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The accountancy profession quickly adapted to online digital learning at the onset of the pandemic, and the transformation continues to deliver many benefits

When the pandemic quarantined the world, the accounting profession quickly adopted digital learning solutions to safely educate and test its members and students. Several professional designation exams have been taken online using digital proctor programs, while in-person conferences, workshops and educational events have all gone virtual.

Accounting associations around the world have taken action. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) has introduced remote proctoring for its Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification exams and learning materials published digitally to an online ‘library’ (which saved 262 tons of paper). In December 2020, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) partnered with a local education technology platform to offer exams directly to 25,000 candidates online each year. More recently, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) launched a new interactive learning app, allowing students to view previously recorded lectures and download lecture notes and assignments. Here in Canada, the profession is developing a new competency map setting out the framework for the further development of digital education and the types of competencies that CPAs will need to acquire in the future.

Nearly two years later, the digital transformation of accountancy education shows no signs of slowing down. Keen to take advantage of the improved accessibility and flexibility that virtual learning provides, professional accountancy bodies and organizations are increasing their investments in online education like never before.

Accountants are eager to learn new skills that will better equip them for a digital business landscape. A November 2020 survey conducted by the UK-based Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) found that while 57% of respondents had no knowledge of coding, 40% expressed an interest in learning. All of the respondents wanted to learn to code at some point in the next three years, according to the survey. “Not all professional accountants may need to code, but even a basic understanding can add value to their organization, help differentiate themselves, and unlock future career opportunities,” says Narayanan Vaidyanathan, Head of the future of business at ACCA.

New map explicitly incorporates in-demand skills that will enable CPAs to interpret historical data to drive value-added impacts

As part of CPA Canada’s Foresight Initiative, the CPA Competency Mapping Task Force was created last year with a mandate to identify skills such as coding and others that CPAs will need. in a close future. “The profession has recognized that the world is changing, and as a profession, we need to change with it to stay relevant,” says FCPA Tim Jackson, Chair of the CPA Competency Mapping Task Force and CEO of Shad Canada .

To create a forward-thinking competency map, Jackson and his team, which includes representatives from industry, academia and the public sector, started with a blank page approach that met changing customer expectations. and stakeholders about what a CPA can and should provide. . “Accountants have always been involved in validating historical data,” he says, “but the new map explicitly embeds in-demand skills that will enable CPAs to interpret historical data to drive value-added impacts, whether they work for non-profit organizations, government or the private sector.

Building on an ethical mindset and core professional competencies in areas such as organizational behavior and sustainability, the Competency Map (CM) 2.0 has been expanded to highlight the importance of sub-founding competencies, such as as diversity, equity and inclusion, and emerging and transformative skills. technologies, including artificial intelligence, intelligence augmentation, and distributed ledger technology. “Our goal is an evergreen map that is neither prescriptive nor dogmatic. So while the foundational and sub-founding core competencies remain the same, the rest of the map can evolve as the world around us continually evolving,” says Jackson.

The first draft of CM 2.0 went out for consultation in July, with the final version expected to be released this winter. But CM 2.0 is just the start of a journey that will continue with the industry’s ongoing Certification 2.0 project. “CM 2.0 is driving the development of new education and certification programs that the profession will implement over the next few years,” says Tami Hynes, Vice President, Pre-certification Education at CPA Canada. “This next phase will see CPAs and assurance experts working together to translate the vision of CM 2.0 into reality.”

Similar efforts are underway in the accounting world. Over the past year, new curricula and educational programs that emphasize future-oriented skills, such as digital literacy, have been introduced or announced by professional accountancy bodies in several countries, including the United States. India, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Earlier this year, the UK’s ICAEW even integrated data analysis software into some exams, “allowing students to explore and interrogate ‘real’ customer data for their answer”, the helping to demonstrate analytical and interpretive skills.

In the United States, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) recently released its CPA Evolution Model Curriculum, a sample guide designed to provide educational institutions with a blueprint for updating their programs and course offerings. for aspiring CPAs.

The new program was created following a nationwide survey conducted by the AICPA earlier this year that revealed a major learning gap, says Jan Taylor-Morris, AICPA Senior Director, Scholar-in-Residence. The survey asked heads of accounting departments at educational institutions across the United States whether their programs covered increasingly vital business technology topics, such as predictive analytics and numerical insight. Of the eight subjects included in the survey, only two (data analysis and IT audit) were taught by more than half of the participating schools.

“We are in the midst of transformative change that will modernize education as we know it”

“The survey results made it clear that we need more accounting programs to help students get trained in emerging technologies, like blockchain and machine learning, that are changing the way we do business. profession,” says Taylor-Morris. She helped write the program as leader of the AICPA’s Academic and Student Engagement Team, in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The 91-page CPA Evolution Model curriculum, available online for free, will serve as a potential guide for educators, as well as a framework for the skills assessed on future CPA exams.

Investments from professional accountancy bodies are part of an unwavering push for digital education – the market is expected to become a US$108 billion global industry by 2026. Educational publishing giant McGraw Hill has seen growth in double digits year-over-year in 2021, with 1,400 campuses in the United States alone participating in its programming. McGraw Hill’s digital learning platform for higher education institutions, Connect, saw student enrollment increase 27% in 2021, with more than six million currently enrolled worldwide.

This remarkable growth coincides with digital innovations driven by the challenges and limitations imposed by COVID-19. In Waterloo, Ontario, tech company Maplesoft is harnessing intuitive artificial intelligence software to help high school and post-secondary students (as well as researchers from organizations ranging from Google to NASA) solve advanced math problems. In Montreal, Paper Education Co. Inc.’s instant messaging platform seamlessly connects tutors with up to one million students across the United States, helping it become one of the fastest growing software in Canada.

“We are in the midst of transformative change that will modernize education as we know it,” says Hynes, who adds that she is excited about the new abilities and skills the next generation of CPAs will bring to the profession in the decades to come. . “CM 2.0 offers a broad and relevant view of what a modern professional accountant will look like and gives aspiring accountants the tools to answer the key questions: ‘Why am I interested in this profession? What does it offer? And where will it take me? ” she says. “We still have a lot of work to do before we know exactly where [the Competency Map] will take us, but it is simply inspiring to be part of this visionary, profession-wide change.

DATA-DRIVEN

Learn more about the Skills Map Working Group. Plus, learn how CPAs prepare to manage big data and learn about CPA Canada’s Data Management Certificate program.