By SMU School of Accountancy Social Media Team
Today’s accounting professionals require a skillset vastly different from their predecessors. Besides having sound accounting knowledge, they are expected to process and derive meaningful analysis from large amounts of data. On top of that, they need to possess the ability to communicate the data analysis clearly and effectively to their clients, team members and managers.
Sounds like a challenge? SMU Bachelor of Accountancy (SOA) Class of 2021 graduate Ho Ming Quan, who graduated with a Second Major in Accounting Data and Analytics (ADA), was well-prepared for it.
Ming Quan is a Data Analytics Associate with the Audit & Assurance function at Deloitte Singapore and supports the Financial Audit teams in applying data analytics techniques such as data processing, analysis, and visualisation in the audit process to enhance the audit quality and efficiency, as well as deliver value to the organisation’s clients. In addition, he also takes on client advisory projects such as helping clients with automation initiatives to improve the accuracy and efficiency of their processes.
However, he was not always this adept with working with data analytics and programming.
Discovering the SMU Second Major in Accounting Data and Analytics
“I remember finding out about the Second Major in ADA through a newsletter I saw in my school email. The email talked about how data analytics is transforming the way audits are done and the value it brings to various stakeholders. As I was going to join the workforce in a few years, I felt that it was the perfect opportunity to take on this Second Major in order to equip myself with skillsets related to data analytics.” Ming Quan took up the Second Major without prior experience in data or programming, armed with the belief that it would push him out of his comfort zone.
His decision paid off. As a Data Analytics Associate at Deloitte, one of Ming Quan’s responsibilities is to clean and transform “dirty” data (term used to describe data that contains elements that impede meaningful analysis ) using Python and SQL into data that is ready to be analysed. The processed data is then “fed” into dashboards and used for analysis by the various stakeholders. His Second Major in ADA had equipped him with the necessary technical skills to use software such as VBA, Python, R, and SQL for processing data, and Tableau for visualising data. “This has helped me adjust to my role faster because I already have the prior knowledge of the skills required to perform my tasks.”
Solving real-life business problems
Another course under the Second Major which left Ming Quan with a deep impression was the Audit Analytics (SMU-X) course conducted by Deloitte. Under the course, students learn to apply data analytics in Financial Audit through the use of real-life Deloitte case studies. This enables students to understand how the concepts and skills they learn could be used to solve business challenges.
For their final presentation, students are given industry data and are expected to develop an approach to address a given set of audit objectives. They will then present it to a judging panel consisting of the course instructor and two Deloitte Audit Partners.
“The key takeaway from this course for me was learning to identify the relevant business pain points and issues before applying data analytics. During the final presentation, we were able to deliver an approach that could achieve the correct audit objectives. This experience gave me a really important perspective on approaching business problems with analytics.”
Ming Quan (back row, 2nd from right) and his course mates in the Capstone class
Ming Quan’s supervisor and lecturer, Mr Tee Chong Yu, Data Analytics Director at Deloitte Singapore and SMU Adjunct Lecturer, has this to say, “I was Ming Quan’s lecturer two years ago, for the module ACCT 423 Audit Analytics. His attitude and performance left me no doubt in my mind that he embodies the characteristics of a ‘purple person’ – a concept that represents a person that possess a mix of business and technology skills. At Deloitte, ‘purple people’ are a key differentiator for us in the marketplace in relation to our data analytics services.”
The Accounting Analytics Capstone Course (SMU-X) was another course which Ming Quan found particularly relevant to his role today. The Capstone course focuses on an experiential learning opportunity that allows students to translate classroom knowledge into practical solutions for real organisations. Through their student consultancy project, students learn to solve complex business problems from problem definition to final client presentation in real world settings.
Ming Quan (Top row, 2nd from left) with his colleagues in the Data Analytics team in Deloitte
For their Capstone project, Ming Quan’s group worked with a client who encountered data inconsistency in one of their existing processes. Solving the issue required many man-hours since large portions of the process was still manual. Through an automation script that his group developed, Ming Quan and his team eliminated repetitive tasks and also developed functions to ensure consistency. “For this project, the automation script was developed from scratch. I had to do a lot of self-learning as I did not have much prior knowledge, but this is to be expected – as technology changes, we have to upskill to keep up. Through this experience, I became more comfortable writing scripts from scratch to automate manual processes as well as to ensure data quality and accuracy.”
Value-adding to the job
This experience proved invaluable to Ming Quan when he worked on a process improvement project for Interflour Group shortly after joining Deloitte. The project involved improving the client’s existing automation script that automates the financial consolidation process, a task which was familiar by now to Ming Quan. With his prior hands-on experience from his Capstone project, he was able to understand the business requirements and how to make the relevant improvements to the underlying automation script.
Ming Quan even took it one step further. “The experience from the Capstone project gave me the technical ability and the confidence to deliver more in my current role. When I was working on this project, I noticed a potential area of improvement that was not included in the original requirements. Upon examination of the processes, I found two that caused inefficiencies and long runtime. To improve this, I refactored the codes and optimised the processes which resulted in an 85% reduction in overall runtime.”
His initiative and technical capabilities drew him praise from the client.
“Interflour Group, with subsidiaries in various jurisdictions, manages its reporting requirements using a number of systems, with reporting packs that are considerably large and complex even to the trained eye. We engaged Deloitte to update the existing automation programme with new reporting requirements. Ming Quan was part of the assigned Deloitte team. Exceeding our expectations, Ming Quan in addition to performing the update, revisited the coding of the entire script on his own initiative, and managed to further enhance the existing programme’s structural make-up to run over 85% more efficiently with the same infrastructure,” said Interflour Group CFO, Mr Anthony Liaw.
Commenting on Ming Quan’s work, Ms Corene Phang, Group Financial Controller, Interflour Group, said, “Working with Ming Quan reinforces the importance of working with the right consultant and their team. By going the extra mile and thinking out of the box, Ming Quan has developed a more powerful tool for the Interflour Group.”
“The automation project with Interflour Group demonstrated Ming Quan’s keen eye for detail as well as a clear understanding of the business user’s pain point. He recognised the need to make necessary scripting changes, which resulted in a fantastic outcome for the client in the final deliverables to the client,” added Mr Tee.
Firm believer of continuous learning
Despite his technical proficiency, Ming Quan still feels he can do better. “I believe that continuous learning is important in all roles. In data analytics, it is crucial as new technologies are constantly emerging in the market with the potential to bring even more value to today’s businesses. Deloitte is an organisation that supports the skills development of its people, and, with the recommendation of my team members and supervisors, the firm has sponsored my professional certifications in Tableau and UiPath. Moving forward, I intend to tap on Deloitte’s elearning platforms to take on other certifications such as AWS to ensure that my skills remain relevant.”
Through his personal journey, Ming Quan deeply appreciates the importance of data analytics in the age of digitalisation and big data. He strongly encourages accounting students to take up the Second Major in ADA to build a solid foundation in this area, “Although there are many resources online to learn data analytics, it could be a challenge to sieve out the relevant sources. Therefore, I think it is a good opportunity to start your learning journey in data analytics with a structured programme like SMU’s Second Major in ADA where you’ll be guided to apply what you learn to real-life scenarios. For the students taking this up as something new, adopt a growth mindset and enjoy the learning process.”
Discover how far the SMU Second Major in Accounting Data and Analytics can take you. Accept your offer now!