Disruptive new technologies and the growing pressure at many companies to reimagine the tax function are requiring tax and audit professionals to expand their skills and knowledge. The auditing and accounting professions have a critical need for people who understand data, analytics, and other forms of technology, but not all universities are able to offer these courses in their accounting programs. Some schools have begun offering an integrated curriculum, requiring students in the computer sciences to take business courses and vice versa, offering those on both sides of the technology equation the ability to speak the same language when working together.

Next-generation accounting, tax, and audit professionals will have to work differently than today’s workers. Technology enables faster review of large volumes of data, allowing professionals to focus on high-impact judgment issues earlier in their careers, providing the opportunity for a more meaningful career path. Accounting professionals must understand software systems and their output, not just how to use a program or application. Graduates of programs that integrate business, accounting, and technology courses will become increasingly valuable.

At their core, audits are about enabling trust in the capital markets. For those markets to operate effectively, there must be integrity and confidence in the financial reporting system. As companies automate more accounting functions, new technologies are needed to review volumes of fully automated transactional data and enhance audit quality.

Integrating Data and Analytics Skills

To help meet these challenges, KPMG is working with nine leading universities to offer the KPMG Master of Accounting with Data and Analytics Program, an award-winning initiative begun in 2016 to integrate data and analytics skills into traditional accounting courses.

Select program students at eight of the nine participating universities receive full-tuition funding, plus a stipend toward room and board, as they study an integrated curriculum of accounting, audit, and tax courses and receive hands-on experience with real-world technologies and advanced data and analytics. In addition, they take part in an internship with a KPMG audit or tax team during the program and are offered full-time positions with the firm upon successful completion of the program.

This past spring, KPMG announced that two of the schools in the program—the Villanova School of Business and the University of Southern California (USC) Leventhal School of Accounting—expanded their offerings to include a tax concentration starting with the 2020/21 academic year. In doing so, they joined the University of Mississippi’s Patterson School of Accountancy, the first participant school to offer a tax component. With this expansion, KPMG’s total sponsorships for the class of 2021 will increase to approximately 195, including audit and tax.

Tax Staffing Needs to Evolve

The expansion of the program comes at a time when a technology-based work environment is requiring enhanced skills for tax professionals. Forward-thinking chief tax officers will need to recruit and develop professionals who understand the importance of technology, as well as technology professionals who understand tax. These groups will need to work effectively across their organizations and communicate more efficiently to the C-suite.

Technology has always played an important role, but today it sits at the center of a tax department’s operations. The need to respond to the ever-changing global tax regulatory environment, as well as an insatiable demand for data by governments, means that tax compliance and planning processes now require massive, increasingly granular amounts of data from many sources. As is true for many other areas of business, tax functions are facing these larger burdens with fewer resources.

It is clear that the tax function is changing rapidly and will require new skills from the professionals of tomorrow. Businesses increasingly say that they no longer want their personnel to perform mechanical, repeatable tasks. They are looking to leverage technology to eliminate those tasks and in turn elevate their personnel to do more analytical work. In response, there is great interest in intelligent automation as a way to improve how data is extracted, analyzed, and managed. Even so, many tax directors say that their departments are lagging behind the rest of their organizations in exploring and using intelligent automation capabilities such as process robotics, machine learning, and cognitive ability. Technology is advancing so rapidly that it is difficult to keep up.

A Commitment to Learning

The master’s program’s inaugural class of 51 students graduated from the Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business and the Villanova School of Business and started full-time with the firm in September 2018. The 134 students from the program’s class of 2019 are expected to start work at KPMG in the fall.

The master’s program is just one of several ways KPMG is committed to advancing the accounting profession. Another is the development of a state-of-the-art learning, development, and innovation facility in Orlando, Fla. This facility will ensure that after graduation, partners and professionals will continue to have access to leading-edge learning and development opportunities; stay connected to KPMG’s inclusive, innovative culture; and remain equipped to deliver the highest quality services in the marketplace. For more information, visit the program’s website (http://bit.ly/2MHNA0I). A brief video of participants in KPMG’s first program with a tax component, at the University of Mississippi’s Patterson School of Accountancy, can be viewed at http://bit.ly/32baSQf.

The professionals of tomorrow who are able to embrace technology, as well as change, learn, and grow throughout their careers will be the ones who thrive in the years ahead.

Jeffrey C. LeSage is Americas vice chairman of tax at KPMG LLP, New York, N.Y.
Frank Casal is vice chairman of audit at KPMG LLP, New York, N.Y.

This article represents the views of the authors only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG LLP.