Why is continuing professional development important for accountants?
Alan Nelson: Continuing professional development (CPD) has always been important. Accountants are trusted to perform all sorts of tasks that require them to comply with regulations and understand the various accounting standards and tax regulations.
But CPD is also important in that if you're going to move through your career successfully, you have to learn new things. I think people sometimes see CPD as a burden that's imposed on them by their professional body but, in fact, it's key to career progression.
Picture: Alan Nelson.
How has the pandemic changed accounting and what’s expected of accountants?
Nelson: Accountants played a key role in the survival of many organisations during the pandemic. They were expected to understand the various assistance packages on offer and to cost out any proposals for change. They were absolutely at the heart of all of those conversations.
In some cases, massive change happened in a very short period and, suddenly, that whole strategic debate was cut through. Accountants become critical in being able to cost and value different proposals and understand what's possible.
What opportunities does this new reliance on accountants present?
Nelson: It puts accountants in a more strategic role. If businesses have started to think an accountant can be a partner in the strategic debate, that's a role accountants don't want to give up.
The people who are going to be successful are the ones who really understand the business model and the dynamics of it. Because it's very easy to live within an existing environment and make sure all the transactions are processed efficiently, that everything's handled and looked after tightly, and not really understand the dynamics of that business model.
Accountants need to spend much more time looking forward; those are different skills from what’s required in the traditional role of reporting on performance in the previous period. That is, of course, important, but it is backward looking.
What skills do accountants need to develop?
Nelson: The first skill they’ll need to develop is to have more of a voice in strategy formulation.
The second is to have a much wider view of performance. It's a key role of an accountant that they can take the strategic objectives of an organisation and then turn them into measures they can monitor success against. What we would traditionally call business performance management becomes more and more important.
The third is this ability to look forward – producing forecasts – and because you understand that business model, being able to predict the likely impact of possible future events on the business.
What makes a CPD program more effective?
Nelson: An effective CPD program is one that's based on somebody really understanding what they want to achieve.
The way to do it is to sit and say, “By the end of this year, I'm going to need to know these things to be effective in my organisation. Because we have these particular strategies in place, that's going to mean I need to develop these skills.”
Another way of doing it is to say my goal is to be a financial controller or a CFO, or whatever you might want. In order to do that, I'll have to show experience on my CV that makes me a suitable candidate and also competence in various areas. How can I use my CPD program to develop that competence?
Find out more:
There’s not long to go until your CPD deadline. Join more than 85,000 accountants in 179 countries already using accountingcpd and start doing CPD that keeps you up to date, is enjoyable and will make a real difference to you in your career.