New Audit Analytics Course Gives MAcc Students an Edge

Dr. Curtis Clements

Efficiency is the key to accounting and the current key to efficiency is analytics. As the field of accounting advances and changes, so does the software, and therefore, the subjects taught in the accounting major. Dr. Curtis Clements saw the need for a course in accounting analytics and began teaching Audit Analytics, a graduate level class, last fall.

He explained that, historically, accounting has determined accuracy of financial statements by utilizing sampling. However, with programs like Tableau, Alteryx, Excel, etc., it has become possible to obtain, clean, and analyze data much more accurately and precisely. With the business world transitioning quickly into the world of analytics, Dr. Clements found it important to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience in one of the emerging disciplines and most crucial parts of accounting.

That goal was certainly met. The class was given access to Dillard’s department store sales data (housed at the University of Arkansas). This gave the students a real world feel to analyzing and working with large data sets. Dr. Clements wanted the class structure to give information and tools that would be practical in the future for each student’s career. The positive feedback give by students for the class led to an upgrade to the course textbook, which will lead to more information learned to put into action in the workplace.

Anthony Rodriguez, Master of Accountancy major from Argyle, Texas, participated in the inaugural class and gave his seal of approval. “I really enjoyed the class. This past summer, during my internship at EY, I was selected as 1 of 60 interns nationwide to go to Hoboken, New Jersey to attend a training in auditing analytics. The software packages we were taught in training were Tableau and Alteryx. One of the things I took from the training was how much technology can impact an audit for the better. Also, as 1 of only 60 interns, I would have an advantage over some of my peers. The Audit Analytics course at ACU touched on some of those same topics- specifically Tableau. As the course went along, I realized that we were learning much of the same material Ernst & Young (EY) had deemed a worthy investment. From my short experience in New Jersey, I saw how technology will begin impacting how audits work. Clearly, if EY invested as much money as they did to develop their Digital Ambassador Intern Program, it seems as though the Big 4 accounting firms want to get a head start on this trend. It is really awesome that COBA and Dr. Clements have begun offering this course to ACU students. Our careers will only get more and more digital, so it’s great that ACU is offering this course to help set its students apart from the competition.”

Audit Analytics was a resounding success and Dr. Clements is working to make sure the class will continue improving and adjusting to meet the demands of the field in the future as the tools for accounting analytics advance. The Master of Accountancy program prepares accounting students to meet the demands of the field, in whatever type of firm or accounting career they seek to work in. Click here to learn more about ACU’s Master of Accountancy program.

 

A Milestone for STAR

Jody Jones mentoring the STAR Fund Managers

Do you know about everything that goes on in COBA? We have so many awesome student programs, that chances are, you may have missed a few! STAR (Student Trading and Research) is a program where students learn to research an investment portfolio and trade assets based off their information. STAR began as an idea in 1999 and with an initial gift by a generous donor of $110,000 in June of 2000, ended its first full year of operation in 2001. Today, STAR manages a portion of ACU’s endowment and reports to the ACIMCO Board annually. STAR began as a student organization guided by Dr. Terry Pope and Dr. Jonathan Stewart. Now, students can earn course credit while they earn valuable real-world experience.

That kind of learning is something that Assistant Professor of Finance Dr. Jody Jones, who began teaching at ACU this past fall, is passionate about. Jones took over the STAR course after Dr. Pope retired last spring. Jones feels that one of the greatest learning opportunities that STAR affords is autonomy to the students in learning to make financial decisions. “All decisions are made by students. Although a faculty member helps guide decisions, the buying and selling of assets is dictated by student managers.”

Since inception, STAR has achieved an average return of nearly 50 basis points above its benchmark: S&P 500
Total Return Index. That’s reason enough to celebrate for any advising firm but this week STAR hit a huge milestone – the portfolio currently holds an outstanding $1.5 million.

Why is that such an important milestone? Dr. Jones explained, “The rising value of STAR allows students to better diversify and have more freedom in investment decisions. With the primary goal of the course being educational, students can buy and sell many assets and gain a broad perspective on the market. Also, this year will make it the first year that STAR has made distributions. The fund will return 4.5% of its value to the endowment to support scholarships, campus initiatives, and operations of the university.”

While STAR mainly consists of finance majors, anyone who is interested can join and is encouraged to do so. If needed, students can even apply to receive course credit for being a fund manager.

Dr. Jody Jones loves his profession for more than the numbers. He is passionate about integrating faith into his work and teaching. “While many of the student managers intend to work in the investment and financial services fields after graduation, financial management is important for all organizations and households. Stewardship is also a spiritual discipline.”

 

Young Alumni Spotlight: Allison Phillips

Allison (left) in Norway with her college roommate.

Allison Phillips graduated from the College of Business in 2015 with a marketing degree. She is currently working for Deloitte Consulting as a Data Scientist for clients and lives in Denver, Colorado. She is also passionate about traveling and her job allows her to pursue that.

 

Q: How have your foundations at ACU and in COBA helped you in life post-graduation?

A: During my time in COBA, I had the chance to lead student organizations, conduct research with faculty, and launch a student-run analytics consultancy through Wildcat Ventures. These experiences gave me the chance to gain experience as a researcher and consultant really early in life, which made my transition from school to work much easier. Professional skills aside, COBA gave me a lengthy list of mentors who guided and supported me as I tried to figure out the career direction I wanted to pursue. Having adults in my life who listened and gave me honest opinions about the decisions I was making has had a huge impact on the way I make decisions in my personal and professional life.

 

Q: Can you describe your work in data analytics and the experiences you’ve had with your company?

A: I’m currently a Data Scientist in Deloitte’s Consulting practice, which allows me to work with different clients to understand what has happened, predict what will happen in the future, and make more effective decisions with that information. I’ve gotten to work with companies as well as federal agencies, and I enjoy the challenge of learning about new industries and continuing to develop my technical skills while solving a wide variety of business challenges. In a given week, I work with teammates from all across the country to write code, conduct statistical analysis, design experiments, build slides, and brief clients. I’ve met some really incredible people at Deloitte, and it’s been fun to work with teammates whose backgrounds are very different than mine.

 

Allison with friends hiking Machu Picchu in Peru.

Q: What should students who are interested in data analytics be doing while they are in school to prepare for that after graduation?

A: Students interested in analytics should take data mining and programming classes to understand if they enjoy the kind of work they would be doing as a data scientist. Outside of class, students should look for relevant internships, opportunities to conduct research with faculty or job openings at ARG (the analytics piece of Wildcat Ventures). A lot of different paths lead to analytics careers so I would recommend learning some basic technical skills and looking for opportunities to apply those in ways that interest you.

 

Q: Would you share some of your favorite memories or experiences of traveling? How do you balance that with work?

A: I love traveling and definitely take advantage of all my time off! One of my goals is to visit all 59 National Parks, so I spend a lot of weekends hiking and camping with friends. Last year I also hiked to Machu Picchu with a big group of friends, road tripped through Norway with my college roommate (where we tried to break into a house that turned out not to be our AirBnB), and traveled through Southeast Asia with my family, where we ziplined to the tallest treehouses in the world. Learning about different cultures and experiencing ways of life that are different than mine is really important to me, and I’ve been lucky to have colleagues who are supportive of that. Plus it’s super fun!