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The growth of international business has resulted in numerous changes - and challenges - for accounting and finance professionals. The increasingly global nature of business is accelerating the convergence of professional practices and norms, such as principles-based accounting and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). In addition, workforces are becoming more diverse, making communication more complex.
Changes such as these have driven up the demand for individuals with well-rounded skill sets, including excellent communication and analytical abilities, as well as a global understanding of a firm's corporate culture, values and ethical standards when interacting with colleagues and clients around the world.
Possessing a global perspective will help position you for a wider variety of future career opportunities. Following are ways in which accounting and finance professionals can enhance their skill sets and improve their marketability in today's international business environment:
Increase your cultural literacy.
If you grew up in a bilingual household, you have a huge advantage in this area. However, simply knowing a second language - or several languages - does not ensure success in a cross-cultural setting. Hiring managers are looking for job candidates with the ability to see issues from more than one point of view and understand how local customs may affect practices in different parts of the world.
What practical steps can you take to increase your cultural literacy? Consider learning a new language, particularly one spoken in an area where you might like to work. Take a trip abroad. Participate in multicultural events or organizations in your community. Even the simple step of getting to know colleagues or neighbors born in other countries can help. Reading widely - both financial and business publications as well as general news sources - also can help you increase your cultural awareness and keep you up to date with worldwide events affecting your field.
Enhance your ability to exercise professional judgment.
As U.S. and international accounting standards merge, financial professionals will need more highly developed skills in areas of critical thinking and risk management. A rule that applies to a particular situation domestically may need to be interpreted and applied appropriately in a different country; such circumstances require strong professional judgment on the part of accounting and finance staff. Similarly, the movement toward fair-value accounting will require many current and future accounting and finance practitioners to enhance their knowledge of valuation principles, which call for more individual discretion on the part of professionals.
Companies also need personnel with strong critical-thinking skills to assist with risk management. Accountants must have a thorough understanding of the types of risks faced by their firms and the financial instruments that can help offset those risks. In the future, businesses will continue to rely heavily on their finance departments for advice on hedging risk and complying with international regulations on risk management.
To enhance your professional judgment skills, look for articles, seminars and workshops highlighting the differences between U.S. and international accounting practices. Take classes or seek mentors who can help you better understand financial risk management, and educate yourself on the benefits and drawbacks of fair-value accounting and the valuation principles for various types of assets and liabilities. Also build your IFRS expertise, such as by consulting IFRS.com from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
In addition to an ability to exercise keen judgment, strong communication skills are increasingly crucial for success. Today's professionals are frequently asked to interpret data in a way that helps managers use financial information to make sound business decisions and chart strategy, as well as educate nonfinancial colleagues about regulatory requirements or internal controls. You can build your abilities in this area by volunteering to give presentations to audiences outside of your department, participating on cross-functional teams and leading discussions at local professional-association events.
Gain familiarity with new financial reporting models.
Generating traditional financial statements is a baseline function that allows business to move forward. That's why thinking about how typical business-reporting processes will apply - and change - as a company expands globally will be a valued attribute. Traditionally, accounting and finance professionals have played a major role in the creation of financial statements, but practitioners should familiarize themselves with other types of business reporting processes as well.
For example, practitioners may need to gain familiarity with concepts like corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, which allow companies to demonstrate their progress toward social and environmental goals, such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions, reducing carbon footprints, improving working conditions and providing education opportunities for workers. In addition to taking a workshop or attending a seminar, you can become more familiar with these publications by reviewing CSR reports from well-known companies and standards published by the United Nations, Social Accountability International and other organizations.
The globalization-driven changes sweeping the business world are bringing new expectations, challenges and opportunities for finance and accounting professionals. Individuals who embrace these changes, and develop the necessary knowledge and skills to contend with them, will be best prepared to excel in this continually evolving environment.