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Beyond the Balance Sheet: Soft Skills Shine in the Age of AI-Powered Accounting

By integrating AI into accounting practices, CPAs can be freed to focus on honing their soft skills, evolving into trusted advisors that inform actionable, strategic decisions for their clients. By John McGowan | Digital Exclusive – 2024

For decades, meticulous spreadsheets and unwavering accuracy dominated accounting and tax professionals’ days. While technical expertise remains the bedrock of their successes, a new wave of soft skills is reshaping the industry. In today’s artificial intelligence (AI)-driven world, the most successful accountants aren’t just number crunchers but masters of soft skills—the human-centric abilities that are critical in any industry, especially accounting.

A recent McKinsey report underscores this shift in what’s expected of today’s workforce, highlighting the growing demand for problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication prowess in the growing digital landscape. According to the report, about 37% of interviewees (HR professionals) reported a lack of candidates who meet the standard for these soft skills. Another 31% noticed a lack of solid communication skills. However, studies by the Stanford Research Center, Harvard University, and Carnegie Foundation discovered that a staggering 85% of an employee’s success hinges on these soft skills.

The Soft Side of Numbers

Surprisingly, the accounting profession is at the forefront of this soft-skills revolution. Here's a look at why these skills are so powerful for accounting professionals.

  • Communication: Translating complex financial information into clear, concise terms for clients with diverse backgrounds is crucial. Strong written and verbal communication skills build trust and ensure everyone is on the same page regardless of technical abilities.
  • Collaboration: Teamwork is paramount in modern accounting. Working seamlessly with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders necessitates active listening, empathy, and conflict-resolution skills.
  • Critical Thinking: Beyond interpreting spreadsheets, accountants must analyze data, identify trends, and anticipate potential problems. Sharp analytical and problem-solving skills are fundamental to uncovering insights and offering valuable financial advice.
  • Adaptability: The accounting landscape is evolving rapidly with new technologies and regulations emerging constantly. Being adaptable and open to learning new things allows accountants to embrace change and thrive in this dynamic environment.

So, this begs the question: How can accountants develop and use these skills in real-world applications? Here’s where AI-powered technologies, particularly comprehensive tax preparation solutions, come into play to help. By liberating CPAs from mundane tasks, AI enables them to evolve into trusted advisors, steering clients toward inventive solutions and strategic, long-range strategies. This is the transformative power of AI in action.

Take, for example, the ability to communicate complicated financial information concisely and engagingly. With AI handling the heavy lifting of data analysis and repetitive tasks, CPAs can focus on crafting compelling narratives that resonate with clients and stakeholders. This is where critical-thinking and storytelling skills come into play, allowing CPAs to translate dense numbers into actionable insights that inform strategic decisions.

Empowered by AI, Not Replaced

AI isn’t here to replace CPAs and other accounting professionals but to augment and advance their capabilities. Integrating AI into tax and accounting practices holds immense potential to transform the industry, bringing about streamlined processes, heightened accuracy, and the ability to make proactive decisions. The benefits of adopting this technology have become increasingly evident with advantages that include:

  • Invisible Accounting: automating routine tasks for accountants to focus on strategic decision-making.
  • Data-Driven Insights: analyzing vast data sets and revealing patterns and trends that can inform more effective client consultations and presentations.
  • Active Insight: offering real-time financial visibility for informed and proactive decision-making.

AI frees CPAs to develop their problem-solving skills and focus on building solid relationships with their clients. No longer bogged down by routine tasks, they can tackle intricate challenges with renewed focus and energy.

As the world becomes more technologically driven, the value of soft skills will only continue to rise. For tax and accounting professionals, whose roles revolve around data management, adopting AI and automation-based accounting solutions streamlines repetitive tasks and amplifies efficiency, precision, and analytical capacities. Consequently, this enables them to concentrate on honing their soft skills, positioning the industry to thrive in an era where human ingenuity collaborates well with cutting-edge technology.

John McGowan is the founder and CEO of HubSync, a SaaS company with a next-generation tax and accounting automation platform. Previously, McGowan has more than 25 years of experience driving technology innovation and investment at Deloitte and KPMG.


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