ACCA’s recently published report, Coding: as a professional accountant, why you should be interested, considers why professional accountants should be aware of and interested in coding. The paper stears away from machine code, and instead focuses on programming language for computers.
The report follows the launch of Python– ACCAs free machine learning course tailored for finance professionals, part of the FinTech for finance and business leaders professional certificate program. The paper sites 57% of accountants admitted to having no knowledge of coding, yet 40% expressed an in learning.
Primary uses of coding for accountants include data analysis, data visualisation and scripts for customised reports to reduce low-value repetitive tasks. Data analysis coding can teach accountants how to load data from different sources, drill-down and segment, create pivot table style aggregations and explore data visualisation libraries.
“Audit has increasingly interdisciplinary teams,” ACCA head of business insights Narayanan Vaidyanathan told AccountingWEB. “More complex audits for larger customers are drawing more diverse professionals like cybersecurity experts and other areas of data science testing.
“What these areas are contributing doesn’t have to be a black box within the audit if you have someone who can talk to them and make the most out of the interactions,” he added.
But it’s not like coding is naturally going to be on the top of accountants’ list of priorities. With heavy workloads and professionals who can provide this service, there are many reasons that prevent accountants from taking up coding as a skill, including:
Lack of time
Potentially no immediate need in day-to-day tasks
No basic level of understanding to build upon in independent learning
Perceptions that skills learned become outdated quickly
Belief that even basic levels of coding are too hard
Key benefits of coding for accountants
According to Vaidyanathan, a basic understanding of coding could mean that you don’t have to go to your IT department every time you need basic coding. “We’re talking about creating intuitive customised reports so you can be more self-sufficient as a business [as well as] engendering your relationship with your IT function.”
The accountant can link business processes with the tech side with a minor level of understanding, making the company more marketable.
ACCA’s report cites the following key benefits for accountants learning coding:
A better understanding of the approach to data can show how it is organised, analysed and flows through the organisation. Accountants can see what is involved in structuring and streamlining the data.
Enabling more informed strategic conversations on technology use and adoption due to a better understanding of what needs to happen in the background.
Offers a superior risk lens to ask the right questions, or better questions, when using information produced by systems.
There is a wider trend of more partnering between accountants and other professionals, eg multi-skilled audit teams with experts in data science or cyber. A better understanding of coding is seen as assisting communication between accountants and those trained in other disciplines. For example, it would allow an accountant to better explain their requirements to an IT or data scientist, driving the adoption of machine learning.
Coding is also seen as a valuable skill set that improves market value and career opportunities.
Supercharging Excel with coding
Excel workflows can be automated to write macros (which are run by clicking a button) and to create template reports that update live with the latest data. A basic understanding of coding can afford more interrogations of models, data depictions, forecasts etc.
Python, in particular, offers a basic understanding of machine learning models and their relationship to data science, big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is then applied to real-world machine learning examples to meet practical objectives such as evaluating and improving the model and error detection/correction.
The purpose of courses like these is to get accountants to the level where they can see the interface of the coding tools being used, along with their capabilities and the potential for what they can do with them.
The coding tools are then linked with the systems and software they recognise eg Excel, allowing them to begin to understand how they can supercharge Excel using coding.