Skills Every Accountant Should Have

121900825We all know that accountants are expected to be good with numbers; it’s the primary technical skill that one needs to even aspire to be an accountant in the first place.

If you’re pursuing a career in accountancy or even in the financial field in general, it is important for you to remember that you won’t be restricted to work that solely involves crunching numbers.

There are other skills and characteristics that you need to develop, too.

Analytical skills. These primary skills are the thought processes required to evaluate various information correctly and effectively. Examining a problem thoroughly requires attention to detail, perseverance and maintaining your focus. Decision making processes often require high level of analytical skills that allow top management to choose the best possible business solutions.

Communication and presentation skills. You won’t just be sitting in front of a computer all day. From time to time, you will be expected to go to meetings and update management on key financial issues that they have to address or meet with clients to inform them on the best financial strategies to adopt.

You have to be able to express yourself clearly and explain matters to others in simple, easy-to-understand terms; remember that not everyone you will talk to knows about every single finance-related term. After all, the objective of communication is not the transmission but the reception.

In any presentation task, the accountant should always remember that the average human being has a very short attention span and a million other things to think about. The accountant’s job in the presentation is to reach through this mental fog and to hold the attention long enough to make a point.

Ability and willingness to learn. It’s not enough for you to enter a job and expect to get by with the skills you already have. You need to remember that to move ahead in your career, you have to be ready to adopt new practices and embrace new knowledge. Learning new things will keep your skills fresh and ensure that you remain relevant at work.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is required for CPAs to maintain their professional competence and ensure that they are able to provide quality professional services. They are responsible for complying with all applicable CPE requirements, rules and regulations of state boards of accountancy, as well as those of membership associations and other professional organizations.

Computer skills. Aside from being able to use basic accounting software, you also need to use office program suites. Having knowledge of Internet skills and social media may also help you shine a spotlight on you as an industry professional.

Knowledge of relevant laws and regulations. Clients will be seeking your advice on any laws they need to be aware of when it comes to taxes or other related matters. You want to be able to provide answers quickly instead of fumbling for an explanation.

Some people might not value so-called soft skills too highly, but they are definitely necessary to help you advance in your career and be able to do your job well.

In The Face Of Strong Adversity

Businessman in front of a huge mazeThere are times when we believe we have on hand a good plan to achieve our aspirations in life. Just for the sake of hitting the mark, we prepare ourselves physically and emotionally, willing to do everything humanly possible, and apply every thinkable strategy to mitigate, if not obliterate, the possibility of failure. After all, who would like to fail?

Sometimes, though, what we dread most ends up happening anyway. Defeat stares upon us despite following our master plan with utmost diligence. Things go awry as we execute our plan. We’re left to wonder where we had gone wrong; what we could have done better that could have averted the negative result.

Indeed, earning the prestigious CPA title means confronting a worthy adversary. But if, in the face of strong adversity, we decide to surrender our position, feel daunted at the fear of failing once again, if we continue to focus our mind at the fear of receiving another failing score, years from now we will find ourselves being more disappointed by the things that we didn’t do than by the ones we did.

Setbacks happen every now and then in our personal lives, even in our quest for professional and career development. It’s part of every human’s very existence. Not being able to achieve our goals can tend to bring us down and lead us to think that everything we did was just a colossal waste of time.

If you’ve reached this point, there are but two ways your life could go, and it all depends on your attitude and how you accept this “hump”. You could view it as a total failure or as a sign that you shouldn’t have pursued your dream to become a CPA in the first place, which then make you give up on your goal altogether and train your sight somewhere else.

Otherwise, you could view it as an opportunity to learn and do better. As daunting as it may sound, the latter requires uncommon valor, and makes you summon every ounce of courage from inside of you. After all, it’s never easy to pick yourself up, and give it one more again.

