Current and future professionals are not only required to have the skills and knowledge to work within an ever-changing, technology-driven future, but to also adapt effectively to a potentially ongoing virtual environment as the world continues to grapple with our current global pandemic.  

For the last four decades, the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) has worked closely with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario) in reviewing and updating our robust curriculum with the required competencies to educate and prepare graduates to become accounting and finance (A&F) professionals with the breadth and adaptability to work within disruption.  

However, as disruption continues at an exceptional rate, new graduates and early career professionals are already falling behind in the key skills and knowledge within five to 10 years of graduating. It is more important than ever to provide opportunities for lifelong learning and the SAF and CPA Ontario are poised to deliver.  

One competency gap identified with early-career professionals is the management and analysis of big data. To address this multi-faceted topic, SAF and CPA Ontario have partnered with WatSPEED, a new unit at Waterloo that provides professional education positioned at the intersections of technology and business, aimed at professionals and leaders.  

Predictive Analytics for CPAs is WatSPEED's first digital certificate and will be, for the first time, open to early-career A&F professionals. Here, they will learn to add project value without needing to know code or develop models themselves. The digital certificate aims to enhance expertise in dealing with large data sets and to provide the skills to use data, statistical algorithms and machine learning techniques to identify the likelihood of future outcomes based on historical data. 

"Through this strategic partnership between WatSPEED, SAF and CPAO, Waterloo aims to build on its longstanding culture of innovation to transform lifelong learning and professional education to support the workforce of the future,” says Sanjeev Gill, associate vice-president, innovation and acting director, WatSPEED. “This course offering will address a skills gap in the accounting and finance profession, allowing our alumni and other professionals to enhance their expertise and keep pace with emerging technologies.” 

Partnerships for the next generation of professionals 

Having forecasted the need for A&F professionals to work with, manage and effectively analyze/interpret big data, SAF has introduced a business analytics specialization into the Accounting and Financial Management undergraduate programming.  

“We’ve had a long and mutually respectful relationship with CPA Ontario and educating professionals at Waterloo is a win-win-win opportunity,” states Steve Fortin (PhD ’00, CPA CA, ICD.D), SAF director. “We’re meeting the needs of one of our most important stakeholders [CPAs], we’re offering our expertise in curriculum and teaching to provide lifelong learning to professionals and we're leveraging WatSPEED's expertise to deliver the programming."

In an increasingly data-centric world, CPAs are influencing the data journey and defining how that information is used to affect change and reporting. As the world shifts to prepare for a post-pandemic reality, businesses will be looking to CPAs to help them measure and interpret big data in a way that is rigorous, thoughtful and bold. 

“Leveraging the strength of our partnership with the University of Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance, CPA Ontario remains committed to providing learning solutions that equip CPAs for the future needs of our profession. This partnership with Waterloo gives our members the opportunity to access learning to further develop the skills to meet the demands in a disrupted and fast-changing environment,” says Craig Smith, executive vice-president of Member and Student Services, CPA Ontario. “And with the creation of this unique digital certificate in partnership with SAF and WatSPEED, we will better prepare our profession for the next frontier of business.”