DEVELOPING THE RIGHT SKILL SETS: In response to accountants' lack of data analytics expertise, Singapore Management University revamped its curriculum to develop versatile accounting professionals.

Author:Qiang, Cheng
 
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The growing prevalence of advanced analytical tools and technologies allows business executives to seek timely and relevant data, enabling them to make better business decisions, grow revenue, improve efficiencies, and better manage risk and compliance. The advancement in analytical tools plays a key role in supporting data visualization, statistical analysis, and text mining, among other capabilities. A major challenge, though, is the availability of accountants who have data analytics expertise. Traditional audit and IT skills don't incorporate the more advanced data mining skill sets required for performing analytics tasks. The accounting and finance professional ideally should possess database management and data analysis skills in addition to antifraud and other accounting-related skills.

That's why the Singapore Management University School of Accountancy (SMU-SOA) aims to develop versatile accounting professionals and business leaders through holistic education, thought leadership, and collaboration with businesses and society. We place a strong emphasis on the industry responsiveness of our accountancy curriculum and seek to offer more opportunities for students to develop themselves through professional programs that complement their academic studies at SMU-SOA.

Recognizing that IMA[R] (Institute of Management Accountants) shares our common interest of providing holistic learning and education opportunities for individuals to pursue globally relevant professional qualifications, SMU-SOA earned endorsement from IMA's Higher Education Endorsement Program in 2017.

The Skills Gap

One of the challenges in providing students with the skills they need to succeed is reflected in the revived discussion about the widening skills gap in the accounting profession. For instance, a Robert Half survey states that eight out of 10 CFOs in Singapore are unable to hire accounting and financial professionals with the right skills for the job and that the problem is likely to become worse in the next five years. As Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of Robert Half Singapore, said, "Combined with new regulations and the skills shortage, finance leaders are struggling to find the talent they need to face commercial challenges in 2019" (bit.ly/2O1ks5P).

These findings are just some of the latest results in the skills gap conversation. Many other studies conducted by accounting firms and professional bodies point to the same trend. Without a concerted effort to increase the pool of accounting professionals skilled in technology, this burgeoning skills gap will continue to grow.

In 2017, we at SMU-SOA conducted focus group discussions with 23 senior industry practitioners to understand the industry needs of the next decade. The majority of the practitioners agreed that data analytics will play a vital role in the future of accounting. Yet data scientists often lack domain knowledge in accounting areas, while those with knowledge in accounting or business areas lack the technological know-how. The key challenge companies faced was recruiting talent with knowledge in both disciplines.

Through these findings and given the ongoing conversation on digitalization in the accounting profession, it became apparent that educators should take the lead to groom the right talent to meet the current and future demands of the industry. SMU-SOA decided to take the first leap and introduce accounting data analytics programs in our curriculum.

Revamping the Curriculum

In January 2018, SMU-SOA launched three new accounting data analytics programs designed to develop a sustainable talent pool of tech-savvy accounting and finance professionals, including a second major in accounting data and analytics, a master of...

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