Most people will just choose to withdraw, brood about their mistakes, and then stop trying again. Well, it’s the easy way out anyway. But if you’re truly set on achieving your goal, come strong wind and high waters, you will push forth, sail on, ‘til you cross the finish line.

Being able to handle temporary defeat is the key to becoming triumphant in this journey. Many candidates tend to feel utterly discouraged when they encounter setbacks, and allow a failed exam to consume all their energy and will to go forward. Of course, when we don’t achieve our goals, we tend to be plagued with self-doubt, thinking that we’re not good enough, that maybe we should stop our obsession to earn the CPA title.

Rather than seeing it as a failure or as something that puts an end to your hopes and dreams, look at it for what it truly is:  A mere temporary setback that should not hinder you from reaching for your goal. Run a self-check and do the following:

1. Recap what you did. This is a good way for you to see where you went wrong and what you should do better next time.

2. Accept that things didn’t go as expected, and move on. You could dwell on your problems and your mistakes, but that won’t change your situation or bring you any step closer to your goal.

3. Prepare better. This is an offshoot of #1. Once you know where you went wrong, you will be able to take appropriate measures to prevent foreseeable problems in the future.

4. Give yourself time to recover. You don’t have to go for your goals right away. You need time to gather your wits together, as you plan your next move.

Make no mistake. The CPA title is something not to be missed. When things don’t go according to plan, always remember that missed goals are not missed opportunities. Instead, they are opportunities to do things better on your next try.

Allow me to leave you with this inspiring quote:

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” – Vince Lombardi

What accountants should know about becoming a CPA

Here’s an infographic entitled “What accountants should know about becoming a CPA” by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this information is US-centric, it’s definitely useful for those who are seeking US CPA certification. Click on the image to view the actual size.

what-accountants-should-know-about-becoming-a-cpa-infographic

Never Too Late, Never Too Old

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Do you know what Richard Branson’s greatest motivation is? It is “to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had—each day I am learning something new“.

Most people like to say that they’d like to do and experience everything that they can while they’re still young, insinuating that after a certain age it might be too late. This young generation of technocrats believes that people stop being motivated and creative as they reach middle age.

On the brighter side, this way of thinking can fuel your desire and determination to see and do everything possible while you still have the energy and will to excel at the early stages of your life. I personally know of one colleague who, after earning his baccalaureate degree in accounting and passing the Philippine CPA examination, immediately pursued the MBA course, then the CMA certificate thereafter. At the age of 25, he has a CPA, MBA and CMA title. If you think these are remarkable achievements, wait ’til you hear this other one. He completed his accounting degree and passed the Phil. CPA exam in 2011 at age 20. As family migrated to the U.S. he took and completed all four parts of the Uniform CPA examination last year. This June, he took Part 1 of the CMA examinations.

Sometimes, though, it makes you think that once you hit a certain age and you feel you still haven’t achieved anything in your professional career, you start to believe that you have pretty much failed and that you can’t do anything about it anymore.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think that they’ve let so many chances pass by and that they already failed to grab any opportunities in life. Others also tend to adopt the idea that they’re just too old to try and learn anything new, and that whatever they know is sufficient. Thus, many of them just plod along without striving to be better at their jobs or in life, and without exploring any possible new opportunities that could improve their career. They just stop being enthusiastic anymore. Some people become complacent as they mature, and no longer have interest in learning current industry trends. I am glad I fought this off as I realized that even in mid-40s I could still motivate myself to pursue international certifications (CMA and U.S. CPA).

It is important for us to realize that age is indeed nothing more than a number. It doesn’t say anything about one’s ability to learn something new. It doesn’t restrict us from achieving. And it certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to how much we could change and how much better we could become. Opportunities should not just be restricted to younger people, after all. For “old-timers” (like the author), it is imperative that we recognize that having the right attitude and positive outlook in life is still the key factor to success. Equally so, being cautious should not be mistaken with looking at situations or opportunities negatively.

