“Accountants can no longer, in many cases, throw data into a spreadsheet alone to make a business computation,” according to Jack Cathey, director for the Master of Accountancy (MACC) program and an associate professor of accounting in UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business. “Instead, they need to be able to use a vast amount of data and advanced tools to ask better questions which will alter decisions – decisions informed by data.”
Information is coming at us in greater amounts, faster and with more variety. Like all aspects of business, the digital transformation is impacting the accounting profession.
Accountants today are increasingly using new visualization tools such as Alteryx to extract and transform data and Tableau to visualize and tell stories with data. Employers expect graduates to have the knowledge to replace an Excel bar chart with a complex, visually interesting and interactive dashboard based on large amounts of live data.
Tools needed by today’s accounting workforce include “data wrangling” visualization and robotic process automation (RPA). Alteryx, which is incorporated in several Belk College undergraduate and graduate accounting courses, allows users to work at scale and at a higher volume than Excel and takes the manual process out of the equation.
In the age of big data, information and visuals need to work together, combining great analysis with great storytelling. In the future, experts predict that routine accounting tasks will become automated and replaced with data wrangling tools or software using robotic process automation.
What else does the future hold for accounting? One change is certain: the CPA exam. The CPA Evolution project will include a new version of the exam in 2024 that incorporates data for the first time as one of four core competencies. Visualization may be the next addition.
“Data locked in the mind or spreadsheet of an accountant is worthless,” Cathey said. “It has to be in the hands of decision makers. It is a very exciting time to be an accountant with new tools and automation.”
Understanding data has benefited a number of Belk College accounting alumni; read about Leigh Goller ’93, chief audit and compliance officer for Duke University and Health System; Alex Burris ’91, senior vice president of technology at Lennar Multifamily Communities; and Chris Summer ’03, ’04 MACC, who works as a managing director at Grant Thornton LLP.