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Soft-skills gap costs accountants £571 million a year


    • Accountants believe they would be £4,700 better off every year if they’d received adequate tuition in the core soft-skills – £571 million worth of missed salary across the profession
    • More than half – 54% – do not believe their training adequately instilled these skills
    • Accountants believe a strong grasp of soft-skills is the most important factor in the recruitment process and ranks more highly than academic excellence


The lack of emphasis on soft-skills in the accountancy training process is costing the profession £571 million in salary annually, according to the latest research from specialist financial recruiter Marks Sattin.

Soft-skills encompass the personal qualities and attitudes that allow people to make a positive contribution to their workplace. Traits often included within this set include communication, decision-making, empathy and teamwork.

The study also found 96% of accountants believe decent career progression for accountants is dependent on a good grasp of soft-skills. However, less than half of accountants surveyed (just 46%) feel soft-skills were sufficiently emphasised in their training. Two thirds of them (121,403 in total1) believe they would be paid 8% more in basic salary (the equivalent of £4,700) if soft-skills had been adequately emphasised.

The findings come in tandem with the 30th anniversary of the preeminent paper in the area of emotional intelligence; Wayne Payne’s 1985 doctoral thesis A Study of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence, which is credited with the first use of the EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) concept2. EQ, having an awareness of one’s feelings and using emotional information to guide behaviour, is closely linked to soft-skills.

Dave Way, managing director at Marks Sattin, commented: “Being a good accountant and a ‘numbers person’ is now taken as read. The A-players of the accountancy world also need to be outstanding communicators and proactive in driving relationships. This is reflected in the policies of the Big Four accountancy firms, which have all made significant strides in 2015 toward shifting the focus of recruitment towards interpersonal skills – as well as providing enrichment programmes for employees which focus on developing these.

“A robot can analyse data, but only an emotionally proficient person can sensitively manage a client relationship, deploying empathy, and apply creativity to crack tricky problems. These skills help accountants progress in their careers, but also future-proof their jobs against the emerging white-collar fear – that as technology becomes more advanced employers will increasingly look to machines as a people replacement.”

An improving outlook
Looking ahead, the situation is improving, with accountants believing training in soft-skills is becoming more thorough:

  • 83% believe it is better than 10 years ago;
  • And 55% believe it is better than five years ago.

Dave Way continued: “Training is better than it once was, which can be seen in procedures implemented by the Big Four accountancy firms as well as the focus on soft-skills for juniors once they come on board3. In 2015 Deloitte initiated a ‘CV blind’ policy for new recruits, hiding the school and university a candidate attended. Earlier this year EY pledged to scrap minimum A-level and degree requirements for graduates; this takes the emphasis off academic pre-conceptions and turns it squarely on the interviewee and the skills and personality they demonstrate. KPMG has a CV blind policy at telephone interview stage and PwC no longer uses A-levels as a recruitment threshold. These represent substantial progress toward placing emotional intelligence at the front and centre of professional development.”


1 Based on the overall figure for accountants operating in the UK, provided by the Financial Reporting Council.
2 The concept of emotional intelligence takes its roots in the work of Howard Gardner: Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, published in 1983.
3 EY, for example, explicitly states its dedication to soft-skills on its company website – training for graduates encompasses ‘building relationships’ and ‘leadership’ – and PwC emphasises its coaching on ‘business, personal and technical skills’.

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