The accounting profession, especially when considering emerging technologies, is rapidly evolving. This increased rate of innovation is directly correlated to the advancement of the accounting profession and the digital implications it’s having on traditional accounting processes.
However, as accounting firms are forced to quickly embrace newer technologies to streamline tasks and improve client services, they must also ensure that their staff are well-equipped to navigate and adapt to these pervasive technological demands that are constantly changing the professional landscape. Therefore, the skillsets required of accounting firm new hires is significantly different today than it was before the tech boom. In order to help young professionals acquire these skillsets, accounting professors at colleges and universities continue to seek out and incorporate lessons into their curriculum focused on the latest technological innovations, especially as it relates to Big Data and analytics. Early introduction, within classroom tools and solutions, provides each student the optimum opportunity to become the ideal candidate firms are looking to hire.
According to Dr. Yvonne Hinson, CPA, CGMA, Academic in Residence with the AICPA:
“Academia is trying their best to keep up with the pace of change. Thankfully, firms are great in providing resources to universities. The AICPA and the American Accounting Association foster relationships in accounting education, research and practice. So, accounting graduates are coming out of college with a good set of skills going into the CPA profession. But, firms are saying that stronger skills in technology and data analytics are needed. It’s about how to use data and analytics to answer the right questions and to aid in understanding the overall accounting context and analysis of a problem.”
The question then becomes, how can the accounting profession rally around and support educators to ensure accounting graduates are fully prepared to meet the core technological competencies of a rapidly changing profession? And, how do educators balance their curriculum to address everything accounting graduates need to become successful practitioners in today’s technological climate? It begins with educators, firms, and industry stakeholders working together.
1. Academic administrative advocacy.
Educators need administrators to be on-board with embracing newer technologies in the classroom to successfully prepare graduates for their future profession. There’s a disparity when it comes to technology access, sometimes due to lack of administrative buy-in, budget, or knowledge of its importance. When educators are fully supported by their university with the proper tools and best systems in place to leverage newer technologies into their curriculum, they are empowered and set up for student success.
2. Continued CPA Exam content and design enhancements.
The CPA Exam has undergone several changes over the last couple of years to meet the demands of the profession. Through continued updates and enhancements that mirror real-world CPA applications, the CPA Exam will successfully test skill-sets required of the next generation, preparing accounting graduates for their positions at accounting firms.
3. Transition from traditional to modern accountant mindset.
Educators have great influence on their students, especially when it comes to preparing them as accountants for tomorrow. Joann David, Senior Manager of Academic Initiatives at the AICPA, stated in a recent interview that:
“Research shows that accounting students will seek out academics who are key influencers and have practical accounting experience and/or the CPA license. Continued encouragement to embrace newer technologies and skillsets by professors will enable accounting graduates a better transition from student to professional. Educators will need to continually transition their curriculum to meet the needs of profession through a heavier focus on technology.”
4. Bringing curriculum to life with real world resources.
Accounting firms provide an abundance of supplemental lessons and related classroom tools and solutions to professors that can be adopted into their coursework. These supplemental materials mirror what students can expect when they enter the accounting profession. This type of hands-on learning resonates greatly with Millennials and Gen Zer’s because it allows them practical and applied experience with real-world applications. There are a wide range of resources provided by the firms for use in the classroom, covering topics such as Big Data, Data Visualization, Topic Modeling, and Audit Analytics.
5. Collaborating with students by understanding their daily lives.
It’s essential for accounting professors to work together with their students when deciding how to teach their classroom curriculum in a way that engages them, including the technology they’ll leverage. Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope, CPA, CFE, CGMA believes a great way to harness the power of technology for better professor-student engagement is to further integrate the use of social media. Professors can harness the power of social media to share academic content with their students instantly and across multiple platforms, as well as connect formal learning environments to their students’ everyday lives. Using the technology that students are already familiar with to teach lessons on newer technology can prove to be extremely effective. Pope states:
“As professors, we must realize that today’s students are dealing with different issues than they might have been dealing with ten years ago. I don’t ban mobile phones from my class. It’s impossible to ban phones or social media in this day and age, especially when people are wearing smart watches. Students are getting emails on their arms! Banning devices and social media in the classroom is outdated thinking. I use social media in the classroom as a way to bring other people into our classroom conversations - reporters, thought leaders, actors and hosts of television shows. The minute you walk into your classroom and don’t know what your students are using, whether it be Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram, you’re dating yourself and making them feel that you’re obsolete. Embrace social media as a tool.. Professors need to figure out how to embrace it and use it.”
6. Provide the Why for students.
It’s not just the what, but also the why. We should all continue to discuss and champion how change is a good thing, even if there are still unknowns. The technological innovations taking place will help the overall profession, including the experiences the next generation of grads will have starting day one.
If students understand the importance of adapting new technologies into the profession and how to utilize them to their fullest extent, they will be able to focus more on business practices that not only enhance client services, but expand the profession as a whole. For today’s Millennials and Gen Zer’s who are entering the workforce as digital natives, this not only leaves room for them to showcase their critical thinking skills and focus more on strategic planning, but also allows them to be innovative leaders and drivers of the firm’s success tomorrow starting today.
7. Keep coming together!
The accounting profession should continue cultivating spaces for idea exchange to further embrace the use of new technologies across aspects of the profession- from the classroom to the boardroom.
One such organization often leading the charge is The American Accounting Association, who hosts a variety of conferences throughout the year, including the National Conference next week in Washington DC. Another is the Beta Alpha Psi Partner group connecting students and professionals by providing opportunities for students to hone in on a variety of new skills related to technology, soft skills, and networking.
In addition, professional conferences hosted by state societies are a rich environment to expand knowledge of the profession, each uniquely hosted and specific to the needs of the professionals, professors, and students within each state. Students, professionals, academics, and industry thought leaders need to continually be a part of these gatherings to ensure all voices are captured within the profession. Gatherings like these are inspirational and energizing opportunities for the profession to connect with the greater accounting community, while providing new strategies to approach, sample, and exchange new accounting technologies.
8. Embrace the change and learn something new.
Finally, technology is inevitable and should be embraced, not feared. It’s transforming all areas of everyday life and with the ever-changing landscape of the accounting profession, it’s crucial to embrace the change for yourself and your students. There are multiple video tutorials, eBooks, white papers, journals, and publications to help bridge any technological gaps.
Strive to be an innovative leader within your sphere of influence by focusing on the way technology can help in the classroom setting. Learning can become limitless; all learning styles can be embraced; and curriculum becomes much more flexible. Lean in to the technological evolution and empower accounting students to achieve higher levels of relevancy and productivity in their future careers.
There is no way to pause the influx of emerging technology. However, what the accounting profession can do is embrace the changing landscape and adapt to avoid falling behind. How the profession will successfully embrace emerging technologies is a complex topic with many narratives, opinions, and conversations within the accounting profession. Therefore, it’s important to not only keep the dialogue going, but to work with one another and traverse this new frontier together rather than apart.