Data Analytics remains a hot topic within the global accounting profession as accounting firms adapt to their modern-day client’s business demands. Firms are working with their clients to collect and analyze their data to discover strategic business patterns and trends and providing them with more informed insights for better decision making. And, as accounting firms continue to align with market demand to incorporate data analytics into their own business models, new accountants must meet these same demands by acquiring stronger analytical skills to remain competitive in their professions.
So how does the ever-evolving data analytics landscape affect the hiring practice of accounting firm recruiters? According to the Journal of Accountancy’s article, The Next Frontier in Data Analytics, “As technology continues to evolve, it promotes changes to business models and surprises those who are unprepared. Businesses change their strategies and the way they operate. New threats and opportunities arise. In an increasingly data-driven world, CPAs need to be able to adapt to these technological disruptions.”
As skill-set requirements of the new accountant shift, how does this affect accounting firm hiring practices? We decided to sit down with Steven Morrison, CPA, CohnReznick’s National Assurance Partner and Imad Khoury, National Director of Talent Acquisition at CohnReznick to see if they could provide some further insight into this question.
Roger CPA Review: How important is it for audit and tax entry level hires within the public accounting firms to have some degree of data analytics knowledge? How does this knowledge benefit them (e.g., career progression) and the firm?
CohnReznick: In public accounting, a lot is put on new staff early in their careers, which in reality is a tremendous opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute right away. However, the immediate effect data analytics will have depended on the firm one ends up at, the type of clients, and the people one works with.
Being able to understand data analytics may be helpful, but it is not everything. Accounting in many ways is still an apprenticeship-based profession. We as professionals do a substantial amount of learning in practice. One wants to go into the Profession, not only with as much knowledge as possible, but also the ability to learn and adapt. That is not to say, “just wait until you start working”, as this is a profession that is tremendously challenging, but also tremendously rewarding. Therefore, get as much knowledge as you can before that first day at a firm.
RCPAR: Are you more likely to hire someone who has a working knowledge of data analytics over a candidate who doesn’t? Or does Cohn take the approach that they will provide the necessary data analytics training to ensure they have that knowledge?
CR: A lot of factors are considered in the recruiting process and a total mix of information is factored in as appropriate. That said, when looking at 2 potential candidate profiles, with all else being equal, if one has data analytics experience/academic training, we will factor that into our decision.
RCPAR: Assuming a concerted effort exists within Cohn to hire individuals with data analytics knowledge, skills, or experience, have you changed your recruiting process to identify and hire these individuals? If so, how? Process changes could potentially include a shift in targeted degrees, targeted schools, etc.
CR: While we have not changed our recruitment process yet, we are currently reviewing our strategy and approach to tailor them to the needs of the firm for the next 2-3 years. We are not looking at a shift in targeted majors yet, but definitely a shift in targeted schools and overall source of candidates.
RCPAR: During the recruiting process, have you changed the interview approach to include any assessment on data analytic proficiency? What has changed?
CR: A lot of factors are considered in the recruiting process and although the term “data analytics” is often used in accounting circles nowadays, its application can vary. We evaluate the needs of the Firm and our individual groups now and for the foreseeable future. We are not necessarily looking for bodies for the upcoming Busy Season, but are instead looking at where we will be as a Firm and a Profession over the next decade and looking for the right fit of people that want to come and grow and help the Firm grow in what will be in many ways be a transformative time.
RCPAR: What recommendations would you have for current accounting students to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to meet the technical demands required in their future careers as CPAs?
CR: By all means, put tools in your toolbox. Get a good solid foundation in accounting, audit, tax, business and finance, as well as the use of data analytics. Elements of the business and economic world are constantly changing but not always in a predictable or transparent manner. This creates an ever-evolving dynamic for CPAs over the course of their careers, as well as an opportunity.
As one of my old colleagues used to say, “We are always learning.” This can be a part of the challenge, but it can be an incredibly rewarding one.
RCPAR: How do you see data analytics transforming the accounting profession in the future? How is it transforming the talent acquisition groups within the public accounting firms?
CR: Data analytics will add to the toolbox that firms walk into audits and tax work with, but at the end of the day, much of the core services, in their essence, will be very much the same. However, even though audits will still be after reasonable assurance and tax work will be looking for a compliant return, what people spend their time on will likely shift to higher-level thinking.
When I started my career, staff spent part of the summer photocopying audit programs out of books and then manually assembling physical file folders for the next year’s audit. Now, that sort of clerical exercise is unnecessary due to the workpapers being electronic. Staff are now utilized on higher level functions.
I think it is a tremendous time to be getting into the CPA profession. There is such an appetite for “what can we do better, faster, and more of” and the more tools in the toolbox a new staff has will present amazing opportunities. This is not just the ability to understand data or the technology, but also the actual business sense of what is happening and ensuring that it makes sense and is presented appropriately.
CohnReznick LLP is a national professional services firm headquartered in New York City. From its beginnings in 1919, it has grown to be the eleventh largest public accounting firm in the United States. The Firm has a team of over 3,000 people in 25 cities with an international reach through global subsidiaries. They provide services in accounting, tax, and advisory. We appreciate the time that both Steve Morrison, CPA, and Imad Khoury took to provide us with their insights and opinions in this interview.