How are SMU's post-graduate accounting programmes readying the industry for changes?

SINGAPORE (May 27): Disruption is happening; disruption is real. Entire industries are being transformed and that includes the auditing ecosystem. Technologies gaining wider traction such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud computing have a direct impact on the methods of auditing and the tools and processes used in the auditing ecosystem.

“The role of an accountant has evolved,” says Associate Professor of Accounting (Practice) Wang Jiwei at Singapore Management University’s School of Accountancy. He is also the Programme Director for both the Master of Professional Accounting and Master of Science in Accounting (Data & Analytics) (MSA) offered by SMU.

Manual accounting work can now be easily eliminated with the use of computers and robotics, putting certain auditing jobs at risk. Yet, there is a growing demand in other job functions, mainly in areas of data processing, management analysis and financial analysis.

New technologies will not solely be about disrupting jobs and thereby putting jobs at risk; new technologies will also bring about job augmentation and new job opportunities in the field of auditing, says Wang.

He observes that while manual work will eventually be replaced by machines and automation, work that requires critical thinking, problem-solving and human interpretations will be on the rise.

“Therefore, auditors in the future are required to bridge the gap between their accounting domain and data & analytics. They will have to leverage data and analytics to gain insights into the operations by building predictive and forecasting models, conduct analysis of the data through data visualisation, and make critical business decisions. To stay abreast of this digital transformation, future auditors will have to learn and master the art and science of data & analytics,” he adds.

To this end, SMU’s School of Accountancy, besides its long-running MPA, has in 2018 introduced its MSA programme. This MSA programme is designed in consultation with more than 20 industry players from the Big 4, the banks, the financial institutions as well as multinational companies. These companies share something in common: they all need domain experts who understand finance, accounting and data technology and how the systems work.

“Right now, there are plenty of job opportunities available for talent who are able to leverage data and analytics to optimise business resources and drive business growth in an intuitive way,” says Wang.

Indeed, new technologies have moved way beyond a geeky curiosity to an actual business advantage. For one, auditing is becoming more efficient and comprehensive. With the implementation of technologies to the auditing process, auditors of the future might be able to audit the entire set of financial accounts and transactions, instead of auditing a sample of the financial accounts and transactions.

“In addition, data technology can serve as the last line of defence in the operations and compliance control, highlighting the anomalies where traditional controls may fail to flag out. Through data exploration and visualisation, this will also contribute to their better understanding of business risks and work processes,” he says.

In an interview with The Edge Singapore, Associate Professor Wang shares more about the MPA and MSA programmes.

What are the differences between the MPA and MSA programmes? Are there already very clearly-defined career paths for graduates of both programmes?

This Master of Professional Accounting (MPA) programme is designed to create a pathway for non-accounting graduates working or seeking to work in a field that requires specialised knowledge in accounting. It is Singapore’s most recognised graduate qualification in accounting, with 11 accreditations from regulatory, professional and academic institutions from countries including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and of course Singapore. Graduates from SMU’s MPA are granted exemptions on the foundation modules if they pursue the professional qualifications offered by several professional bodies such as ACCA, ICAEW, ISCA and CPA Australia, enabling them to fast-track their careers to obtain Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) status.

The Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) programme was introduced in 2018 and is designed for students who already have a background in accounting or business-related disciplines, but wish to further their career and skills set in the data-driven era. Through the MSA programme, students will learn how to apply machine learning and data analytics to make the processes more efficient, optimise business resources, and forecast future business revenues. There will be more opportunities for our students to take on a more strategic and data-driven role in the company.

SMU’s MSA programme is the first Master’s programme in Asia to incorporate data & analytics into its postgraduate curriculum. It is also the only accounting data and analytics programme in Singapore to incorporate a full suite of data skills ranging from programming, data management, modelling and visualisation to machine learning. Other accounting programmes in the market typically only have one or two courses in data analytics which is not comprehensive enough. The MSA programme enables our graduates to bridge the gap between the accounting and finance domain and data technology. With data and analytics, our graduates will be able to gain insights from the data, implement robust solutions, and optimise resources, value adding to their accounting work. The programme equips our students with the essential skills to harness data for critical decision making. They learn to make use of tools such as R, Python, Tableau, and SQL for data analysis, data visualisation and data management. They could learn the machine learning techniques, and understand how they can be applied to the accounting and finance work.

The MSA complements the long-established Master of Professional Accounting (MPA) programme which provides an invaluable opportunity for non-finance professionals who are keen to develop their career in accounting and finance.

There are currently many roles that require specialised technical skills in accounting – these are the roles that will still require graduates to understand financial accounting and craft financial reports. However, with the proliferation of data technology, more accounting graduates have to take on a more analytical role that will require them to analyse business performances and make critical business decisions. They will also have to take on wider responsibilities to manage IT projects, streamline processes and optimise resources. In addition to professional skills and knowledge, the SMU programmes also enable our students to develop their leadership, communications and critical thinking skills.

How would you rate the success of the two programmes?

Firstly, both strong internship take-up rate and high graduate employability: More than 95% of MPA and MSA students can secure internship opportunities in Singapore. We have included an extended break between terms, so that students may take the opportunity to gain a first-hand experience working in the accounting industry. In addition, SMU has dedicated career service officers for postgraduate students. They conduct workshops and hold seminars to help postgraduates boost their professional appeal to recruiters. Companies that have taken in our interns include Big 4 accounting firms, banks and multinational companies. More importantly, our graduates command high employability, with 90% of students able to find a job within 3-4 months, and full employment within six months of graduation. Nearly half of the international graduates are able to stay on and work in Singapore.

Secondly, students enjoy the tutelage of SMU’s world-class faculty. Besides having professors who are very experienced and knowledgeable, our students will also get to take lessons from our industry partners. For example, in one of our courses, Audit and Assurance is taught by our industry partner from one of the Big 4 accounting firms. Learning from them will be very insightful – on top of the technicalities of accounting, you will get to pick up the critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which will give you an edge in the workplace. In 2019, we rank first in Asia and 10th in the world in all topics in the Brigham Young University’s Accounting Research rankings.

Thirdly, the programmes are recognised by numerous international professional bodies and the list is ever-growing. From just 2 accreditations back in 2006, the MPA is today recognised by the following 11 institutions:

Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB)

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA)

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ)

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

CMA Australia

CPA Australia

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Institute of Certified Management Accountants (ICMA)

Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA)

Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC)

MPA graduates are eligible to register in the SAC’s Singapore Chartered Accountant Professional Programme if they are employed with an accredited training organisation. After finishing the Professional papers and fulfilling the practice experience requirement, they will be eligible to attain the Chartered Accountant of Singapore designation (CA (Singapore)).

Similarly, they can also apply to be associate members of CPA Australia, CA ANZ, ICAEW or ACCA. Upon satisfying the membership requirements of these professional bodies, they can progress to CPA or Chartered Accountant status. CPA Australia, ICAA, ICAEW and ACCA, in turn, may have mutual recognition arrangements with other professional bodies, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and other accounting institutes around the world. Such recognition gives our SMU MPA graduates international mobility.

To find out more about SMU Accounting Masters programme, click here