THE ability to read a balance sheet is key to running a successful business.

As well as analysing past gains and losses and planning to build on or avoid them, you can also predict (within reason) problems and opportunities and plan accordingly.

When it comes to interpreting a ledger, a good accountant is worth their weight in gold. However, what forecasts are those starting their career in accountancy making for their own profession, and how it will change in the coming years?

Firoz Jethwa, lecturer in accountancy and finance at the University of Cumbria, and his colleagues have been considering just this question.

For the last year the accounting and finance course has been put on hold while they have been redesigning the syllabus to incorporate some current trends and new teaching styles.

For example, Firoz says although teaching the theory and fundamentals of accountancy is important, increasingly much of the number crunching is carried out by software.

This creates a requirement for students to study the different types of programmes which are in use, as well as to take a role which may be more advisory than technical in the future.

“Technology has made life easier for accountants,” said Firoz.

“Now the job of an accountant, I would say, is more advisory. It’s a case of saying here is the data, but what does it mean and how can you improve your business processes and efficiency?”

Kyle Lowther, who is in the second year of a degree studying business accounting and finance at the university in Lancaster, is planning to become a chartered accountant after graduating. He agrees the job of an accountant is going to be more focused on business advice.

“It will become much more people-based,” he said.

“Traditionally you don’t necessarily think of accountants as being like that. It will be more like consultancy.

"I think communication will be important, empathy and emotional intelligence.”

However, he says accountancy software which produce real-time data could also create a challenge for accountants who will have to be equally as up to date as their clients and able to respond to queries quickly.

He also expects to be undertaking a mix of home and office-based working, with the move to remote working creating the opportunity to work with customers far beyond the local area.