Whether you’re an aspiring CPA or a Big 4 wannabe, “accounting analytics” is going to be your new best friend. But what exactly is it? What kinds of education programs are available (skip ahead to our complete list)? What jobs does it qualify you for? And where can you go to learn more? We’ve got the answers in our comprehensive guide to earning an accounting analytics master’s degree.
What is Accounting Analytics?
Definition of Accounting Analytics
Accounting analytics is the application of data analytics and big data technologies to the field of accounting. In addition to helping accountants manage typical tasks, accounting analytics enables financial professionals to answer business questions, shape corporate strategy, forecast financial trends, thwart fraud, and more!
The Current Role of Analytics in Accounting
Budgeting, planning, data management, auditing—accountants are used to dealing with data. In fact, most professionals have already mastered two types of analytics:
Descriptive Analytics: By summarizing & interpreting raw data, accountants find answers to what has happened. For example, analysts frequently use sums, averages, and percent changes to calculate sales results, inventory stock, cost per customer, average dollars spent, year-over-year change in sales, etc. These data are used to generate reports (e.g. operations, finance, and sales).
Diagnostic Analytics: Accountants also deploy data analytics and data mining to discover why something happened. They create variance reports to show differences between budgeted amounts and actual income or expenses. They conduct financial audits to pinpoint fraud or errors. They employ tools and software to look for patterns & problems in large data sets.
These skills are great, but they’re not enough. As automation takes over day-to-day tasks, accountants are increasingly being asked to act as data scientists—to incorporate non-financial data into their analyses, predict financial performance, and advise their company on actions to take.
The Future of Analytics in Accounting
In order for accountants to act as financial counselors, they will have to master two more forms of analytics. Namely:
Predictive Analytics: Accountants predict what will happen by analyzing historical data & patterns. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, point-of-sale (POS) software, credit scores, customer relationship management (CRM) systems—these are just a few of the sources that can be tapped to create financial forecasts, project appraisals, trend analyses, budget predictions, etc.
Prescriptive Analytics: Accountants advise management on what should happen. Using advanced techniques (e.g. machine learning, optimization algorithms, computational modeling, etc.), accountants can analyze the outcomes of “what-if” scenarios, assess the trade-offs, and suggest the best course of action.
Whether you’ll use all of these tactics depends on your job title and your level of seniority. But we can tell you right now that new big data sources (e.g. social media, text, Internet of Things, the Cloud, etc.) are constantly appearing and cool tools & techniques (e.g. data visualization, sentiment analysis, interactive dashboards, etc.) are growing hourly. Accountants will need to keep up.
Accounting Analytics Specializations
Gone are the days of sample-based testing. Now accountants are using big data technologies to monitor and audit entire populations (i.e. full data sets) on a continuous basis. Transaction activities, vendor payments, payroll processing, healthcare charges—all of these & more can be analyzed at lightning speed and summed up in financial reports.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. In the Big 4 firms, internal auditors are now crunching data from multiple sources (structured & unstructured) to:
- Generate strategic analyses, enterprise risk assessments, and business insights.
- Develop internal audit plans and suggest quality improvements.
- Create predictions & warnings for CEOs and stakeholders.
Companies are always trying to find ways to create higher profit margins, become more efficient, and get a “leg up” on the competition. That means they want accounting experts who can not only make sense of their financial data, but also suggest ways to make money in the future.
For example, some businesses have embraced integrated reporting (IR). Creators of IRs use all kinds of financial and non-financial data sets to assess an organization’s “strategy, governance, performance, and prospects” and value created over time. By breaking down silos and incorporating outside data, financial planners hope to create a more comprehensive view of the company’s situation.
The upshot of this work? Better corporate decisions on resource allocation, investments in intellectual capital, energy security measures, competitive strategies, and more.
Forensic accountants are expected to act as experts in financial matters related to disputes or litigation. They often look for fraud and illegal activities (e.g. money laundering, insurance claims & personal injury claims), but they can also be involved in situations like bankruptcy, royalty audits, or insolvency.
As you might expect, data analytics is giving them a whole new set of tools. Speed is the key factor. With the right skills, forensic accountants can quickly identify and track down the source of anomalies in a huge ocean of data. This is no easy feat when there are so many disparate sources to analyze!
But it’s not just about the past. More and more, these data experts are also involved in their organization’s future—creating risk reduction procedures, finding new ways to deter fraud, advising on the safest investment decisions, etc. This kind of role often requires advanced predictive and prescriptive skills.
CFOs & High-Level Decisions
This is where the field of accounting analytics becomes really interesting:
- CFOs want their staff to be able to predict customer behavior and financial trends.
- They want detailed risk assessments on everything from supply chains to government regulations.
- They want to anticipate changes in the market and be able to act instantly to make money or save jobs.
If you’re aspiring to be a CFO, it helps to a) know your analytics stuff and b) be able to explain the rationale for your decisions to a non-technical audience.