In addition, you want to stay relevant in your field, or at the very least be able to understand what other people are talking about. You don’t want to get left behind, and you certainly don’t want to become the kind of person who just looks on as new developments arise and are unable to get on board because you didn’t bother to learn new things. It is the ability to adapt and embrace change that can bring success to us as professionals.

So the next time you catch yourself thinking that you’re too old to try something new, take a course, or learn how to use a new gadget or software, stop and think for a few minutes. By merely contemplating to pursue a post-graduate course, or to upgrade your skills by enrolling in personality development training or seminars, these already are important indicators as these circumstances show that you still want to learn.

Don’t let others write you off just yet; prove you still can, despite your age.

Path to accounting, Super Mario Bros. style

This clever infographic by MyPESCPE illustrates some interesting facts about becoming an accountant in the US.

Path to accounting, Super Mario Bros. style

Making time to improve yourself

makingtimeforimprovement_blogpostphotoWho isn’t busy these days? It often seems like there are so few hours in a day for us to accomplish everything that we need to. Just think of all the hours we spend at work, the time we spend getting to the office and traveling back home, and the precious few hours of each day we have for our family. Given everything that’s going on in our lives, who actually has time to make room for anything else?

That’s something that so many people often say about themselves, and that often serves as an excuse for why they didn’t get started on a personal project, why they didn’t get to exercise that day, or why they aren’t pursuing other activities that will improve their lives, boost their careers, and teach them new skills. But if you find yourself blaming your busy, hectic life all the time for your inability to work on improving your life, you might want to step back first and take a good hard look at yourself and your schedule.

First of all, you have to consider whether or not you’re really as busy as you seem. Of course you have work, other hobbies, and your responsibility to yourself and your family. But there are inevitably some quiet spaces between each activity. What do you do during those moments? Do you sit back, relax, and do nothing? Do you spend them online? Are there any other things you do which are unnecessary and are done simply for you to kill time?

Second, you have to remember that every minute counts when you’re trying to learn a new skill or update your knowledge. If you’re really pressed for time, you don’t need to spend long hours studying and practicing. Block off at least a half-hour each day, and spend that half-hour on yourself, without any distractions. It might help for you to learn to give up some non-essential activities to make room for learning–sure, spending hours on Facebook or playing games is fun, but they don’t contribute to your improvement. You’ll find that giving up some activities is a small price to pay for long-term self-improvement.

The important thing is for you to really commit to your intention to improve yourself. No one will do it for you, and no one will rearrange your schedule to allow you to work on your self-improvement efforts. It all starts with you, and once you’ve learned to prioritize yourself and on becoming better, to commit to your goal, and then really make time for it, you’ve already taken a very big step towards self-improvement.

Why You Should Update Your Skills

updateyourskills_blogpostphotoWhen people have been in a particular field for a long time, there are those who tend to fall into complacency and think that they know everything that there is to know about their career or the industry. It’s easy to think that your experience and the number of years you’ve spent in your career are sufficient qualifications–until you realize that everybody else has moved on, that they know more than you do, and that your skills are hopelessly updated. No matter how long you’ve been in your career, you have to keep moving forward, making sure that you know the latest trends, theories, and methods in your field, that you study them, and apply them in your job. Otherwise, you risk getting left behind and you’ll have to play catchup with everyone who took the time to learn something new.

Your field is constantly changing. Therefore, you have to keep up with new ideas if you want to remain ahead of the pack. At the same time, ensuring that you have the best, most sought-after skills increases your value to the company and keeps you competitive. And if you’re gunning for a promotion or a new job, you want to make sure that you are the most qualified candidate available.

Workshops and seminars are always available for those who are interested. Your employer might also provide training to employees, which is something you should definitely take advantage of. Otherwise, you can ask your colleagues for information on any trainings, or you can approach relevant organizations. Of course, many workshops charge a certain fee, but you should just consider the fee as an investment in your future and your career.

