Accountants with Data Analytics Skills Are Difficult to Find

Apr 27th 2016
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Finance leaders are dealing with a significant shortage of accounting and finance professionals who possess the technical and nontechnical skills required for data analytics initiatives.

This is the key finding in a joint report, Building a Team to Capitalize on the Promise of Big Data, released earlier this month by Robert Half and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

When building their accounting and finance teams, managers most commonly seek business analytics skills in financial analysis (87 percent), followed by budgeting, planning, and forecasting (85 percent), operational analysis (82 percent), and cost management (81 percent).

But finding accounting and finance professionals who have these skills has proved to be difficult, making it challenging for department leaders to recruit, develop, and retain people who possess these attributes, the report states.

Among technical skills, here’s what is missing the most:

  • Identifying key data trends (29 percent)
  • Data mining and extraction (28 percent)
  • Operational analysis (28 percent)
  • Technological acumen (27 percent)
  • Statistical modeling and data analysis (27 percent)

The most significant gaps in nontechnical skills, or soft skills, are found in:

  • Decision analysis (37 percent)
  • Process improvement (35 percent)
  • Strategic thinking and execution (32 percent)
  • Adaptability to change (31 percent)
  • Communication skills (29 percent)

“Finding data is just part of the equation – and may just be the midpoint in the process,” the report states. “Using their knowledge of the business, staff must also be able to turn the information they mine into actionable guidance. The ability to communicate findings and make recommendations is a requisite for success with data-related initiatives.”

So, what can firms do to successfully build teams of people who have the necessary data analytics skills? One way is to enhance employee retention. Some organizations find it easier to keep staff with the necessary expertise than to hire new talent, the report states.

According to the 479 executives and managers who were surveyed for the report, the most effective ways to retain accountants who have analytics skills are:

  • Supportive attitude from top management (28 percent)
  • Comprehensive benefits (18 percent)
  • Professional development (16 percent)
  • Above-market compensation (14 percent)
  • Developed career path (13 percent)

Additional strategies include establishing a supportive corporate culture, helping professionals achieve work-life balance, and keeping work fresh and challenging.

But, remember, the number of internal professionals who have the required analytics skills is limited. So, firms must be proactive with continuing education and ongoing training, said Kip Krumwiede, PhD, CMA, CPA, director of research for the IMA.

According to the report, developing skills from within was considered an important practice in building a team’s analytics skills by 68 percent of survey respondents. The most common types of training for these competencies are:

  • In-house
  • CPE
  • Tuition reimbursement

“[We train] up our existing employees to better understand the data that is being analyzed, what information they should be looking for, and what information should raise a ‘red flag,’” said Shane Hood, CFO of Total Highway Maintenance LLC, who was interviewed for the report.

The problem, however, is that only 14 percent of respondents said their firm offers training related to data analytics.

Other successful practices that were cited in the report include hiring from outside the company (44 percent), working with consultants or project professionals (39 percent), networking within professional associations (31 percent), and using a recruiting firm (24 percent).

Replies (4)

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By [email protected]
May 4th 2016 18:15

Perhaps one of the problems is that you are looking for Accountants, in Texas, I can not call myself an Accountant.
However I love to work in the above topic.
Debbie Bearden EA

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By macdonald chitauro
May 9th 2018 13:00

What is the best qualification that incorporates finance and data analytics

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By cross1x
Jan 5th 2019 08:07

The question that I see below is what qualification incorporates finance and data analytics

There is none.
For many years I have worked in accounting using financial data, creating ad hoc reports and working with IT to give me access to the data, and having IT create accounting databases and reports for me. Simple ad hoc I can do.

Data analytics is kind of a buzz set of words.
I too have spent many hours trying to find the intersection between the two disciplines. Accountants need reports so that they can review transactions and a host of other activities. Data collection changed when ERP were implemented. Our canned reports were gone and the IT folks said it should be easy for us to use tools such as business objects or crystal reports to generate those reports exactly as we need them; but the tools were complicated for us to use so we had to hire an IT person to work with the data warehouse/business objects crystal reports to send us the data so we can work in excel to create the reports that we need. Accounting and finance are disciplines that depend on data, IT folks create the technologies that collect, store, and preserve our data, but they are not accounting and finance experts and must rely on the accountants as subject matter experts. Some accountants have become IT folks, but IT folks usually do not become accountants. I myself am an accountant. I have studied IT, but I am not a programmer, I have studied databases and have a college certification in business intelligence, which for my school is more along the lines of using data to find statistical patterns in the data for business decision making not financial reporting. I have entered a master's program in data analytics and there are no accounting classes and there are no statistics classes. There are a number of different programming classes and some database technology classes. I have a yellow belt (lean six sigma) in process improvement because that is what the job ads were requiring. I am going to end this long story that could get longer with all of the subjects I have studied trying to be what the job market for accountant says it wants. I think there is something wrong with what we are seeing in the job listings, most universities and college are just now in the past few years adding degrees to their programs to provide degrees in data analytics. The accounting programs are not dropping classes in the accounting program to add data analytics classes which are really about using tools such SQL, Python or business objects to pull data, and manage the databases and create reports. Again short answer they are two very different things and the technologies use to preform the functions overlap the disciplines from the use of the technology prospective for the accountant, and from the create and maintenance of the systems from IT prospective. I say I am an accountant with some IT skills but the IT folks will not hire me because I am not an expert coder so I am learning programming. As technology changes more and more rapidly the needs change and it seems businesses are just not sure what they want or need and they chose the most expedient set of skills to get the job done. There are those rare folks that have both sets of skills, but they are going to be broad in one and narrow in another. I think the market is asking for what it wants and is hoping to get lots of options so that they can chose the best option. Also, you said finance which some use interchangeably with accounting. It could take some homework or your part to really get your answer.

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By todd.dequincey
Feb 17th 2019 01:35

As a Chartered Accountant come data scientist, I have first hand experience with the challenges of upskilling to all of the tools, terms and technologies required to effectively provide data related advice to clients. It hasn't been an easy journey, but definitely one which I do not regret.

For anyone who needs help providing data analytics and data science services to their accounting clients, or wants some help in gaining the right skills to deliver extra value to your clients through data services, feel free to take a look at my website (focused on the end SMB client) and get in touch.

All the best


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