At a Time When More Skills are Required of Canadian Accountants, More Universities Offer Training

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These days, accountants need to do more than just roll out the numbers. They also have to table “softer skills” involving a deeper understanding of the businesses they’re in, says Janice Detta Colli, a Boyden managing director in Toronto heading the recruiter’s financial services practice in Canada.

“Since the credit crisis and the enhanced attention being paid to corporate risk, accountants need to be more well rounded than ever,” she says.

“Accountants today [in Canada] need to not only understand accounting principles but the vision for the business, the competitive landscape and how to motivate a team,” says Detta Colli.

Since accountants are almost always at the senior executive table, it is important that they have highly developed "soft" skills that enable them to translate the corporate strategy to their team and help the other functional areas meet their goals too, says the recruiter.

For example, an accountant advising one CFO in the manufacturing sector and one in the software sector, will need to help each able to understand the different market conditions, customer demands and risks associated with the business. “Accountants must be able to apply and communicate theses nuances to their team and the functional leaders across the business for the business to reach optimal performance,” says Detta Colli.

Fortunately, Canadian universities are more and more interested in offering business degrees with an accounting focus. One reason is additional funding. The Globe and Mail reports, for instance, that last November, McMaster University’s business became the last of eight universities in Ontario to receive funding (up to $100,000 each a year) from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario (ICAO) to establish a center for research, scholarly development and professional activities.

One reason for renewed interest in the accountancy profession relates to “corporate, banking, and government scandals” that accountants should become more adept at addressing, says The Globe and Mail, noting that today’s accountants need to have “the fortitude to stand up to a boss who wants to pretty up the balance sheet.”

Then there’s the flow of funds coming from The Institute of Chartered Accountants, which also pledged to commit $200,000 over five years for the CA/DeGroote Centre for the Promotion of Accounting Education and Research at McMaster University’s business school at the Ron Joyce Centre.

The partnership between the Institute and the eight Ontario universities dates to 2004, with three business schools already renewed for a second five-year term. They are The University of Toronto, Brock University, and Wilfrid Laurier University, ICAO spokesperson Perry Jenson tells eFinancial Careers.

Like other Ontario universities designated earlier by the Institute, McMaster has received ICAO accreditation for DeGroote’s accounting courses in its bachelor of commerce and MBA programs, says the Globe and Mail, which quotes Susan McCracken, director of the CA/DeGroote Centre saying that “Accounting is the center-point of the decision making, so we need to make sure we are training people to do that.”

Echoing Detta Colli, she says, “You need to be well-rounded to be a successful accountant because the numbers have become more complex over the last decade.”

The renewed interest in grooming students for the accounting profession in Canada is happening at a time when U.S. banks have been recruiting more people in management accounting—and when a shortage of candidates is leading to a bit of pay inflation for these individuals.

As we reported recently, management accountants, on average, received salary increases of around 4.3 percent year-on-year in 2011, suggests research from recruiters Badenoch & Clark.

This is largely down to their increased prominence within investment banks and other financial services organizations, which are looking to recruit – and get more out of – management accountants.

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