Should accountants be able to code in R and Python?

This was one of the questions discussed at the October meeting of the Mid-Market Tech Forum, a group of firms operating in the mind-market that come together to discuss what is happening in their sector. Previous meetings have always talked about skills, and this meeting was devoted purely to what tech skills accountants need. The last meeting considered the impact of analytics in audit, tax and advisory, and the requirement for analytics skills was of particular interest.

One of the opening questions asked was how many data scientists attendees expected to have in their team by 2020. 34% of attendees expected to have over 5, and 33% expected between 1 and 5.

Technology in the ACA

Adam Birt, ICAEW’s Head of Qualifications, Strategy and Development, was the first of four presenters to try and help attendees understand what is happening to the skills agenda. Coverage of technology in the syllabus and the examinations has been expanded – including our own ‘ABCD’ as well as cloud and digitalisation of tax. One of Adam’s slides showed how technology appears in all areas of the syllabus (rather than as just one stand-alone paper on technology), with a clear topic ‘leader’ of data analytics now being covered in most of the subject areas.  

All fifteen exams are now computer-based assessments, with a second wave of digitalisation underway to introduce programs beyond just word processing and spreadsheets – ICAEW is now introducing Inflo-based data analytics on real data into the exams, with an initial focus on the Audit & Assurance and Corporate Reporting modules. 

Changing landscapes

One presenter noted consumption is now more personalised, with less of a focus on pure classroom-based delivery, but now with in-person classes built around an LMS, live online training, on-demand delivery and distance learning via textbooks (“people still like paper”). Gamification is being used for some elements to incentivise good learning behaviours rather than driving straight outcomes.

Another presenter stated that data analytics is an obvious area of potential investment for auditors; there are useful lessons that can be learned from even a basic introduction. That said, she referred to an analysis of over 6,000 jobs recently advertised. Findings suggest traditional Professional Services roles such as audit, tax and advisory are the most frequently advertised type of role. However, Professional Services firms are not hiring software or data specialists in high numbers; the research suggests that digitalisation in Professional Services is about changing the skillset required for auditors, tax specialists and advisory professionals, rather than creating new types of roles.

Coding in R and Python

We posed a number of questions to the group. In response to the question,  ‘Should audit juniors be able to code in R and Python’, 23% said yes, and 46% said no, but they should be able to understand it (and 31% just said no). In response to the question, ‘Are you actively trying to recruit graduate/school leavers with data science qualifications’, only 18% said yes.

Becky Shields, a partner with Moore Kingston Smith, chair of the forum and a great proponent of the use of new technology, summed up the meeting by suggesting that in her firm new data science training is not right for every student or employee, and is available only where trainees show interest.

What is certain is that the debate will continue. If you work for a firm operating in the mid-market and are interested in joining the forum, please mail us for details at

This is a summary of a fuller article due to appear in the Tech Faculty’s November/December Chartech magazine.

  • Great to see this explicitly discussed. I have long been a proponent of the view that accountants can add so much more value with some competent (not necessarily expert) programming skills, and I believe everyone qualifying in this day and age should have at least an understanding of the basic concepts of programming (loops, database queries, case statements, data types etc). Python is an eminently accessible (yet immensely powerful) language, perfect for anyone looking to delve into the world of coding. Well done for putting the question out there – anything that promotes programming as a realistic skillset for accountants to develop gets a thumbs up from me!

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