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Accounting qualifications: What tech did accountants miss out on?

20th Dec 2017
Technology journalist
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When aspiring accountants are completing their qualifications, they must feel that the courses are preparing them for the road ahead. But once they’ve spent several years on the job, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Previously, AccountingWEB asked several industry insiders whether accountancy qualifications should incorporate more technology – the general consensus was that they should involve more tech used on the job without taking away the fundamental knowledge of accountancy. But what exactly is missing, and do existing accountants agree?

According to Kapil Khagram, a business reporting accountant at Hermes Investment Management, who qualified with an ACA back in 2014, the qualification could have incorporated more Excel tutorials and generic accounting software training. He suggested that almost every accounting job requires the use of Excel, and therefore training to use the software as part of any accounting qualification could help to make accountants more efficient.

Chetan Shah, a financial accountant that qualified with an ACCA in 2014, also suggested that advanced use of Excel would have been helpful to learn as part of his qualification as it is needed in practice and industry.

However, while Shah hasn’t taken any additional courses to help with tech-specific skills since sitting his accounting exams, he said that the likes of Quorum Training offer Excel courses. But there are non-traditional ways to gain the skills too, as Khagram explained.

“I’ve never taken an actual course but there are many self-teaching Excel and Macros courses on YouTube that have helped,” he said.

But while Khagram stated that accounts preparation software, audit software and bookkeeping software variants are all very similar, albeit requiring some sort of tailing to a specific accountant’s role, Alex Combes, cloud technology manager at AV Cloud, suggested that the software felt very different when learning at a younger age.

“When I studied my AAT qualification between 2013 and 2015, one of the required modules was book-keeping on Sage. At the time, I had recently completed my Xero certification through Ad Valorem and the two pieces of software could not feel more different to a young learning mind,” he explained.

“I believe more technology should be in place within accountancy qualifications but only if they are relevant to the diversifying market,” he added.

The concept of cloud computing was never mentioned as part of the AAT, Combes stated, and he thinks rather than incorporating tech within existing accountancy qualifications, accountants should take on separate tech qualifications.

The flipside, Khagram explained, is that even though he would have saved time learning certain tech skills on a course rather than on-the-job, it would not be as tailored to fit the job specification.

“By learning on the job, you only learn the parts that are relevant to you and when you need them,” he said.

If a specific accountant’s role changes or they move to another company, they may not have the background knowledge in software that would have held them in good stead.

There are of course other tech-related skills that are required for some accountants right now and in the future.

Khagram said that his role involves creating bespoke reports which require skills such as SQL, while Shah predicts that the ability to model, use technology to make processes more efficient and to drive better analytics for organisations will be key skills that accountants will have to learn in the near future.

The key point is that accountancy is so wide and the technology necessary for specific roles varies significantly, and so it would be hard to incorporate everything into the ACA, ACCA, CIMA and AAT qualifications.

However, advanced Excel and a non-vendor biased accounting software module could help accountants to become better at their jobs more swiftly, as well as having a more in-depth repertoire of skills that could not only help their existing employer, but could help the employee for their long-term future.

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By jonty
04th Jan 2018 10:59

Very interesting article. Having interviewed over 40 mid-level accountants (ACA, ACCA and CIMA) in the back half of last year, we found 3 who I would describe as having adequate excel skills combined with an accounting mind suited to solving problems in excel. This was a little disappointing.
None of the three good candidates could program vba and sql to a level where they could design complex models but to be fair, were good enough to manage models created by others.
I agree completely that qualified accountants should come with a good base level of skills but am not sure how much of the softer design and develop skills can be taught on courses and how much has to come from experience and on the job coaching (investing in your staff).
Jonty Cooke FCA, BSc Hons Computer Science.

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By rob winder
04th Jan 2018 13:45

I suspect that most accountants will struggle to program vba or sql unless they have an IT related degree.

What is even more worrying is accountants who's basic grammar is so bad they spell I'm as am. -"level of skills but am not sure..."

