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Lattice Career Paths, Shifting Economies, And Purposeful Work: How Accountants Can Leverage These Trends

This is the second of two guest blog posts from technology and lifestyle accountant Heather Smith. You can read part one here: The rise of automation, the gig economy, and data: how accountants can leverage these trends.

Recently I sat down with Kevin Fitzgerald, Managing Director of Xero (Asia) to talk about some of the trends identified in the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) report Future ready: accountancy careers in 2020’s.

If you’re thinking about what your job will or could look like in the future, here are some career-focused trends that may interest you.

  • The meaning of work. Purpose and meaning from work become important.
  • Beyond the lattice? Career paths become much less obvious and more variable.
  • Multi-Polar world. The rise of cities and shifting economic power provides new career opportunities.

(Note: All 20 Trends can be read here, or listen to the discussion on the Cloud Stories podcast.)

Here is a transcript of our conversation:

The meaning of work. Purpose and meaning from work become important.

Kevin: I think when it comes to purpose, and especially for accountants, it’s really figuring out where your passion lies. And sometimes that’s a discovery. So it’s not something you know the answer to at first, I certainly didn’t. But something that developed in me is a real passion to help business owners. I started to learn who the business owners were and understood that the business is actually a family unit behind it. And that was a really interesting perspective that you don’t get when you’re in uni or school. You really are going to get it in real life examples.

Kevin: That meaning of work then became very much about passion for work and passion for helping people. And I think that’s where you develop your purpose. I see accountants developing that over their career rather than having it at the start. And it’s a really big trend, and I think people are now looking for it and searching for it, and then talking about it more in terms of what is the passion and what do accountants want to do? And I think that’s been a real shift, and certainly in the last 10 years.

Heather: I see accountants who are working with their clients actually to help them find their meaning. And it’s not just about the business, but it’s about their life goals and how the two can complement each other. In some cases, the accountants are just going in and helping them free up time, free up capacity through either digitalisation or assisting them in engaging more staff or growing their business in different ways.

Beyond the lattice? Career paths become much less obvious and more variable.

Heather: We no longer have a career ladder, which I think in my generation when I came through, it was like, it was a ladder, and this is what you needed to do to go up it.

Kevin: Yes, and it’s always been historically going to an audit firm; generally, one of the larger ones, do your studies, get the experience, and then you start to move on to a continuation of the audit firm or moving into corporate. I saw that when I worked in audit, but also I saw that when I worked in recruitment.

Kevin: The amount of newly qualified accountants that had worked in an audit firm for four or five years far outweighed the people that were coming from a smaller accounting practice or even had worked in an SME. As a result of that, their perception of the world is very much large corporate, and they’ve never really been exposed to what else is out there.

Kevin: Some of them actually moved to a smaller, maybe even a suburban accounting firm. But what they discovered was that firm was way more nimble, utilising modern technology, were closer to clients, they were more involved, and then the passion for their career actually changed. And I guess in the case of myself – I was in accounting, then I was in audit, then hedge funds, then recruitment and now technology. And a big part of the reason for that is the ACCA experience, and the ACCA training, and the business training that I got.

Kevin: Having the ACCA qualification was also an opportunity to have a passport to travel, a professional passport. So I think the lattice is definitely key and I’m seeing people rather than chasing the direct career growth to get to a set path really quickly, they’re looking a bit broader and saying, “Okay, well, what’s happening in different industries? What can I learn? What would I like to do?” and going on more discovery around their career, which is good.

Heather: Yes. I know as a young ACCA member, I lived in Wolverhampton in England for a period. And during that time, I knew I couldn’t get a job because I was only going to be there a short period. But what I did was I took lots of casual work through a recruitment agency. I did three weeks at British Rail, I did six weeks at Dillon’s Bookstore, and it taught me an amazing amount of practical knowledge that I was then able to bring through into the latter stages of my career. I potentially could have stayed there two years and maybe not learnt more than I needed to in those six weeks.

Multi-Polar world. The rise of cities and shifting economic power provides new career opportunities.

Kevin: It’s a level playing field for accountants. I don’t think there’s as much restriction on where you are currently based because of the way to digitally network, the way to digitally work online. I would really encourage accountants at the moment to think about the type of work they want to do. And what region would that be in. People are going to be looking for talent in different places now.

Kevin: For businesses, even like ourselves where we are a global business, we’ve gone, “Hey, is there talent in different places around the world that we could actually connect with? What about the changing dynamics of the cities? Where are there opportunities for accountants to learn?”. It’s definitely going to change. And change, even more next year, until we really figure out what’s the impact of us all working from home.

Heather: Yes. In terms of workflow and capacity planning, the compliance deadlines are different throughout the world. I’m aware of firms in Australia who make their staff available to firms in England during their quiet time. During November, December and January, which can be quite a quiet time here in Australia, is quite a busy time in the UK. I love that model.

Heather: And they’ve told me that in times gone by they’ve gone and worked over there physically, but now are doing it remotely. So if you do need capacity in your firm, there are opportunities abroad, and they’re of highly talented people in many different places. If they have the ACCA qualification you can have the confidence to move ahead with those decisions.

Final thoughts

Quality experienced accountants can lean into their interests, skills and strengths, and embrace a meaningful lifestyle and work for businesses they want to – on their terms. Understanding and monitoring trends, can assist in identifying areas for improvement, help you be in control of your career destiny, and develop your instincts about the market. What are your thoughts on these career trends? Do they resonate with you? Are they something you can learn from?

Thanks to Heather for contributing this thought-provoking article. You can listen to the full discussion on the Cloud Stories podcast.

Further reading:

The Rise Of Automation, The Gig Economy, And Data: How Accountants Can Leverage These Trends

Heather Smith

A technology and lifestyle accountant with a deep understanding of automated, integrated cloud business tools and how business apps can be utilised effectively to improve workflow and surface information useful for data-informed decisions. Through running a modern cloud-based practice for over a decade, she’s extensively shared her methodologies, business strategies and work-life balance practices through the ‘Cloud Stories’ podcast, writing multiple Cloud Accounting books, including Xero for Dummies, and publishing the Accounting Apps newsletter: HeatherSmithAU.com. A FCA, FCCA, FICB, commerce graduate, and accredited trainer.