Studying Accounting Analytics
What are Accounting Analytics Master’s Degrees?
The term “accounting analytics” is relatively new, so each university will have its own take on the curriculum. For example, some schools have chosen to go with themes of:
- Auditing (e.g. financial reporting, IT auditing, taxation, international accounting, etc.)
- Financial consulting (e.g. investment advising, equity & credit analysis, corporate consulting, etc.)
- Or a combination of the above.
Other schools have made a point of focusing on a certain field (e.g. forensic accounting, fraud, financial advising, etc.). You can decide to keep your options open or specialize early—it’s up to you!
What to Look for in the Curriculum
Whatever choice you make, be sure that the tools & technologies covered in the curriculum match your career goals. For instance:
- If you’re going to be managing data & information systems, you’ll need to know about ERP applications (e.g. SAP and Oracle).
- If you’re going to be involved in business intelligence (BI), you might look for courses in data mining, data visualization, and advanced analytics.
- If you’re interested in predictive & prescriptive roles, you should consider work in areas like machine learning (ML), statistical modeling, and forecasting methods.
You can get even more specific. For example, an auditing degree could include:
- Audit automation techniques (continuous auditing & continuous monitoring)
- Auditing analytics tools such as IDEA & ACL: GRC
- Computer-assisted audit techniques (CAATs)
- Statistical inference and its usage in auditing
- Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) approaches
The easiest way to assess a curriculum is to look at dream job descriptions and see what skills you’ll need to acquire. Don’t forget that “soft skills” such as communication, teamwork, and an understanding of ethics & market issues will also have value to employers.
Accounting Analytics Program Checklist
- Does the program list job placement statistics, average starting salaries, and typical employers?
- Does the degree help prepare you for accounting certification exams (e.g. CPA)? If so, does the program publish pass rates?
- Can you participate in career workshops, “meet the employer” events, company tours, and/or networking opportunities?
- Is there an internship program? Which companies participate?
- Is there a class profile so you can see who you’ll be working with?
- Does the syllabus include team projects and real-world simulations?
- Do faculty have useful ties to professional firms, corporate partners, and/or public accounting firms? What kinds of big data research projects are they working on?
- Do guest speakers and local experts teach classes or make presentations?
- Does the program appear in U.S. News & World Report rankings for Accounting and/or Information Systems? Some graduate schools pop up in both.
- Does the program appear in the Public Accounting Report (PAR) Annual Professors Survey, where programs are ranked by accounting faculty?
- Is the Business School accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)? (It’s not mandatory, but it’s a nice bonus.)
Innovative University Programs
KPMG & Multiple Universities
KPMG is one of the “Big 4” accounting firms. To drive more qualified analysts into its ranks, it has developed an unusual master’s degree program with Ohio State University’s Max M. Fisher College of Business and Villanova’s School of Business that it hopes to expand to other universities.
Highlights of the program include:
- KPMG covers full tuition and reasonable living costs (e.g. room & board, books, and technology fees).
- Students work with software tools and data sets that are used by KPMG professionals. There’s a heavy emphasis on all forms of analytics (e.g. descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive).
- Students participate in a spring semester/winter quarter internship and work full-time at KPMG after graduation. High performers have the chance to be promoted to Senior Associate after one year and to Manager after four years.
Rutgers & AICPA
Rutger’s Accounting Web (RAW) is the university’s center of accounting research. We bring it up because RAW is where you’ll find the Rutgers AICPA Data Analytics Research Initiative (RADAR), a joint project with the AICPA to integrate data analytics into the audit process. RADAR’s research has help to inform the AICPA Audit Data Analytics Guide.
On RAW, you’ll also find info on recent accounting research in data analytics & text analytics, links to big data development articles in AAA’s Accounting Horizons, and info on upcoming auditing conferences.
Getting a Job in Accounting Analytics
Inside Public Accounting (IPA) publishes annual rankings of the 100, 200, and 300 largest accounting firms in the United States. You can also look for jobs at:
- Deloitte, EY, KPMG, or PwC—these are known as the “Big 4” accounting firms
- Global accounting firms who offer accounting, tax, audit & consulting services
- Local or national CPA firms who deal with tax services, estate planning, accounting, auditing & consulting
- Specialist accounting firms (e.g. K Coe Isom focuses on industries such as agriculture)
- Corporate accounting departments of large companies
- Government auditing departments
- Tax consultants
- Investment consultants
- Banking & financial institutions
Sample Job Titles
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Management accountant
- Data analyst
- Financial analyst
- Financial consultant
- Investment advisor
- Equity or credit analyst
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Accounting Analytics Resources
Major Organizations & Certifications
- American Accounting Association (AAA): AAA publishes Accounting Horizons, runs an accounting big data conference (see below), and produces webinars that occasionally focus on analytics. The two critical sections for aspiring accounting analysts are Accounting Information Systems (AIS), which gives out awards and provides info on meetings, and Strategic and Emerging Technologies (SET), which works on emerging technologies and artificial intelligence methods & techniques in accounting.
