What the next generation of accountants really wants

Read Time: 4m 55s

Millennials are often portrayed in the media as entitled, frequent job switchers and interested primarily in monetary gain. But the reality doesn’t quite match up.

The next generation of accountants want to be exactly that. Accountants.

They studied accounting because it interests them, not because it is a stable career they can fall back on if ‘Plan A’ fails. They’re also not afraid to call themselves accountants. In fact they relish breaking the stereotype of a boring accountant.

They do however expect something from their employers that previous generations didn’t ask for. They want to be engaged. They want to use their minds to solve problems for clients. They want to challenge themselves on complex tasks or projects.

Millennials want to use technology. You won’t keep an accounting graduate for long if they are set to work coding and posting bank statements – which was my first task on my first day of work sixteen years ago. Even the date is etched on my mind – there I was, on 29 January 2001, coding and posting a quarter’s worth of bank statements. I fell asleep and woke to my head hitting the desk. I thought there had to be a better way and set out to find it.

Within six months I had that client on a computerised cashbook  doing his own data entry while we did the reconciliations and payroll. Over time, I trained the client to do his own recs and payroll. Eventually I implemented an invoice manager into his workshop, helped him design the templates and perfect the process. This excited me. Coding and posting bank statements did not.

But back in 2001 this was what you did. You did your time. Today, doing time alone is no longer accepted as part of the maturation of a young accountant. I’ve heard stories of big  accounting firm still having graduates code and post bank statements in their private client divisions. It’s no wonder these accountants become disillusioned and turn to other roles outside of public practice.

This is one of the reasons accounting as a profession is  finding it challenging  to fill vacancies with accountants who have 3-6 years experience. These are the graduates who started their careers just as technology was starting to make an impact on the roles of accountants and only a handful were lucky enough to work for early adopter firms.

And this is why Millennials are the answer to this problem. They are ready to work hard for  firms who are going to give them an opportunity to learn, and  they are also the ones who are going to assist those firms that still need to get started on their digital journey

The cloud has given accounting students new horizons. They’ve heard about it, read about it, and now it is finding its ways into their uni degrees. I’ve been lecturing on the cloud at Macquarie University for the past four years. Students know what the cloud is and they expect to use cloud tools when they start their first job. They see no value in wasting time restoring backups and moving figures from a client’s desktop program to a desktop accountant’s general ledger program.

They are entrepreneurial and want to work on cool things. Fortunately the cloud is cool. Young grads are great at using technology, and it’s important these days for accountants to have the skills to help clients run their business better using technology – so there’s a perfect match.

Accounting firms need to embrace this youthful enthusiasm and expertise, and channel it in the right direction. If there’s a new cloud reporting app to check out, give the Millennial the task of trialing  it, learning it, and reporting back as to whether it is useful for your firm and your clients. Encourage them to become the source of in-house knowledge and support.

Being entrepreneurial means millennials  are problem solvers at heart. They want to be challenged. So throw them the difficult tasks and expose them to the more challenging scenarios once reserved for seniors. In many cases I have seen the younger accountants come up with some very ingenious solutions.

They may not always provide a technically correct solution and many employers find this hard to deal with and often feel let down by the Millennial. But in  fact, what they have done is demonstrate it’s possible to view a situation from a different perspective – one which might not have otherwise been considered.

This is the learning environment in which Millennials thrive, and they will happily get it wrong 9 times out of 10 because they see this as a crucial part of their development process. The key is ensuring that as employers, we  set clear boundaries to ensure the process remains efficient. The good news is, thanks to their knowledge of technology, millennials generally get through three times as many scenarios as  their more experienced colleagues do.

If you include learning challenges like this in the mix together with technical accounting and tax training, and give them opportunities to shine internally and then externally, you’ll master the art of employing, nurturing and getting the best from the next generation of accountants.


Published by James Solomons

FCA, GAICD. Innovative Business Leader. Global CFO @Xref (ASX:XF1). Director at @business_Depot (formerly Aptus Accounting & Advisory @AptusAA). Former Head of Accounting @Xero Australia. Advocate, Entrepreneur & Educator #Family #Football #Fastcars!

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