It’s not just the skills you use in the field that you should work on. It would also help for you to update your computer skills, to start with. It’s practically unthinkable these days for any professional to not be familiar with a computer. At the very least, you should be well versed in an office productivity suite such as Microsoft Office. It would also help for you to learn to establish your Web presence and understand social media, as being able to do so can help put you in touch with potential clients and assist you in networking.

Ultimately, updating your skills keeps you fresh, knowledgeable, and relevant–and that’s something you want to be if you want to stand out among all the professionals in your field.

Life After Conquest

LifeAgainStudying for the CPA examinations is kind of addictive. You may find yourself crawling in the first two weeks in to exam preparation, but as soon as you get your groove going you soon feel something’s lacking each time you do not open your FAR book in a rest day, or knock off a few Wiley exercises on AUD, or listen to your Ninja Audio on REG.

It’s been almost a month since I learned I passed REG, the final leg of my CPA journey. I want to share with you how more meaningful life has become after winning it back.

I had gone for a short stop to Manila in March 2013 to celebrate my victory with my mom, siblings, friends, and employees of our small public transport business, Pamana Transport Services. The feeling is just so consuming when you look back and think about how you had successfully overcome a worthy adversary. Every ounce of sacrifice that I have invested in this journey is truly gratified, with hefty dividend paid in full.

One of my immediate plans is to start writing a book on Financial and Management Accounting and, hopefully, to release it toward the middle of next year. Indeed, life’s opportunities just become too manifest after a professional’s conquest of the CPA title. I have earned my Philippine CPA license more than two decades ago, but having the U.S. CPA title tucked under my belt just takes everything to a whole new level.

From the time I first joined Another71.com as a Ninja candidate way back in 2011 I have seen several Ninja posts shouting at the top of their lungs how jubilant they were upon completing their own CPA journeys, yet oddly asking how they’d now spend loads of their spare time previously allotted to studying. To be honest, my first impression was that these Ninjas were just being plain “arrogant”. Surely, they could always go back to doing what they used to be doing previously was what I thought was just pure logic. They could go back to being the loving, caring dad that they used to, or the wife or mom who consistently takes good care of her husband and kids on a full time scale.

If you’re not among the extraordinary CPA candidates who breezed past the CPA journey in just less than 6 months, chances are you will be able to relate to what I’ll be talking about.

CPA candidates on the average take about 12-24 months to complete the CPA journey. Yes, the often rocky road to success requires you to focus your whole being to studying that long to be able to reach your destination. Deviate from this even for a little and you expose yourself to receiving some heart-breaking 74s and discouraging 60s. And so, all for the sake of conquering this monster we learn how to say no when our kids ask us to play chess or badminton with them.

For a long while I thought I had fallen in love once again, not to a woman thank goodness, but to something known in this community as “CPA”. I knew I was “in the groove” when all I thought about then was studying for my next exam; when nothing else mattered anymore but passing.

When even in deep slumber you could hear Ninja Audios reverberating like a cool sound of morning dew, you are definitely on your way to your CPA.

Then, come the day of emancipation. Freedom. Sheer radiance at the end of the tunnel. Just as any CPA candidate had always looked forward to. Yet you suddenly find yourself disconcerted, confused with mixed feelings.

So, what is life after conquest? Without sounding negative, things will never be the same again. The things that you do and had grown living during your journey will linger on. Whatever it is that you continue doing afterwards is a matter of preference. I chose to continue listening to my REG audio because I didn’t want to lose this precious knowledge about federal taxation that I have already acquired. I still try to knock off about 20 MCQs twice a week for, honestly, how many of you REG passers do still remember the intricate rules on “basis of partner’s interest”?

On the personal aspect of things I am so thankful because my CPA journey has taught me how to reflect on the real value of spending time with the true VIPs of my life: My wife and my children. I missed a lot of quality play time with my kids for almost two years, but now can enjoy life to the fullest by redirecting all my spared energy to the very same people who supported and inspired me in each battle.

