INTHEBLACK August 2021 - Magazine - Page 51
A SIGNIFICANT COMPONENT OF THE ONGOING EVOLUTION OF THE
ACCOUNTING PROFESSION IS THE REQUIREMENT FOR STRONGER
COMMUNICATION SKILLS TO ENHANCE STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
WITH AND UNDERSTANDING OF IMPORTANT NUMBERS.
STORY LACHLAN COLQUHOUN
tudents undertaking the postgraduate course
in business communication for accounting
professionals at Melbourne’s Monash
University are asked to complete a rather
The assignment is straightforward – describe what
it means to be a professional. However, instead of
writing an essay or delivering an oral presentation,
the accountants have to express their take on
professionalism through the medium of photography.
If this seems difficult, it is supposed to be. Nicholas
McGuigan CPA, associate professor at Monash
Business School, says the idea is for the students to
“think in a visual way, which many of them haven’t
“It helps them to think more broadly and, in doing
so, they are understanding a different language,
and they get to learn more about how they can
communicate visually,” says McGuigan.
The course is a new addition to the curriculum, first
offered in 2020, as part of the masters in professional
accounting degree, reflecting the rapid changes in the
accounting profession and the need for accountants to
develop their “soft” communication skills.
“I think communication is often what is missing
with accountants,” says McGuigan. “We often get so
excited about the numbers, we forget that there are
many people – our clients included – who are fearful
McGuigan and his colleagues encourage accountants
to develop a “reflective practice”, where questioning
the numbers, and the story behind them, becomes
Many of the 300-odd students who undertake the
course each semester struggle with it, McGuigan says,
because some of the concepts are so foreign to them,
but they also enjoy it, because their minds are “opened
up to a new way of seeing and doing”.
“We try to transform them into being better
communicators,” says McGuigan. “But some of them
are uncomfortable with those different experiences.
They don’t want to go outside their comfort zone, don’t
want to draw concepts or take pictures – but many find
that it really does shift them into a new way of being
MOMENTUM FOR CHANGE
The Monash course is one of the many outcomes driven
by the the momentum for change within the profession,
according to McGuigan, which includes the need to
retire many of the old stereotypes of what accountants
do as professionals and what they are like as people.
The new way of communicating goes beyond letting go
of finance jargon, says McGuigan. Good written and oral
communication is “formed by the way we are thinking”.
“The more you know about the way you are thinking,
the more you are able to articulate in both oral and
written forms,” he says.
To inspire students to change their thought
processes, the course put in place an “artist in residence”
program, with Melbourne artist and curator Rebecca
Conroy putting accountants through a “speed-dating”
marathon to find out about their day-to-day tasks
and to encourage them to be more creative in their
McGuigan believes it is these kinds of creative
initiatives that will help accountants evolve in their
roles and prevent them being replaced by technology,
such as artificial intelligence and robots.
Few accountants know the need for creativity better
than Sarah Lawrance FCPA, a Sydney-based public
practitioner and founder of Hot Toast, an accounting
practice that specialises in working with clients in the
creative industries, particularly film production.
Lawrance might also be the only accountant in
Australia who describes herself as “chief dreamer” on
her email signature.
When she founded the firm five years ago, Lawrance
says her business model was to replicate many of the
functions of the accounting department of a small to
medium-sized creative production company, and to
make that available on an outsourced basis.
“I’m probably more comfortable with creatives in
many respects than I am with accountants,” she says.
Most of Lawrance’s professional contact is with
the chief executives or managing directors of the
production companies, who are often also the founders.
With them, communication is “all about the context
and relating it back to their own world”, which means
to this story as
The ability to narrate a
story through numbers
has become an important
component of a finance
Thinking visually and then
translating that into words
is one way to deal with the
It is also important to
avoid finance jargon when
numbers, while focusing
on context and the
relevance of the numbers
to a client’s situation.
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