A new, greener breed of financial professionals

New undergraduate program, Sustainability and Financial Management will equip grads for the future of sustainable finance

by: Patty Mah, Associate Director, Communications & External Relations

Globalization of businesses and increased public interest from consumers and investors have meant that organizations are demonstrating how their companies are governed responsibly and doing good for the environment and society. Additionally, employers today are expecting more from their employees than just technical skills. Business leaders are wanting professionals who have the judgement, collaborative, and team skills backed with ethics and integrity to navigate and harness the power of big data to drive business solutions and decisions.

Photo of building with treesThe School of Accounting and Finance (SAF), Canada’s recognized leader in accounting and finance education has partnered with the Faculty of Environment to launch a new undergraduate program, Sustainability and Financial Management (SFM). The program will be the first of its kind in Canada to train and equip professionals of tomorrow with the skills needed to navigate, analyze, interpret, and report on a company’s impact and governance specific to sustainability.

The ESG landscape is a complex one and one that has yet to find common ground in standardizing for reporting and investment purposes. The E refers to an organization’s impact and risk from environmental issues such as climate change, pollution and biodiversity. The S refers to social issues such as employee health and productivity, as well as societal issues of inequity and discrimination and community interests. Lastly, the G refers to corporate governance.

Without one commonly accepted framework for reporting ESG factors, accounting and finance professionals are facing a revolution that will require a new breed of graduates who can embrace ambiguity, connect ideas from disparate fields and adapt to fluid, ever-changing contexts to report on a company’s sustainable, social, and governance factors. Concurrently, CPA Canada, the governing body for the Chartered Professional Accountant designation is enhancing their professional competencies to embed sustainability throughout the CPA accreditation process. This extraordinary paradigm shift in financial management is something that the School and future SFM graduates will be well prepared for.

The SAF has a long history of cross-training students in accounting and finance with our flagship undergraduate program, Accounting and Financial Management (AFM). Courses in sustainable finance and data analytics have already been incorporated into the curriculum in anticipation of new financial reporting structures and the use of big data to support sustainability and decision making. The first class of SFM students scheduled to begin studies in Fall 2022, will be following a truly integrated curriculum that fuses business and analytics with sustainability. Mandatory co-op work terms in the program along with extra and co-curricular opportunities will provide the experiential component to link theory with real-world applications.

“We are definitely ahead of the game with this degree [SFM], so it’s exciting that we’re in this space and already enhancing accounting education,” states Demers who anticipates other accounting, finance, and business programs, as well as organizations, will be scrambling to implement and integrate ESG into their curriculum once ESG reporting becomes a mandatory reporting requirement for companies.

“I believe that we are in a time of structural change in terms of how we think about environmental and social responsibility and corporate governance, how we think about investing, how we think about doing business,” says Demers. “And definitely, the accounting profession is about to change.”