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA): AICPA is the largest member association representing the accounting profession. It administers the famous Uniform CPA exam and offers specialty credentials in areas like forensic accounting. Some of AICPA’s Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses & programs deal specifically with big data (e.g. Analytics and Big Data for Accountants, Big Data, information strategy, etc.) and both the AICPA Research section and Interest Areas have useful resources for analysts. In the Audit Data Analytics section of the Financial Reporting Center, you’ll find info on audit data standards, the AICPA Audit Data Analytics Guide, and the Assurance Services Executive Committee’s (ASEC’s) Emerging Assurance Technologies Task Force.
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA): CIMA is the world’s leading professional body of management accountants. In 2011, it partnered with AICPA to offer the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) certification. CIMA has various mastercourses in big data and business analytics and the Research & Insight section often contains articles on accounting analytics and new technologies.
- Institute of Management Accountants (IMA): IMA is a global association of accountants and financial professionals that offers the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) credential. Its work on Insights & Trends has a section on Technology Enablement with links to relevant big data research reports and articles.
- International Computer Auditing Education Association (ICAEA): ICAEA is a non-profit organization that offers the International Certified CAATs Practitioner (ICCP) certification. This credential signifies that you have mastered CAATs (Computer Assisted Audit Techniques). CAATs include basic productivity software (e.g. spreadsheets), advanced software packages that use stats analysis and business intelligence tools, and other areas of advanced data analytics. Similar CAATs certifications include ACL™ Certified Data Analyst (ACDA), Certified IDEA Data Analyst (CIDA), and Jacksoft Certified CAATs Practitioner (JCCP).
Research Groups & Journals
- International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB): IAASB’s Data Analytics Working Group (DAWG) is actively interested in data analytics projects. DAWG’s goals are to explore emerging technology developments in the field of auditing and respond to changes with new or revised International Standards on Auditing and/or general guidance (e.g. staff publications).
- Journal of Accountancy : Visit the Journal’s section on technology to find articles on business intelligence, data & information security, information management, and the like.
- Journal of Emerging Technologies in Accounting (JETA): JETA is the academic journal of AAA’s Strategic and Emerging Technologies section.
- Journal of Information Systems (JIS): JIS is the academic journal of AAA’s Accounting Information Systems section.
- Special Interest Group on Accounting Information System (SIG-ASYS): SIG-ASYS is a special interest group of the Association for Information Systems (AIS). It has dedicated itself to research on accounting information systems and runs the popular Pre-ICIS Workshop at the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS).
Big Four Resources
- Deloitte Global Topics: Big Data : Deloitte’s section on big data features a variety of interesting articles and case studies.
- EY Insights: Analytics and Big Data: EY Insights publish reports & case studies and posts links to useful journal & blog articles.
- KPMG Strategy: Data & Analytics: KPMG Strategy has links to analytics research reports, whitepapers, and resources. Additional reading can be found in the company’s Insights section.
- PwC Issues: Data and Analytics: PwC Issues may have a lot about the company’s services, but you will also find links to its latest analytics publications and case studies.
Accounting Analytics Conferences
- Accounting Is Big Data Conference: This is the one to stick on your calendar! Run by the American Accounting Association (AAA), this autumn conference tracks the latest developments in accounting analytics and big data. It includes workshops, expert panels, and networking opportunities.
- AIS-SET Midyear Meeting: AIS-SET is the combined midyear meeting of the AAA’s Accounting Information Systems and Strategic and Emerging Technologies Sections. It’s a three-day event that usually takes place in January.
- International Symposium on Accounting Information Systems (ISAIS): ISAIS aims to unite researchers who are interested in Accounting Information Systems (AIS). Symposium topics often cover areas like data analytics, business intelligence, continuous auditing & reporting, strategic information systems, etc. It’s held annually and rotated between the University of Central Florida (U.S.A.), Tilburg University (The Netherlands), and the University of Melbourne (Australia).
- Journal of Information Systems (JIS) Research Conference: Also known as JISRC, JISC aims to bring together academics and professionals to talk about—you guessed it—Accounting Information Systems (AIS). In 2018, the overall topic was Cloud Computing. In 2017, the focus was on big data & data analytics.
- M3 Accounting + Analytics: M3 creates accounting and financial analysis products for the hotel industry, and it hosts a well-known “Partner Meeting” for clients every two years in August.
- Pre-ICIS SIG-ASYS Workshop: The SIG-ASYS workshop is held in conjunction with the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS). It’s a chance for folks to discuss the intersection of accounting & information systems and to present original analytics research.
We found 5 universities in our directory offering Accounting Analytics programs.
If you represent a university and would like to contact us about editing any of our listings, or adding new programs, please send an email to info (at) mastersindatascience.org.