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Transforming accountants beyond number-crunching

Increasingly, professional accountants are setting their sights on advanced degrees to become more competitive in the workplace. Most of them are taking up MBA studies to broaden their knowledge and skills base in response to new client demands and a changing workplace.

In fact, accountants are strongly represented in the MBA programme offered in Hong Kong by the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), one of Australia’s top business schools.

For many accountants, demonstrating that they have a higher degree beyond professional accounting is a tick in the right box for personal development, for client relations, and for advancement in their workplace. As an all-round high-end management qualification, an MBA is hard to beat.

This makes MBA degrees a popular choice among accountants.

Most of them initially gravitate towards doing a concentration in financial units in their MBA programme. However, they should think in a broader context, as they’re probably better off concentrating on other subjects that provide a depth of management skills, such as human resources management, marketing, leadership, strategy, and general management.

Many MBA students in Hong Kong who have training in accounting either currently work in mainland China or plan on doing so at some point. Many also have multinational clients. The demands of transnational work, and of having multinational clients, go beyond a mere financial skill set – they require a high level of skills in strategy, communication, and other areas.

Hence, it is not surprising that a lot of MBA students from an accounting background rethink their initial position and end up doing a more general MBA with a global outlook.

An MBA helps accountants develop their problem-solving skills and become better communicators. There’s been a noticeable shift recent years towards more experiential and case-based learning, and this has helped many accountants become better at doing business rather than just crunching numbers.

Doing the right MBA creates new opportunities, as well as valuable networks. Many accountants have, with the benefit of an MBA, moved out of traditional accounting roles in large accounting firms into senior management roles in companies, or have moved into government or community-focused roles, or have embraced their entrepreneurial spirit and started their own non-accounting businesses.

Professor Richard Petty is a professor in accounting and finance and associate dean international at MGSM