ACCA’s recent report on the future of professional accountants identified that ‘expert use of analytics will enable better and close to real time reporting, more predictive analysis and greater interconnectedness of financial and non-financial performance.’ In addition, CPA Australia’s most recent ‘Firm of the Future’ update recognised that ‘accountants need diagnostic skills to interpret financial statements, along with a range of soft skills.‘
In the world of accounting, data analysis is playing an increasingly important role in driving better decision making for clients. The analyst can see beyond the past to explore the future world of the client in relation to growth, value, profit and cashflow. Being curious about the numbers can open up immense opportunities for you and your firm to add real value to clients.
Data analysis is, however, a lot more than simply filtering data and putting together pretty graphs and tables. It’s also about knowing what numbers to use and then understanding what they mean through the clients’ eyes.
A lot of firms have invested money in the tools. Having the right tools is absolutely necessary, but it’s not sufficient. What are you doing to invest in your accountants to help them look ‘beyond the numbers?’
Here are 5 skills that every manager or partner in public practice should develop to become a stronger analyst.
1. Be able to tell a story about the data AND keep it simple
The ability to present a picture around the numbers is important. However, an effective analyst needs to be able to tell a story. A good analyst must be able to communicate or present ideas clearly and confidently so that a non-technical audience (the client) can understand and make decisions based on the information provided.
2. Pay attention to detail AND understand the big picture
A good analyst must pay attention to the detail, but should also be able to see how all the individual elements come together to provide a clear picture of the client’s circumstances. It’s about engaging clients to understand how trends in financial statements including balance sheet, profit and loss and cashflow can highlight issues that should be addressed.
3. Have insights AND see what they mean in real life
A good analyst must have some understanding of the client’s financial environment. For business clients, this means having a grasp of issues relating to all areas of business operations including sales and marketing, IT systems, human resources, logistics and other business functions. Of course, the client will always know more about their business than the analyst, but asking the right questions goes a long way to getting to the right answers.
4. Know how to extract data AND know when it’s wrong
All accountants are familiar with the acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage out). One of the main challenges of firms seeking to take on a stronger business analytical or advisory role with clients is how to get access to accurate data in real time. Cloud accounting, bank feeds and machine intelligence tools are all helping, but the ability to see when data is dirty is essential. Otherwise, analysts find that all discussion with clients is about the quality of data, not analysis.
5. Engage in CPD AND ask lots of questions to the client
The profession of data analytics is having a significant impact on the role that accountants have with their clients. Suddenly, managers and partners have the opportunity to really add value beyond compliance. Of course, both capacity and capability can be roadblocks. There’s quite a journey from basic analytics to value-added advice. It’s important to understand where you and your team are at and not become discouraged.
Where are you positioned in the life cycle of a business analyst?
A NEW ELEARNING COURSE – 10 KEY STEPS TO A STRONGER FOCUS ON BUSINESS ANALYTICS
The BUSINESS ANALYST self-paced eLearning course provides 10 key steps to a stronger focus on analytics for accountants, managers and partners in public practice.
Over 10 modules, we’ll take you on a journey from accountant to analyst and finally to advisor. We’ll outline the skills required at each stage of professional development and help you to develop and implement a SMART action plan focusing on your personal interests and capabilities.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The BUSINESS ANALYST eLearning course consists of 10 modules with clear learning objectives. Content includes presentations, workbooks, support materials and assessment tasks. Most importantly, learners develop their own professional development pathway using our SMART action planning template.
WHO’S IT FOR?
This course is suitable for accountants, managers and partners who want to spend more time thinking beyond the numbers and engage their business clients in deeper and broader discussions about their financial future.