Note: The following was written by Molly Boyle, senior manager of solutions marketing for BlackLine, a provider of cloud-based solutions that transform finance and accounting by automating, centralizing and streamlining financial close operations, intercompany accounting processes and other key finance and accounting processes for large and midsize organizations. Blackline is a strategic partner of the MACPA.

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As accounting and finance professionals, you do so much more than simply handle compliance matters. You’re also critical for creating strategy and driving process improvements across the entire organization.

But if the majority of your days are spent trying to get through a lengthy checklist of repetitive, manual processes, little time is left for these bigger-picture activities.

What if you could be more productive with fewer resources and less overtime while improving the quality of your work? Not only would you be pleased with this improvement, but it would set you apart.

What is an exceptional accountant?
Exceptional accountants are savvy, trustworthy, and highly reliable. They’re empowered by finance automation and can focus on providing strategic guidance to the business, such as improving internal processes, identifying trends, or finding cost-saving opportunities.

With new technology that can automatically discover errors, inaccuracies, and exceptions, exceptional accountants are freed to focus on the issues instead of losing days just trying to find them in the first place. They have the time to apply not just their knowledge and expertise, but also their creativity and intelligence.

But in many cases, especially in organizations that still rely on manual processes to manage increasing volume, today’s accountants are not fully utilized. They’re often unable to contribute to their business’ performance in more meaningful ways than producing the obligatory financial statements.

Whether you’re already working with a finance technology solution or still relying on legacy processes, these five key habits will serve as building blocks to achieve exceptional accountant status.

Habit 1: Take control
To become exceptional, accountants must have sound processes. And to ensure accuracy and mitigate risk, proper controls need to be in place.

A solid foundation with strong controls and processes allows for growth and expansion. Supporting growth and change can be exponentially more difficult — if not impossible — with manual processes that limit the enforcement of controls and leave compliance gaps.

Process automation enhances internal controls while enforcing standardization to improve the quality and accuracy of financial data. No longer weighed down by the most time-consuming manual work, you are free to use your knowledge and expertise to address exceptions, identify issues and trends, and support other strategic initiatives.

Habit 2: Seek growth
It’s so easy to go to work each day grinding through your to-do list. It’s easy to get comfortable doing things the way they’ve always been done, and some might even find it rewarding to make it through another month-end close.
But accountants are too highly skilled and highly trained — too valuable — to spend 40 to 80 hours of their week this way.

Pursuing a continuous improvement mindset and looking for new and better ways of doing things is much more gratifying and creates opportunities for you to impact the bottom line. Strive to exceed strategic and operational goals by contributing to the creation of a high-performing and sustainable organization.

Habit 3: Take ownership
Ownership comes with holding yourself and your co-workers accountable. Take the time to perform post-mortem reviews to identify what went right and what went wrong. Seek out causes, and then incorporate what you’ve learned into a continuous improvement model.

The best performing teams know that success means always adapting, innovating, and improving, and this creates a culture of continuous improvement. Looking for new ways to use technology to automate processes can help you feel more invested, as you’re playing an essential role in meeting the evolving needs of accounting both now and into the future.

Habit 4: Challenge
Don’t accept the status quo as untouchable. Instead, seek to understand the process and desired outcomes and then challenge them, applying out-of-the-box thinking to uncover better operating models.

It’s taken a long time for innovation to find its place within accounting and finance, and now is the time to challenge your internal practices with technology in mind. This shift can result in streamlining processes to eliminate unnecessary steps, which reduces work and improves quality all around.

Habit 5: Automate
The most effective way to put the four previous habits into practice is to follow this principle: If you can’t eliminate it, automate it.

As organizations automate their processes, their financial close gets shorter and they gain time to focus on more value-adding activities. Automation increases accounting efficiency and transparency and creates more satisfied and engaged finance and accounting teams.

Better yet, you can trust the numbers with greater confidence than ever before.

It’s all about perspective
Next year will inevitably bring more innovation and technological advancement, as firms transform at an accelerated rate. It’s our perspective and forward thinking that can make all the difference as we continue to evolve in our role as accountants.

Begin to cultivate the habits and skills you need to build your future in this ever-changing industry, stay engaged, and understand the latest industry trends and new technology. Above all, develop a growth mindset so you will be ready to adapt to whatever the new year has in store.

Perspective is everything in this landscape of constant change. Accounting and finance teams who understand that every challenge is an opportunity will not just survive in 2019 — they’ll thrive.

Read this e-book to discover how you can begin cultivating the crucial skills of an exceptional accountant.

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