After CPA, life is truly no longer the same, because this journey do not only teach us become better accountants but, more importantly, make us become better persons.

The Journey That Wasn’t A Thousand Miles After All

Some peopleroad in mountains need something that will inspire them before they commit to doing something worthwhile for their own careers and professional advancement. Others choose and look up to their study buddies, intending to draw strength among themselves as they take on the challenges they will face in preparing for an exam. To the uncommon few, they go forth chasing their dreams with full dedication and might, willing to sacrifice everything, whatever it takes.

 

Whatever the cost, they pursue their dreams wherever they take them.

Like you, I had always aspired to bring out the very best in me. Way back then, I had always been fascinated by people that bear either a prefix or suffix attached to their names. Come to think of it, these enviable men and women are just normal people, like you and me, who dreamed, and persevered.

I first heard about the Certified Management Accountant’s (CMA) title in December 2009 from a colleague and friend at PICPA. I immediately fell in love as soon as I browsed the CMA program, which aims to administer a certification designed to validate competence and practical skills of accountants and finance professionals employed by today’s dynamic business entities.

It was only in late January 2010 that I have registered for membership at the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and, at that same moment, also have registered to sit for the first batch of the then-New 2-Part CMA examination in June, 2010.

The study and exam preparation phase was grueling and tension-filled each day as I was also providing free live lectures to then aspiring Filipino CPA candidates (most of whom are now CPAs) for their own Special Middle East Philippine CPA exams back in December 2010. The odds and daunting challenge did not make me change my mind and, despite urges from within to procrastinate, I headed straight to achieving my goal.

With Mighty God’s help in sustaining me of wisdom and strength I was able to pass both parts in the same testing window in June, 2010.

I was privileged to have known several candidates of different nationalities who had contacted me through the IMA portal, LinkUpIMA, who had asked me for advice if they should continue despite failing 3-4 times (one of them even failed 9 times trying to pass Part 1).

Indeed, earning the prestigious CMA title may mean travelling a thousand miles to some. There’s that rather insurmountable-looking criteria right there. But, unless and until you take that one big step, if you stay daunted at the fear of failing without giving it a shot, if you continue to focus your mind on hindrances and excuses which keep you away from achieving your dream, that distance between your dream and where you are now will stay a thousand miles away.

There is no secret formula to earning any gold standard international certification. No shortcuts either. People who successfully complete the U.S. CMA program and earn the illustrious CMA title undergo rigorous examination to assess the practitioners’ skills and knowledge that qualified management accountants must possess in guiding top management as they make important business decisions.

To those aspiring to become one, how long have you been holding back? How much longer would you wait ‘til you take that leap of faith that you, too, can “live the dream”? Need some help in understanding things about the CMA Program and on how this could add value to your professional career?

Let the Insights team of experts guide you on how you can finally unlock your full potential. Empower yourself from this year onward by choosing to believe.

For all you know, your journey may turn out to be far less than a thousand miles after all!

About the Author: Angel V. Secerio, Jr. is both a U.S. and Philippine Certified Public Accountant, a Certified Management Accountant, a Certified Fraud Examiner and a Chartered Global Management Accountant. He is the managing director of Insights Financial Review Services and, concurrently, a director of Pamana Transport Services, a public bus transport service company in the Philippines. He also serves as the founding president of the Institute of Management Accountants-Philippines Chapter and a fierce advocate of pushing international accounting certification credentials to the Filipino accounting community.

Conquering the U.S. CPA Examinations

conqueringUSCPAWe all have our own taste of being obsessed with something. “Obsession”, as defined in the dictionary, is the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, desire, etc.

It is “an unwelcome, uncontrollable, and persistent idea, thought, image, or emotion that a person cannot help thinking even though it creates significant distress or anxiety”. I liked this last one better, and you’ll soon find out why.

