Finance and Accounting Majors Lacking in Big Data Analysis Skills, Says Recent Report

Posted By Terri Williams on May 25, 2016 at 1:36 pm
Finance and Accounting Majors Lacking in Big Data Analysis Skills, Says Recent Report

It’s no secret that data scientists are in high demand for their highly-prized data-analysis skills. However, companies are also looking for accounting and finance professionals with some of those same technical skill sets.

However, there aren’t enough finance graduates who fit the bill. Compiling data is one thing, but the ability to leverage that data is a relatively new skill that many new finance professionals don’t have.  In addition to a lack of business analytical skills, companies are also lamenting the lack of soft skills among recent finance grads.

According to a recent report by Robert Half, and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), these are the top 10 technical skills that employers want in accounting and finance professionals:

Technical Skills Gap Important to success Possessed by your team Talent gap
Financial analysis 87% 59% 18%
Budgeting, planning, and forecasting 85% 63% 22%
Operational analysis 82% 54% 28%
Cost management 81% 61% 20%
Technological acumen 77% 50% 27%
Identifying key data trends 75% 46% 29%
Data mining and extraction 71% 43% 28%
Statistical modeling and data analysis 62% 35% 27%
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems 61% 40% 21%
Customer lifetime value (CLV) 55% 32% 23%


The respondents, who represent a variety of industries including manufacturing, business services, financial services, retail, healthcare, technology, institutions, construction and real estate, and transportation and utilities, also reported a shortage of the following soft skills:

  • Excellent verbal and written skills
  • Problem solving
  • Adaptability
  • Process improvement
  • Relationship building
  • Strategic thinking and execution
  • Industry knowledge
  • Leadership
  • Decision analysis
  • Curiosity – and a willingness to continue asking questions to find the right answer
  • Business acumen

Ways for companies to address the skills gap

So what’s fueling this trend for big data skills among finance professionals? GoodCall spoke with Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, about the survey’s results.

“Big data offers organizations the opportunity to tap their business intelligence to find ways to grow profits, increase efficiencies, and better serve customers,” explains McDonald. But, he says if accounting and finance employees can’t help to turn this information into usable insights and strategies, the opportunity to advance will be missed. “Companies risk the possibility of simply swimming in data, unable to tap its potential, and stagnating while competitors flourish.”

So what can companies do to address the skills gap? McDonald recommends working with universities that have demonstrated their commitment to help accounting and finance students develop data analytics skills. “Recruit on-campus, offer to present in classes, and reach out to career centers,” says McDonald.

However, companies shouldn’t limit their search to new grads only. “They should tap into their networks, including specialized recruiters, to find experienced accounting and finance professionals with data analytics expertise.”

And if these skills are as important as the survey respondents say they are, these companies may need to put their money where their mouth is. “The majority of financial leaders believe that developing from within is the best way to build staff members’ business analytics skills, but only 14 percent said their firm offers training in this area,” says McDonald.

In addition to formal training programs, companies have other options. “For example, employers should consider reimbursing staff for costs related to maintaining certifications and attending industry events; low- or no-cost options include lunch-and-learns where an expert staff member shares insights with colleagues; mentorships; job-shadowing; and cross-training.”

And McDonald says companies should consider bringing in consultants with data analytics expertise. “Not only can these specialists help with priority data initiatives, they also can impart their knowledge to staff – and as an added benefit, employers can evaluate project professionals firsthand for potential full-time positions.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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