CPA Ontario Centre in Digital Financial Information Looks to the Future of Accounting
Computer-based accounting technology significantly changed the accounting industry in an era when most accountants were still working with calculators and paper ledgers.
But the next technological advance – the digital revolution – promises to transform the industry even more substantially. Today, Big Data is helping bring about the rise of predictive accounting, while AI is preventing financial fraud and errors in real time before they occur.
Exploring these and other new technologies transforming the accounting profession is Schulich’s CPA Ontario Centre in Digital Financial Information. The Centre was founded in partnership with the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Ontario several years ago to help the accounting profession prepare for a digital-first workplace by generating cutting-edge research and thought leadership.
The Centre is led by Professor Dean Neu and Professor Gregory Saxton and draws on Schulich’s strengths in management accounting, as well as our School’s expertise in related areas such as big data, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and responsible business.
Although the advent of new technologies such as blockchain and cognitive computing have the potential to improve efficiency, transparency and workflow, they also pose a number of new challenges around issues such as privacy and the need for regulatory changes – challenges the Centre is also investigating.
I invite you to learn more about the work we’re doing in this month’s column and see how the CPA Ontario Centre at Schulich is on the leading edge of the digital transformation revolutionizing the accounting profession.
Detlev Zwick, PhD
Dean, Tanna H. Schulich Chair in Digital Marketing Strategy
Schulich School of Business
CPA Ontario Centre in Digital Financial Information Looks to the Future of Accounting
Technology is fundamentally changing the accounting profession, revolutionizing traditional practices and paving the way for a new era of possibilities. Automation and artificial intelligence streamline routine and repetitive tasks. Big Data and advanced analytics tools empower accountants to extract meaningful insights, uncover hidden patterns, and identify trends that were previously challenging – or even impossible – to detect. These enhanced digital capabilities provide enormous opportunities to accounting professionals to provide more accurate financial information, bolster risk management processes, and deliver new forms of valuable insights to stakeholders – enabling accountants to become trusted advisors who focus on higher-value analysis to contribute unprecedented strategic value to their organizations.
Yet at the same time, the digital transformation poses enormous challenges – in the form of data integrity and privacy issues, professional inertia and resistance, and a mismatch with current skills and training – to a profession that has traditionally been trained in a rigorous and formal, yet largely backward-looking, skillset. It would be no exaggeration to say that accounting, long the “language of business,” is at a cross-roads.
Schulich’s Centre in Digital Financial Information was born out of the desire to address this transformation head on. Co-Directed by Professors of Accounting Dean Neu and Gregory Saxton, and developed in partnership with the Schulich School of Business and CPA Ontario, the Centre aims to advance the accounting profession by building digital financial expertise, delivering and disseminating exceptional research and thought leadership, and growing the network related to digital accounting information.
The Centre aims to achieve this mission by funding three areas of activities: research, industry outreach, and sharing data, code, and analytics expertise.
Over the past two years the Centre for Digital Financial Information has funded five research projects – each a collaboration by Schulich faculty members and PhD students – that are deeply relevant to the future of the accounting profession:
- Audit Transformation with Data Repository Testing: This project explores how technology-enabled population testing of data repositories can revolutionize the audit process, improving accuracy and risk assessment.
- Impact of Bots on Financial Markets: Investigating the effects of algorithmic trading and automated tools on financial markets, this research addresses market efficiency, liquidity, and the need for regulatory guidelines.
- Social Factors, FinTech, and Bank Reporting: Examining the intersection of social factors, FinTech, and bank financial reporting, this project explores how changing consumer behaviour and digital banking impact reporting practices.
- Disclosure of Digital Carbon Emission Information: Focusing on environmental considerations, this research explores how organizations can effectively disclose digital carbon emission information arising from data centres and digital infrastructure.
- Management Compensation Disclosures: This project investigates the challenges and opportunities of disclosing management compensation in the digital era, including equity-based incentives and performance tied to digital initiatives.
These projects contribute to the evolving landscape of accounting by addressing technology, regulatory changes, and emerging trends, shaping the role of accountants in a digital and sustainable world.
The second pillar of the Centre’s activities is practice-centred thought leadership. To that end, the Centre has sponsored 11 webinars that hold significant relevance for accounting professionals. They offer valuable knowledge and skills that can enhance the capabilities of accountants in today’s digital landscape. The webinars delve into areas such as using data analytics within organizations, leveraging social media to measure intangible assets, exploring the impact of fintech lending and racial discrimination, understanding blockchain fundamentals, and demonstrating best practices in data visualization. These sessions empower accounting professionals to stay abreast of emerging trends, leverage technology effectively, and make informed decisions in their roles. Average attendance at these webinars is close to 600 attendees per webinar, and over 6,000 total attendees so far. Look for a new series of webinars in the fall.
The final pillar of the Centre’s effort is to serve as a repository of information on digital accounting information that links together academics and practitioners working in this area. The Centre has created several online sites to support these activities. First, a LinkedIn channel serves to help build a network of like-minded practitioners and academics. Second, a YouTube channel makes available the webinar recordings as well as a “whiteboard video” that summarizes one of the Centre’s funded projects in an approachable, plain-language format. Lastly, the Centre’s website contains links to and summaries of webinars and workshops, summaries of funded grant projects, and an incipient Codebook & Data Series. The Codebook series dovetails with one of the Centre’s goals – to foster a broader understanding of the data analytics tools used in digital financial research. We are strong proponents of using the Python programming language to gather, process, analyze, and visualize accounting and financial data. We also believe anyone can learn it. For this reason, on the Centre’s website we are making available a series of shareable and customizable Python code notebooks that walks learners through a unique coding task. Our hope is that these notebooks prove useful to fellow academics as well as budding data scientists and practitioners interested in analyzing digital financial information.
The rise of Big Data, data analytics, and digital financial information has enormous implications for the accounting profession. The Centre aims to address these implications by leaning on Schulich’s strengths. In fact, the Centre is only successful largely because it is able to leverage the unique Big Data and data analytics skillset of the Schulich Accounting Area faculty and, more broadly, it allows us to build on the Schulich’s expertise in artificial intelligence and business analytics – as seen in the long-running Master of Business Analytics (MBAN) program and the newly launched Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence (MMAI). The strong support of Schulich and CPA Ontario are equally important. With a focus on building digital financial expertise, conducting groundbreaking research, and fostering networks, this Centre is helping propel the accounting profession into the digital era.