Computer-based examinations are becoming the norm in accountancy, but is there enough practical tech training to keep up with changes in the industry? Sooraj Shah investigates.
Much of the onus of learning tech-specific skills is placed on both prospective and existing accountants. The idea is that they have to learn on the job or in their own time, but there could be a case for those who setting accountancy examinations and courses to place a greater significance on technology to help accountants at an earlier stage.
Recent research from Xero found that 83% of accountants now think an understanding of technology is as important as their understanding of accountancy.
However, Xero’s director, partner Damon Anderson suggested that today’s training courses fail to incorporate enough of the technology ecosystem and platform of tools that are now second nature to so many accountants.
This is because the qualifications primarily focus on the principals and processes behind the legislation and accounting techniques, said Sion Lewis, CEO of IRIS Accountancy Solutions.
“While these are still required, the majority of the ‘soft-skill’ and technology advancements required in the profession today are not focused upon, despite their clear importance,” he said.
What should be included?
So what should be included in accounting qualifications to make accountants more tech-savvy from the get-go?
According to Dean McGlone, director at finance automation company V1, there could be more of a focus on tech processes, particularly during modules for Accountancy in Business such as Procure to Pay.
“A module on the role of technology in accounting would be hugely beneficial too, and training accountants to focus on answering ‘what if’ type questions will help businesses make better decisions. These questions will likely need knowledge of advanced and predictive analytics technologies, for example, to help answer them,” said McGlone.
Darren Cran, UK MD of AccountsIQ, suggested that accountants need to be able to practice, see examples and road test systems and understand the transaction workflow of capture, approval, code, reporting and reconciliation.
Certain colleges, such as University College Dublin (UCD) have introduced a practical module in college – this is pre-accountancy training that gives students an online tutorial. The college uses a version of AccountsIQ software for students to use to produce a set of books and then do an online test.
This is something that is still lacking in the main accounting qualifications, however, including at degree level.
“At the moment, accountants learn about technology on the job, their degree doesn’t really teach them about systems, instead they learn about how to analyse outcomes but they’re not taught how the systems work,” Cran explained.
Need for basic technical knowledge reduced
But while there is clearly a need for some more attention given to technology in accounting courses, Laura Goodband, a senior accountant at inniAccounts with both ACCA and AAT qualifications, is concerned that there should not be too much technology incorporated into qualifications as the basic technical knowledge necessary for accountancy may be reduced.
“Although traditional data entry is rapidly disappearing thanks to technological advances, the role of accountants and their expertise is still very much needed - technology can’t replace some areas of decision making. Only once you’ve mastered the basics can you then understand how technology can help you perform your role or improve your performance,” she said.
Could the exams themselves be more ‘digital’?
Nikki Elliot, head of finance at The Eventa Group, said that she qualified in 2015 having started her studies in 2008. But that the modules she sat then were “extremely manual” and seemed “archaic”. This included sitting an exam with graph paper drawing lines of best fit.
“In the ‘real business world’ this would be performed by software so it would be good to incorporate this into studies or exams to see how it is really done – hence cementing the understanding n real-terms,” she said.
Many of the accounting qualifications are, however, moving towards computer-based exams, and Goodband believes that all such exams should be computer-based, as long as this doesn’t hinder the technical and fundamental knowledge of trainee accountants.
“For instance, when I completed my professional qualification all of the exams were completed manually and a good proportion of the time spent during these exams was drawing up templates and planning the layout of your answer,” she said.
“Today, accounting software performs this function and we no longer need to prepare things manually. However, my concern is that if this element is taken out of accounting exams then trainees may never fully understand or appreciate the underlying fundamentals of the profession. There has to be a balance if we are to produce rounded professionals,” she added.
About Sooraj Shah
Sooraj is a freelance technology journalist covering all things IT.