Big data spells big opportunity for finance profession: ACCA

  • Finance pros can provide senior management with real-time updates on a wider set of variables
  • This will place them at the heart of business strategy; also requires their ethical stewardship

THE finance profession should gear itself for the impact that big data will have on businesses because the technology represents one of the biggest opportunities the profession has seen in recent years, according to the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and IMA (Institute of Management Accountants).
Their recently-released report Big Data: Its Power and Perils demonstrates the potential for business of all sizes, governments and regulators in harnessing this wealth of unstructured information, but the potential legal and ethical pitfalls are clear, the two said in a joint statement.
In a recent survey by ACCA and IMA, 63% of respondents in Malaysia and 62% globally cited big data as hugely important to the future of business, potentially giving savvy companies businesses an edge on their competitors.
Big data spells big opportunity for finance profession: ACCAThe volume and variety of data able to be collected by businesses and governments is increasing at an intense rate, providing a potential treasure trove of information. The ability to organise, make sense and analyse it is at the core of the substantial investments that corporations are making.
“It’s not a matter of when big data will become important, it already is,” said Jennifer Lopez (pic), head of ACCA Malaysia.
“Where the potential lies is in being able to analyse and put this information to use. Big data represents one of the biggest opportunities the finance profession has seen in recent times.
“Using their analytical skills, [such practitioners] would be able to provide senior management with real-time updates on a wider set of variables which will place them at the heart of business strategy.
“We have talked for many years about the finance function being about more than just providing end-of-year reports and big data makes this a reality. Their ethical stewardship will also be vital, by combining their analytical skills and ethics they will finally become the cornerstone of business strategy and success,” she added.
Big data vs fraud
It’s not just the private-sector where big data will prove invaluable, the ACCA-IMA report noted. Big data will make it easier for auditors and regulators to spot large scale fraud. Authorities are already using big data in their investigations.
“Big data opens up the possibility of instant fraud detection and live auditing. PwC’s consulting practice in Malaysia includes a forensics group specialising in big data analytics,” said PwC Malaysia consulting leader Sundara Raj.
“When asked to investigate fraud, the forensics team constructs a ‘visualisation’ of information from a wide variety of sources, including official documents, social media, emails and texts – and even conversations.
“Through this process, accountants and finance professionals are able to see concentrations of potential fraud. The benefit of visualising occurrences of suspected fraud is that it helps us focus on what counts.
“When you’re dealing with a huge amount of data, visualisation helps you identify trends or anomalies that point you in the right direction for further probing. With proper analytics tools, the impact on response times is also dramatic. Tasks involving analysis of millions of data sources that once took weeks or month now takes days,” Sundara said.
The ACCA-IMA report acknowledges that accountants are neither software engineers nor data scientists, but they could be in the future.
Increasingly, accountants will help decide the financial content used in data visualisation and company dashboards and how non-financial data should be overlaid on it. They will be required to help create a common visual language for data.
“Big data will bring a change in focus for many finance professionals, the traditional roles of the chief financial officer, chief technology officer and chief information officer will be unrecognisable in the future,” said Faye Chua, ACCA head of future research.
“Their roles will be more strategic and forward looking. The speed at which they are able to embrace this change will have a huge impact on the ability of the business to make the most the potential offered by big data,” she added.
In compiling the research, ACCA and IMA reviewed the existing information on big data, held roundtable discussion with leading finance professionals and conducted interviews with big data experts.
“Big data” and other ACCA and IMA reports are available through the ACCA and IMA joint website,, a resource for finance leaders and aspiring professionals.
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