are able to be in the present and focus on execution, but you also have your head up and are able to identify potential new opportunities to grow your business in a positive and profitable manner.”

CPAs should make the transition from day-to-day tactical concerns to a larger business focus, he notes.

Some techniques for developing strategic and critical thinking skills, experts say, include:

  • Continuing to learn new things about this profession and the world in general.
  • Searching for new solutions to old problems.
  • Looking at the big picture and making a decision.
  • Being able to explain your decision.


  • Communication Skills

Being able to communicate is crucial in most professions but may be especially so for CPAs. Though many CPAs are right-brained, analytical thinkers, they need to be able to explain clearly, in words or writing, what the numbers they work with mean for their clients or decision-makers at their companies.

“Communication skills have always been important drivers of success for senior-level financial executives,” according to the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants. “Finance leaders who can interpret and explain the impact of information, think strategically, and guide their enterprises into the future will be in high demand. Those who seek to retain the status quo will likely be severely disrupted.”


  • Collaboration

Today’s CPA must be able to collaborate with employees in other areas of the company. Technology experts, for instance, may be able to write code, but they often don’t understand the accounting and auditing rules that govern usable data. CPAs also need to be able to work well with customers and clients to advise them on the financial outcomes and repercussions of various business decisions.

More than just communicating, according to ACCA, a professional member organization for accountants, collaborating “means close and active partnering with their business counterparts in IT, human resources, marketing and operations, efficiently imparting expertise by translating data into useful information.”

Going beyond what is generally considered teamwork, collaborating requires being able to understand relevant business situations, the organization notes. Problem-solving, empathy and accountability are part of the process as well.


University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy online degree

University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.) online program helps students master accounting principles as well as related skills necessary for a successful career in the financial field.

UND is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, which only recognizes about 30% 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.



The Changing Role of Accounting in Enterprise Performance Management — International Federation of Accountants

15 Skills You Need to be an Accountant — USA Today

Strategic thinking – PICPA

Communication skills: Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants

Collaboration: ACCA Global