MOST people perceive accountants as socially awkward maths geeks wearing thick-framed glasses, sitting in corner cubicles tabulating endless, mind-numbing streams of numbers. However, the job is more than just preparing and examining financial statements.
It is a mixture of analysis, problem-solving and detailed work. In order to succeed in this career, an accountant must be able to communicate effectively and have a strong relationship with people, not just numbers.
This is the sentiment of Amir Ghandar, policy adviser of Certified Practising Accountants (CPA) Australia.
To have knowledge of accounting is just one thing; the key skill to thrive in an accounting career is communication.
“Understand your audience, your relationships with whom you’re communicating and what you’ll be able to resonate, put yourself in their shoes. Communication in a way crosses the bridge between significant complexity and simplicity,” he says.
Amir has been with CPA Australia for four years, where he oversees audit and assurance strategy, including professional development and training, policy, resource development and research, as well as a number of key initiatives on integrated reporting and sustainability.
As a professional accountant, he points out the importance of building relationships based on genuine sharing.
“At the end of the day, what resonates with people is when you’re genuine with them. Building relationships sounds simple but it’s one of the critical things for young accountants. Leadership and the willingness to take risk and bring people along with a vision are also critical.”
High demand profession
Amir previously worked at Ernst & Young in Sydney and London, managing a portfolio of major clients. He also headed the audit division of a mid-tier firm, establishing market strategy, training, staffing and IT resources. He likes to joke that the highlight of his accounting career was sharing a stage with Grammy-award singer, Olivia Newton John during a fundraising event.
“Being a professional accountant, I have experienced many things that I never would have imagined when I was in university. I basically have access to all areas and to some of the biggest companies or brands around the world. It gives me an insight on how businesses work. It’s a great training ground for anyone who wants to go into business,” he says.
It’s a career in high demand. According to Robert Walters Malaysia 2014 Mid-Year Market Update, employers are looking at hiring more tax professionals due to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax next year.
While key positions such as accountants and finance managers are the most sought after, the recruitment firm also noted an increase in other roles such as analyst, internal audit or control, strategies and tax.
However, hiring these professionals remains a challenge due to the limited talent pool. The firm expects more young tax candidates to be hired when tax professionals with three to five years’ experience within the Big 4 firms move to the commercial sector.
Although many firms are extensively hiring tax candidates, Amir believes that the accounting scene has been disrupted over the years. He finds it exciting to be in accounting currently due to the role the industry plays in society today.
“If there was a time to come into the profession and digitally disrupt it, now is the time. We’ve seen many young entrepreneurs coming into the accounting world and disrupt aged, old models,” Amir points out.
“With the way technology is advancing, there are huge opportunities for young professionals who can take a look at the issue and provide new solutions which incorporate all that technology to communicate and form the market in a way that does a better job than before.”
The importance of being certified
An accountant with a CPA certificate typically earns more and has the potential to advance higher in their career than non-certified accountants. According to the recent Kelly Services Malaysia 2014/15 salary guide, a senior accountant with a CPA certificate and seven years’ working experience earns between RM8,000 and RM12,000 monthly.
However, the path to being a certified accountant is a challenging one. Amir says that in order to be a CPA Australia member, a candidate must have a degree or postgraduate degree recognised by the firm. The candidate must also demonstrate competency in CPA Australia’s prescribed foundation level knowledge and, within a six-year period, complete the firm’s professional examinations.
“There are a number of strengths to our professional programme and it is really a comprehensive suite of educational purposes to gear up young professionals,” Amir says.
“It incorporates mentoring and hands-on experience, in a role that’s relevant to a professional accountant. It also incorporates a selection of core and elective professional training programmes that give professionals the knowledge and skills necessary for a career advancement.”
CPA Australia is one of the largest global accounting bodies, with 150,000 certified finance and accounting professionals in more than 120 countries. In Malaysia alone, it has recruited over 10,000 members.
“Becoming a CPA member will open more doors such as meeting and networking with big name employers. The power of relationship is to help secure your role, whether it’s your first or future role in your career. I don’t think there’s a role that I had where it wasn’t through a relationship that I’ve built through networking,” he says.
Amir advises future accountants to sign up with the network for information and ideas that could lead to their first job in the industry and perhaps lead them on the path to becoming the next leader in the Malaysian business environment.
This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 10 - 16, 2014.