I would employ someone that can't program sql but wouldn't even interview someone that's spelling was so bad ;)

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By jonty
04th Jan 2018 14:25

Try looking up Conjunction Reduction, you will find the grammar is correct when used within a sentence. I'm is more complete but Conjunction Reduction removes the necessity for the I bit.
NB that was not the point of what I did wrote

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By EMichaelJakins
04th Jan 2018 11:50

Hi
I would question if any accountancy student should be taught on any particular "system".
I am old enough to have started my "bookkeeping" in days when the most advanced mechanised system was the NCR32. This enabled you to keep Customer Ledgers mechanically but did little to mechanise anything else. Certainly Trial Balance and beyond was by hand and brain!
However, such deprivation in my mechanical training proved invaluable when (15 years later) I was one of the first in the UK to use Lotus 123, and install Accounting Packages on the mainframe of one of the top 10 UK Companies. Because I was able to work out the result manually I could easily detect where the "system" was at fault.
OK, I studied and learnt "computing", mostly from the manuals which came with the program but also by attending the local College and learning to program (COBAL in those days). Much to the surprise of those in the Data Department who discovered that the Accountant could also do their job as well as sign cheques! Perhaps that's why I was also one of the first "Systems Accountants" in the UK?
When the first PC arrived on my desk (one of the first in the UK) the "Data Department" did not want to know and when I then also installed the first Network (again one of the first 10 in London!) I had well exceeded their remit and experience!
Years latter I have survived many versions of DOS, Windows, networks and now the Cloud. Installed a number of different Accounting Programs on all types of Platform, switched to Excel and survived its various incarnations. Also learnt and used to expert level several other applications doing various tasks well outside the reals of accountancy including CAD, PowerPoint, Photoshop, Music, Website HTML etc. Spending in the process many "happy hours" debugging and resolving both electronic and program errors.
My view is thus you need to learn and study IT as much as any other discipline. The basics of spreadsheets and databases could usefully be incorporated within Accountancy Training but everything else is going to need to be learnt separately.
Hopefully, in our Schools rather than just learning how to use a word processor and look things up on Google, some real programming and basics of IT will give future Accountants a foundation and enable them to adapt and use the latest "app".
At least its far more fun that keeping up with HMRC's latest proposals!
Regards
Michael

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By johnjenkins
04th Jan 2018 12:45

My career was slightly different, although one of the highlights of a computing course was to write a "flow chart" to bath a dog.
I started manually which I believed helped me understand Excel and packages. Basically you just transfer the manual way of working to the spreadsheet or package. One of my colleagues actually had spreadsheets from scratch linking to TB and accounts. He now uses VT. It's not rocket science. Why? Because of the manual knowledge. I don't think Accountants need to do " IT training". The bits they need they can learn when neccessary. Still with the banks doing all our "streamimg" and sending to HMRC we're not needed.

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By she2656
04th Jan 2018 13:32

From the same era myself (starting out with Lotus 123, ICL Prosper), systems accounting etc and have evolved across the years through numerous roles and software packages.
Firmly believe that once one has the basic knowledge and a bit of an aptitude for systems, it is possible to evolve with whatever a role requires.
It is true that Excel features in most roles these days; in fact I can't recall anywhere in the past 15-20 years where I haven't used Excel - occasionally as a "check" for a newly installed system or even as an interface between different systems within the business.

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By Accounting Access
04th Jan 2018 14:18

Programming languages, apps etc change constantly so only Excel should be included in an accounting degree. Other tech skills can be picked up specific to each job, noting that 80% of what is taught in most degrees is forgotten anyway

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By Cantona1
08th Jan 2018 20:35

Learning VBA is a complete waste of time. MS had dumped VBA 20 years ago, but keeps shipping out since it costs zero to included it with every new office release. Python has become very popular and widely used in Data Science and AI.

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By shareitdownloads
29th Nov 2018 18:59

More seriously, it does highlight HMRC's almost pathological desire to link similar, but nevertheless very different claims and cases without looking through to the facts, and is a timely reminder that shareit downloading HMRC should, when properly appropriate, be challenged.

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