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How to choose a chief accountant and have no regrets

How to choose a chief accountant and have no regrets

PUBLICATIONS \ 29.03.2021

It has often been said that accountancy is a profession that does not lose its relevance, and accounting, as a sphere of activity, is stable.

The labour market confirms stability in the field of accounting – the demand for specialists does not fall, with new vacancies constantly appearing. But, despite this, the market is changing and this dictates new requirements for the competencies and skills of specialists.

An accountant is an important team member who is responsible for key aspects of a company’s financial activities, and his or her mistakes can be very costly. The specific features of the accountant’s activities form special requirements for candidates for this position and, as a rule, the selection of qualified and competent specialists in the field of finance and accounting takes considerable time, requiring scrupulousness and patience.

Today, there are changes in accounting associated with the updating of legislation or the introduction of new branches of and types of activities, while trends both in accounting itself and in the labour market are evolving. In view of this, the requirements today for a chief accountant are becoming ever more demanding.

Firstly, this owes to the trend towards the “versatility” of specialists, which has affected all business areas. There is increasing appreciation for employees who are not just specialized in a single area and type of transaction, but who have comprehensive expertise across several areas, with a deeper understanding of the processes.

Now accounting involves not only the ability to use certain software, whether it is 1C, SAP or another software system, but also requires an understanding of how accounting is carried out on the part of the software, together with an ability to see the processes comprehensively.

Secondly, the requirements for a knowledge of foreign languages are increasing, which is characteristic of international companies or companies working with foreign contractors and partners. 

As for chief accountants, the demand from employers for them is also growing. It is becoming relevant to combine the chief accountant’s “classic” functionality with the duties and obligations of a finance manager. A modern chief accountant does not just maintain the book-keeping function, offset a balance and prepare reporting, but also knows how to “read” this reporting, as well as how to analyze and transmit critically important information for the business based on accounting data, including for the purposes of optimizing taxation and of risk analysis in managerial decisions.  The combination of financial analysis, competent accounting and financial planning has already become a factor in a company’s competitive ability. On the part of applicants, the opinion is formed that the vector of the professional development of the chief accountant’s competencies, along with in-depth expertise in accounting, is associated with immersion in financial management.

Much attention is also paid to the soft skills of the specialist. Accounting is actively integrated with almost all business processes, which implies not just “working with papers” but also a large number of communications – with business owners, management, operational divisions, technical specialists, contractors and other concerned parties. The ability to “translate” accounting information into accessible language is valued among the skills of the chief accountant. It turns out that the chief accountant is no longer just an ordinary specialist, but plays a strategic role in the company, being directly involved in the development of the business.

IN VIEW OF THIS, THE QUESTION ARISES: HOW CAN ONE FIND A GOOD CHIEF ACCOUNTANT?

It is no secret that professional qualifications are important, but they are not the only factor. Our knowledge suggests that professionals are characterized by a combination of hard skills together with proper personal qualities, a high level of expertise, and skills in organizing work as well as in building processes.

On the one hand, accounting implies the regulation of actions, coherence, punctuality, and attentiveness, but on the other hand, it should not have the appearance of an authoritarian imposition of approaches to work. If such a key employee as the chief accountant copes perfectly with his main responsibilities, is technically savvy, but does not know how to work in a team, has difficulty in building relationships with subordinate employees, managers, owners and related divisions – this can become a problem.

A common practice for assessing this skill in an interview is to use case studies. For example, these may be questions that help to find out what the candidate would do in a particular case. It goes without saying that the candidate can voice the “desired ” answer for the employer to please at any cost, but a simulation of various situations helps to assess the ability to make decisions in either standard or non-typical conditions. It is better if the questions asked and cases covered do not imply an unambiguous “yes/no” answer, but give the candidate the opportunity to express an opinion, describe the actions he would take and outline the reason for making a particular decision.

Attention is also often paid to the duration of work in previous companies, and there is a reason for this. Here the “happy medium” rule is in play – if a person has been working in one place for a long time, it is necessary to pay attention to the candidate’s willingness to immerse themselves in a new field and be taught (especially with a high level of experience), as well as the reason for searching for a new position. But frequent changes and “jumping” from place to place can cause the employer concerns – it is necessary to understand whether the candidate is ready for a long and productive cooperation. Of course, applicants may have various reasons, which may be justified and logical, but there is another side that arouses suspicion – whether the specialist has tried to avoid checks, whether there were problems with the maintenance of the book-keeping function, etc. This does not mean that you should consciously suspect a person, but in such cases, it is possible to refer to recommendations from previous employers.

To assess professional skills, it would be useful to involve experts from the same field. One of the stages in an assessment of knowledge and skills is often testing. The tests may contain questions and cover aspects of book-keeping and tax accounting. It is important to check the results carefully, assessing what the candidate has previously worked with and what he has not encountered. A great tool is a request to comment and give feedback on the test answers. This gives more information not only about the candidate’s competencies, but also shows an ability to build communication with colleagues. One has to admit that it’s great when experts can clearly and logically explain a solution and put their idea across.

The selection of any specialist in the field of accounting and finance requires special attention. More and more companies are seeking to entrust accounting functions to professionals who not only carry out book-keeping duties, but also provide consultancy support on field-specific issues. Having accumulated more than 10 years of experience, Acsour’s team successfully adapts to changes not only in the economy as a whole, but also in the labour market, tracking trends and forming in-depth expertise in the selection and development of the team. Accounting outsourcing has a number of advantages not only for clients, but also for experts who are striving to grow in the field of accounting and to work on interesting projects. Work in outsourcing for accountants has largely ceased to be an exclusively routine process. It provides an opportunity to increase the level of one’s professional knowledge, to become acquainted with accounting across various areas of business and in new spheres, to learn competent time-management and to acquire the necessary team management skills.

Ellina Islamova

HR Specialist