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Developing Subject Matter Experts



Developing subject matter experts (SMEs) is a critical success factor in today's accounting firms. Accounting professionals face an unprecedented pace of change in standards, regulations and technology. Client expectations extend past traditional tax and audit services to include advisory services, consulting on KPIs, talent, strategic planning, and more. 


This dynamic environment demands specialized expertise and requires young professionals to start developing that expertise faster than ever before.  Firm leaders play a pivotal role in accelerating this growth, ensuring their teams are competent, leading-edge experts in their respective domains. 


Why faster development is essential 

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and other technologies in accounting is automating a lot of the manual work that new graduates used to perform. New staff accountants aren’t spending the first couple years of their careers entering data into tax software or ticking and tying numbers on a spreadsheet—they’re increasingly being called on to handle higher-level, client-facing work.  


The rapid pace of regulatory changes also drives the need for subject matter expertise. The sheer number of updates to tax laws, financial regulations and international accounting standards makes it impractical to be a generalist. 


Clients seek advisors who offer more than traditional accounting services; they want experts who can provide insights and advice tailored to their industry and challenges. Firms with SMEs can also differentiate themselves in the market, offering targeted, high-value services.

 

Strategies for developing subject-matter experts 

You can’t wait five to ten years or more for team members to develop the expertise to work at a higher level. Here’s how to help young professionals develop the expertise your firm and clients need. 


Create a continuous learning culture 

Make sure your firm’s culture values ongoing education. Provide access to the latest courses, webinars and certifications. Encourage team members to join peer groups that help them network with and gain knowledge from other professionals. 

 

Mentorship programs 

Pair young professionals with experienced mentors who can guide their development and share specialized knowledge. Mentoring relationships can be a win/win, as digital natives can also help members of older generations gain knowledge of emerging technologies. 


Knowledge sharing sessions 

Schedule regular meetings or workshops where team members can share insights and discuss industry trends, fostering a collaborative learning environment. 


Tailored professional development plans 

Recognize each staff member's unique skills and interests and tailor development plans accordingly. 


Work with each individual to set specific, measurable goals for their expertise development, aligning with their career aspirations and the firm's strategic objectives. 


Leverage technology 

Provide access to the latest software, analytical tools and specialized training resources. 

Support staff in pursuing certifications or advanced degrees in areas like forensic accounting, tax law, financial planning, process improvement, consulting and other unique areas. 


Recognize and reward expertise development 

Acknowledge the efforts and achievements of staff members who advance their expertise. This recognition can be through formal awards, promotions or even firm wide acknowledgment in team meetings or other communications. 


Create opportunities for practical application 

Ensure staff members can apply their new skills and knowledge in real-world scenarios. This could involve leading a new project, participating in client meetings or contributing to firm-wide process improvement or technology selection initiatives. 


Developing subject matter experts isn’t just beneficial; it's essential for staying competitive in today's fast-paced, ever-changing business environment. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, tailoring development plans, leveraging technology and encouraging collaboration and networking, firm leaders can significantly accelerate the growth of their staff members.  


As the accounting landscape continues to evolve, firms that prioritize and effectively cultivate subject matter expertise will be best positioned to meet the complex needs of their clients and lead the way in innovation and service excellence. 

 

Sandra Wiley, Shareholder, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is a leader in the accounting profession with a passion for helping firms grow, adapt and thrive. She is regularly recognized by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her expertise in leadership, management, collaboration, culture building, talent and training.


Sandra’s role at Boomer Consulting, Inc. includes serving as co-director of the Boomer Leadership Academy as well as the Boomer Managing Partner Circle, the Boomer Talent Circle and the Boomer Learning & Development Circle. Her years of experience and influence as a management and strategic planning consultant make her a sought-after resource among the best and brightest firms in the country.



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