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Reflections on a Year at the SEC

by Mikhail Pevzner, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting

Mikhail Pevzner
"Today’s students not only need to have very deep accounting knowledge, but also be great critical thinkers. They need to be able to exercise great professional judgment.” - Mikhail Pevzner

During 2016-17 academic year, I had a great honor and privilege of serving as a visiting Academic Fellow at the Office of Chief Accountant (OCA) at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). First, I want to express my sincere thanks to all my UB colleagues who helped me pursue this fellowship, and to my SEC colleagues who made this experience wonderful. Second, I want to share some reflections on this experience which are most directly relevant to our Accounting Programs.

At the OCA, I was attached to the Professional Practice Group (PPG) whose main charge is facilitating the SEC’s regulatory oversight over the Public Companies Oversight Board (PCAOB). This experience gave me a unique opportunity to be exposed to some of the most important issues facing the U.S. and international accounting and auditing profession. As part my work in OCA, I helped with the oversight of the PCAOB’s standard-setting activities as well as with conducting internal audit markets research helpful to the other PPG activities. I also helped facilitate student visits with the SEC and conducted periodic academic literature workshops for the OCA staff. In addition to great personal learning as a result of these activities, I also was exposed to the most current issues audit and public accounting market trends. In particular, I got a very clear understanding that auditing and accounting profession today is on the cusp of significant disruption, driven by imminent and extensive introduction of technology into public accounting as well as looming structural changes over the entire U.S. financial sector. This means that tomorrow’s accounting, auditing, and finance fields will be very different than today.

Much of the “busy work” will be done by computer programs and robots, but humans will focus on things that computers and robots have hard time doing. These things are nuanced and require significant thinking, and as a result, a computer algorithm is not necessarily able to provide the best solution. This disruption necessitates a very significant future overhaul in accounting and auditing education as well as significant expansion of the knowledge base by today’s, aspiring accountants and auditors.

Moreover, today’s students not only need to have very deep accounting knowledge, but also be great critical thinkers. They need to be able to exercise great professional judgment.
So it is no longer about doing debits and credits (something computers or robots can do); rather, it is about being able to think critically and deeply across different functional disciplines, such as accounting, finance, information systems and (to some degree) computer science. So, tomorrow’s accountants will need to have deep knowledge of accounting and auditing, excellent communication skills and, eventually, a good understanding of basic computer languages, such as Python.

At UB, we are keenly aware of these needs and are in constant process of changing and updating our accounting and auditing curriculum to meet these challenges. To that end, some of the most important things we are doing include:

  • Updating our curriculum to make our students CPA-exam ready upon graduation.
  • Allowing significant emphasis on finance (business valuation), information systems and technology in our M.S. in Accounting and Business Advisory Services curriculum.
  • Emphasizing critical thinking and soft skills in professional development activities for our students.
  • Developing data analytics curriculum within M.S. in Accounting and Business Advisory Services program.

I strongly believe that at the University of Baltimore we are uniquely positioned to offer a top-notch accounting career education, which is also highly affordable and flexible. We have very highly competent faculty deeply dedicated to our students’ professional success. Ultimately, our goal is to prepare great accounting and auditing professionals, and I am very much looking forward to applying skills I acquired at the SEC to this mission.


 

Mikhail Pevzner is an associate professor of accounting and academic director of the M.S. in Accounting and Business Advisory program. His research interests include empirical capital markets and empirical auditing research.