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Why Accountants Can (And Should) Take Over the Business World

Ed. note: attention sharks, there's fresh meat in the water! Craig is a former Big 4 auditor, current BBQ enthusiast and co-founder of Sqrl, a web app to automate client requests for accountants. Find him on Twitter @craignbaldwin

A couple months ago Quartz published a good read on how CFOs are beginning to take over the boardroom.

Number cruncher’ was once considered an insult, but as the volume and velocity of data expand exponentially it is becoming a badge of honor, as companies seeking to harness the insights within the data will inevitably turn to their CFOs for guidance

Makes sense. We live in a world where everyone is trying to figure out what the hell big data means to them. But really, how much big data is there?

An HBR article on the rise in big data said “As of 2012, about 2.5 exabytes of data are created each day, and that number is doubling every 40 months or so. More data cross the internet every second than were stored in the entire internet just 20 years ago.” And you know as well as I do, the elite working class of the US adheres to what the HBR tells them.

Of course I had to look up an exabyte. Turns out an exabyte is one quintillion bytes. Or 10 to the 18th power of bytes. I mean holy shit people, we’re talking a lot of bytes. But what type of (wo)man power are we going to need to process that data?

Well let’s call on another snooty business resource, the McKinsey Global Institute:

The United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to understand and make decisions based on the analysis of big data.

Well you know who’s really, really good with data? Accountants. We’re like the original Google Analytics for the working world.

In fact, I’d argue that accountants are better positioned than any other business professional to give valuable insight across any business discipline using data. We have the tools to tell a story with business and financial data – tools that very few professionals are equipped with (and no not just Excel, you short-sighted, ignorant assholes).

The proliferation of data is the same reason consulting revenues are climbing and audit and tax revenues have become meager in comparison. We get paid more far more for our ability to read and use data than we do for compiling it.

So with this data heavy world upon us, how do we take advantage of this opportunity?

I think it’s a mindset. And we need to look no further for an example than our brethren in ridicule, the IT department. Do you remember when computers weren’t that cool?  The IT department was full of people who loved computers and found themselves relegated to fixing our frozen screens and connecting our networks.

Yet as the internet exploded, the IT department evolved, and now they not only fix the problems but they develop the solutions. You know, the complex applications, the dick pic machines, and the browser you’re reading this article on.

The IT support guys (and gals) turned into software and web developers, and they took command of the tech world because they were the only ones with the know-how. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is telling me the median salary for software engineers in 2012 was $93,350 (the median for accountants and auditors – $63,550). The software engineer field is expected to grow by over 200,000 jobs by 2022. The government never lies, people, so we can trust those numbers.

Here’s my perspective on all of this: I used to live in the accounting world, and now I live in the startup world, building software for accounting firms of all types. It’s been a huge adjustment, but an interesting opportunity to step away from Big 4 life and into a different world while still using the skills accounting has given me.

The number one thing I’ve realized startups are really shitty at? Good ole fashion data driven business. You know, organizing results, configuring projections, making spreadsheets dance. The type of shit accountants do in their sleep. Everybody can tell stories of their website uniques and technology stacks, but few can say if they’ll be making any money (or better yet, when they’ll run out of cash).

In the same way the creation of the internet was a boon to guys who liked computers and enjoyed coding, the maturation of the internet and data should be a boon for accountants. .

What’s disappointing is I don’t see more accountants taking charge.

My message to accountants (public and private): Ignore that inherent risk aversion for just a second and prepare yourself for the broader opportunity. Because as someone who spends every waking hour working alongside businesses at the vanguard (wait I said accounting software, so the rear) of technology and innovation, they need you. We need you. And we can sure as hell take over the business world if we position ourselves as the data maestros of the 21st century.