My obsession to earn the illustrious U.S. CPA title started when my elder sister migrated after she earned her Philippine CPA title and got married to a fellow Filipino who grew up in the U.S.  She now lives happily in LA (the City of Angels), where she works as a Finance Controller.

My first attempt at realizing this dream dates back to 1996 when I worked in Jeddah as a Financial Accountant. My preparation then for the paper-and-pencil all-4-part exams seemed panning out according to plan, but due to unreasonably stringent visa procedures I was not able to fly to the U.S. to take the exams. It seemed that the battle is already lost even as war has not even begun.

After several long years, news broke out in early 2011 that the Uniform CPA examinations would be offered internationally in selected countries, including the UAE where I previously worked up until late 2011. Where there is life there is, indeed, hope.

There are several issues and requirements that an international CPA candidate like me need to contend with before being able to secure one’s Notice to Schedule, or examination permit in layman’s term, from State selection to foreign education credentials evaluation, from selecting CPA review course material to choosing which of the four exam parts to take first.

Loads of thanks go to Ms. Leslie-Ann Rogers of CPAexcel who helped a lot in ridding my mind of the worries of complying with exam registration formalities, and allowed me to concentrate on my exam preparation.

Candidates are given free hand on how they want to tackle the Uniform CPA exams. They can take all parts simultaneously, one part at a time, or in any combination they so desire.

Of the four parts, I chose to sit for Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) simultaneous with Business Environment and Concepts. The FAR part earned the alias “The Beast” among CPA candidates around the world because it is the most difficult of the four parts, and covers the broadest in terms of diversity of the body of knowledge included in the syllabus. To my mind, I thought I should start my journey by tackling the subject(s) I felt more confident of passing on my first take.

Though I considered my preparation to be rigid and thorough, I soon realized that there was absolutely no other way of doing it if you intend to pass each part on your first take.

I took Auditing afterwards, and Regulation last 19 Feb to cap my rough roller-coaster ride toward completing all four parts of the Uniform CPA Exams.

As I ran my course, the emancipating thought of giving up has constantly visited my mind. But it just does not seem right to raise the white flag simply because we experience rough sail. After all, it might surprise you that beyond these walls of adversity lie either a better situation or a better you.

After getting a taste of all four, I can now say that Regulation (consisting of Ethics, Business Law, and U.S. Taxation) was the toughest of all. The federal tax system had given me heaps of worries which made me decide to reschedule my Regulation exam three times in three testing windows. It just didn’t “click” despite investing precious time into trying to understand the dynamics of the U.S. tax rules.

What is even worse is that candidates are required to know the frequent changes in the tax law. This means that some of what you have previously studied in 2012 may no longer be applicable when you take your exam in 2013.

If you don’t want to be discouraged in pursuing your dream to become a U.S. CPA stay away from Regulation ‘til it’s the last part that you have to take.

Never underestimate your resilience and your willpower when your back is against the wall. Faced with losing my FAR and Business Environment and Concepts credits if I didn’t finally take (and pass) Regulation, it surprised me how much material I was able to cover at the homestretch.

For a non-US candidate who had no previous formal studies in Federal Taxation, immeasurable amount of credit goes to CPAexcel’s tax mentor, Dr. Gregory Carnes, for making me understand the extremely intricate U.S. tax system. Though my Regulation exam was tough I believe that CPAexcel prepared me well enough to pass the exam.

Also, the NINJA Audio was very effective; it turned those idle moments spent commuting two hours from home to my workplace in Muscat into valuable study time! It was a wonderful supplement to my CPAexcel and Wiley testbank.

After more than 15 years of nurturing my obsession of becoming a U.S. Certified Public Accountant, the light at the end of the tunnel has finally revealed its awesome radiance. I have now reached “home”, and achieved the pinnacle of my professional qualification as an accountant. With God’s abiding provision, the title “U.S. CPA” has ultimately become mine.