Great expectations

Aug 01, 2019
Trainees are the lifeblood of the profession and rather than expect conformance, accountancy firms must  continually evolve to meet their needs.

By Sinead Donovan

In today’s environment, the role and route to becoming an accountant has changed compared to when I initially started my training contract. I don’t mean in respect to the professional exams or length of training contracts, but more the expectation of the future accountant in their day-to-day work environment and, likewise, in the expectation we have from them. In fact, the question I am asking is: what is the primary role of an accountant?

Wikipedia defines an accountant as “a practitioner of accounting or accountancy, which is the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities and others make decisions about allocating resources”.

The rounded accountant

Technically, as accountants, we need to be able to provide the above services – but this is no longer our sole role. Today, we need to be experts in project management, forensic accounting, cybersecurity, fintech, negotiation settlements – the list 
goes on.

To service these needs, it is becoming increasingly critical that we train very rounded and evolved accountants, and that we arm ourselves in our teams with skillsets to build a sustainable relationship with the client, have the foresight to envisage what they need, and be able to address their needs.

An evolving industry

We are all aware that the professional service environment is changing at rapid speed. To meet these changes, there is a high expectation from the future generation of accountants.

This future generation of accountants will be key to the evolution of the professional services industry. We want and need our accountants to have vast experience and other interests, and we want to see how this can be used and applied in our changing environment. This requirement is well served by trainee accountants who come through the non-traditional accounting route and often have a primary degree in something completely different – science, arts, engineering or marketing.

Their unique skill will add to the learning experience they will encounter and give a different perspective on the work being performed for clients.

Trainees’ concerns

Trainees want to learn, but they also want to be supported throughout their career to ultimately achieve the goals and targets they set for themselves. They are not afraid to address issues or concerns they may have. Sometimes we may bemoan this as a millennial or Gen X requirement. However, it should be welcomed and embraced.
These students are headstrong, determined and not afraid to voice their opinion. They want a fully rounded experience and the opportunity to get involved in other aspects of the business. We as training firms need to be positioned to address their needs – and there is no doubt that we are being interviewed by the students.

A number of things are important to them, not least company polices in respect of CSR, career progression, the different service offerings we provide as professional services firms and how we keep up-to-date with change and technology. They are also keenly driven by the work-life conundrum, which can be difficult to navigate as a trainee accountant.

Our responsibility

And indeed, accountancy firms must simultaneously pivot their own expectations of trainees. We need to:

  • Help them set stretch goals and put supports in place to enable the achievement of these goals;
  • Keep pace with changes in technology and develop our service offerings to support our clients and our trainees;
  • Communicate and share our strategies and objectives with them – they need to understand what their investment can reap; and
  • Be open to being challenged and questioned.
Most importantly, we need to do all this while remembering that ethics is the cornerstone of our profession – a fact that, thankfully, hasn’t changed.

Sinead Donovan FCA is a Partner in Financial Accounting and Advisory Services at Grant Thornton.