The role of the accountant has, of late, been diligently transforming
Forget notions of the shy number cruncher in the corner and instead get ready for personable, client-focused advisors who build relationships with managers and shareholders alike; expect likable leaders who drive the business based on ethical practice and transparency.
Expect someone like Laura Hinsley, an ACCA qualified Chartered Certified Accountant who after joined top-tier accountancy firm Grant Thornton in 2012 and since qualification in 2014 received four promotions in quick progression to become a Senior Manager within the Audit department.
A rising star of the industry, Hinsley was named one of the ‘Top 35 Accountants Under 35’ by Accountancy Age in 2016.
She is ambitious, focused, charming and with her soft Birmingham accent easily flips between conversation covering the minutiae detail of her accountancy practice and how she juggles her professional and private life.
“The stereotype of a traditional accountant seems a distant memory as organisations now being to recognise skills wider than pure technical accounting ability, which is a given in our industry,” Hinsley says. “As technology advances most of the manual time-consuming work that I did at the start of my career is now done at the click of a button. This allows me more time to spend with my clients discussing their needs and supporting them in more valuable ways. Being a people person and a critical thinker are now skills as highly valued as being a technical expert.”
Digital advancements such as data analytics, tightening regulations and changing consumer behaviour have introduced new ethical complexities. Subsequently, the accountant’s role has evolved from record-keeping to reporting, interpretation and telling stories around the data. More critical than ever, is the need for accountants to adhere to professional standards.
Hinsley chose to study for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a leading international accountancy body so well regarded, it is automatically recognised in other countries as an equivalent local qualification.
Originally she was attracted by the flexibility of the programme, which allowed her to study around her job and personal life and to take exams in an order that best suited her, but she soon realised she was gaining much more.
“Obtaining an ACCA qualification is not purely limited to passing exams. There is a clear focus within the training material on the importance of adhering to ethical standards and working responsibly and with integrity,” she says. “My clients want to be assured of the high-quality standards I work to and having an ACCA qualification is a clear indicator of the professionalism they can expect.”
Hinsley studied and worked hard during the three-year programme. “It was a challenge but nothing less than I expected of a prestigious professional accountancy qualification,” she says. I prioritised my studies for three years and put aside time at the evenings and weekends. Looking back it was 100 percent worth the commitment and a small price to pay to become ACCA qualified.”
Perhaps a reflection of the changing role of the accountant, Hinsley says it was the network of colleagues, friends, and mentors she made through the ACCA online portal and events that provided her with a source of companionship. “It is important to connect to other ACCA members going through the same process for encouragement and to learn from each other. I had some amazingly inspirational teachers at Kaplan, some of whom I still keep in touch.”
The support continues today with Hinsley explaining: “Small contribution to the ACCA post qualification are rewarded tenfold . As a professional body, they really do have their members’ best interests at heart. There is always someone in the ACCA network that can support you through challenges that they may have previously experienced.”
After qualification Hinsley was successful in obtaining a place on the ACCA’s Leaders of Tomorrow programme. This two-year course enabled her to work alongside a group of 20 like-minded individuals to learn valuable soft skills, which she says have significantly contributed towards her success.
As a leader, Hinsley is focused on her next career steps. She regularly leans back to the ACCA for support and to give guidance. Unlike the accountants of the past, you’ll see her talking at panel discussions at the ACCA headquarters, guiding the conversation about the behaviors and qualities required for accountants to meet the future needs and demands of the profession. “This is particularly important in my industry as technological advancements are drastically changing the way we provide audit services to our clients,” she says.
As a full time working parent to a one-year-old, Hinsley is attuned to the need for a better work-life balance in the industry. She talks of the cruciality to juggle work responsibilities alongside family and friend commitments. This, she says, is all part of inspiring future generations to embark on a career in accountancy and consider what their future career paths might look like. “It is an exciting time where technology now allows more flexibility in our working practices, which in my experience also leads to enhanced outcomes at work and a more engaged workforce.”
Her advice to those considering a career in accountancy and the ACCA qualification is to, “set realistic but stretching goals. There is no set way to undertake the qualification and every person will have a different path.”
Hinsley’s path along a career in finance is an inspiration. “I love to get involved with projects that encourage different ways of thinking and provide more efficient and better quality outcomes,” she says. “Spending time with my clients and being able to see my inputs making a difference in their business is important to me and makes me realise why I do the job I do.”
Personable, caring and a driver of change; it’s true, the role of the accountant is changing.
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