Advancements in technology mean that this data can be leveraged to provide a higher-quality service, predict future market trends, and mitigate risk—all with extreme efficiency and speed.
It’s no surprise then that demand is high for data savvy Master of Accounting grads.
Data analytics and technology are evolving the accounting profession
From automation to digital data management, it’s difficult for accounting professionals to ignore the impact of data and technology on their role.
“Technology is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the accounting profession,” says Michael F. Peters, Ph.D., chair and Alvin A. Clay professor of accounting at the Villanova School of Business.
While analyzing data has always been intrinsic to the accounting profession, advancements in technology have accelerated the volume of data that’s available and transformed the possibilities of applying such data.
Jennifer Altamuro, PhD, is the faculty director of the Master of Accounting with Data Analytics (MAC) program at the Villanova School of Business.
“You can’t effectively manage a company’s financial operations without analyzing data. Whereas before you really needed to be a computer scientist, data now used across the profession, making data analytics skills essential for success in an accounting career,” she says.
That’s why the Villanova MAC program merges data analytics with core accounting courses. Students in the program will explore accounting transactions and case studies through the lens of data software such as Alteryx and Power BI.
“The way technology has developed and emerged means that tasks that used to take days in highly complex systems can now be done in Excel in moments,” says Jennifer.
Technologies such as cloud computing, which enables masses of data to be stored and sent in one place, has also decreased the cost of analyzing data.
“All of these developments mean there are more expectations about what accountants can do with data,” says Jennifer.
With the increased opportunities from the widespread accessibility of data also comes increased risk that accountants need to manage.
To keep up with the rapid impact data and technology is having on the accounting profession, the MAC program works closely with an Advisory Council comprised of industry professionals— which includes representation from the Big Four accounting firms.
The program is continuously adapted in line with industry trends and key skills future accountants need. In 2023, the MAC program launched Digital Accounting courses that address the technological changes in the profession and how to approach them.
Accounting professionals who can bridge the gap between data, technology, and business will be more valued in the profession
Technology has automated many of the mundane processes that first year accountants would usually be tasked with, meaning that those launching a career in accounting today will take on higher-level responsibilities when entering the field.
Alongside the expectations of understanding and utilizing data, employers are looking for graduates that are already equipped with this higher-level skill set.
“For our MAC graduates, being able to manipulate data and understand technologies before they walk in the door allows them to hit the ground running in their work setting,” says Michael.
The Master of Accounting with Data Analytics program at Villanova gives students specialist technical skills as well as a greater understanding of the role that data analytics and technology play in accounting and general business settings.
Courses such as Accounting Systems and Controls teach students to extract data from the SAP software—an enterprise-wide financial reporting system. Once the data has been extracted, students learn how to use this data to answer business problems and highlight risks through Excel.
“There’s millions of pieces of data but if you don’t know what questions to ask, that data is useless,” says Jennifer.
The cross-over between technology and data analytics skills paired with business acumen and core accountancy skills is in very high-demand, she adds.
While some courses in the MAC program at Villanova are very technical, others such as Negotiations and Leadership for the New Accounting Professional are designed to build students’ soft skills and help them become well-rounded business leaders.
Having strong technology and data analytics skills will open doors in your accounting career
Whatever specialization you pursue for your career in accounting, data analytics skills are strongly valued across the profession.
“We’re not just preparing our students for their first job after graduating, we’re preparing them to build a career,” says Jennifer.
According to a report by Ernst & Young (EY), 53% of senior executives have identified data and analytics as their top investment priority in the next two years.
An increasingly popular career path for MAC grads at Villanova is forensic accounting, says Jennifer.
Forensic accountants investigate financial crimes such as fraud and other financial misrepresentation. Being skilled in data analytics can allow forensic investigators to identify red flags and criminal activity more accurately and in a fraction of the time.
The Master of Accounting program also provides a launchpad for students to pursue the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification by allowing students to fulfill the 150 credit hours requirement in many US states as part of their degree.
However, Michael stresses the value of taking additional classes and upskilling even further as a budding accounting professional.
“Just checking the boxes of the credit requirement will leave students bare. Honing your technology and data analytics skills will help you stand out to employers and advance your career,” he says.
As the business world continues to be impacted by cutting-edge technological transformations, arming yourself with a quantitative and analytical skill set is what you need to help stand out to employers and future-proof your accounting career.
I graduated in the late 80s and I'm sure a few more National championships have changed things, however while the education I received was above average (English major), the social circumstances were difficult, as the "Main Line" mentality of privilege (and driving the right car, wearing the right clothes) was intense.