Accounting Society Hosts Event Aimed at Educating Students for the Future
Over thirty students met in Furst Hall this past Thursday night for the Accounting Society’s “Accounting for the Future: The Convergence of Technology and Accounting.” The panelists all work in accounting-tech fields and included Gavriella Seftel of PwC, Yehudah Polakoff of Ernst Young and Hillel Caplan of Deloitte. They participated in a moderated discussion and fielded questions from current accounting majors about how technology is shaping the industry. At the end of the event, attendees had the opportunity to network with the panelists.
The topic for the event comes at a point in time when the financial services industry is becoming increasingly tech-based. As such, the theme of this year’s YU Hackathon was Fintech, which allowed business students and computer science majors to design financial computer programs. For accounting, automation is predicted to change the field at a rate faster than other professions. A study from PwC reported that accountants, specifically bookkeepers and clerks, were the number one job at risk of becoming obsolete within the next twenty years, a statistic that has many accounting students wondering what skills are necessary outside the formal accounting curriculum to stay competitive in the automated age.
According to Ephraim Benoff and Rebecca Shiner, co-presidents of the Accounting Society, the event was planned because “Technology, with its constant advancements and improvements, is rapidly becoming more critical and relevant to the accounting profession. Hearing a diverse group of active professionals describe the many ways that they incorporate and utilize technology in their respective fields would be insightful and also provide the opportunity for students to gain an awareness of what important tools or knowledge bases they should have when starting their careers.” Benoff served as the moderator for the event and started the discussion by asking the panelists what aspect of their job had changed the most since they started working. The responses varied as the panelists’ work experience differed significantly. However, a common response was centered around how data is being used to speed up and provide more thorough accounting results.
Additionally, because many of the large accounting firms are constantly staying up to date with the latest accounting software, many firms have been providing extensive training for incoming associates with the software they’ll be using in their line of work.
A software of interest that was discussed was Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a technology that learns the repetitive tasks of users and can then robotically apply the process for future projects, saving users time and money. The panelists suggested that students familiarize themselves specifically with Microsoft Office programs and learn the basics of some of the accounting software they’ll be working with.
However, even with all of the technological advancements, the panelists still stressed that the human factor is still a crucial part of their job, and while technology has certainly reshaped the industry, it allows for accountants to concentrate the bulk of their time on less automated projects that require more human intuition and problem-solving.
Pertinent specifically to YU students was how technology has allowed for the panelists to navigate Orthodox-Jewish life while being an accountant. Many accountants are now telecommuting, saving them time commuting and being able to end their work in time to prepare for Shabbat. During busy seasons, which usually culminates around Passover, accountants are now able to get their work done at various times outside of work hours.
Chaim Mahgerefteh, a current Accounting major and incoming president of Sy Syms Student Council, remarked, “As an accounting major, the event provided me with a framework of what to expect when I start my career and what I can do to prepare while still an undergrad. I thought the panelists were excellent and that the Accounting Society did a wonderful job planning the event.” Hillel Caplan, one of the panelists, noted, “There was a great turnout of students. They asked great questions and I was overall impressed with all of them.”
As the accounting industry becomes increasingly automated, with the focus more on software than manual human journal entries, accounting students can benefit from more events and undergraduate classes geared towards the new accounting reality.