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How virtual reality can help accountants with CPD

27 August: Virtual reality has been around since the 1990s, though only in recent years has it gained real traction in both professional and consumer environments. One of the areas in which it has great potential is training and CPD. IT writer Sandra Vogel reports.

Any number of analysts, management organisations and pundits now tell us that business as usual after COVID-19 won’t be the same before it. In the midst of working out how to get the daily work done and meet the immediate expectations of customers or clients, CPD and wider staff training was not really a priority. 

But as firms iron out their core processes, and begin to realise that the next six months, or year, or two years, or more might see a significant shift in how we approach all aspects of work, CPD becomes more important. 

Step forward, virtual reality

In that context, can virtual reality play a part in CPD and training across the profession? 

PwC has taken a deep dive into the potential of VR for training (as well as other applications) in a wide range of sectors. The resulting report, Seeing is Believing is suitably laced with augmented reality (AR) experiences you can peruse with any smartphone that can scan a QR code. (Augmented reality overlays digital data onto live views and can be accessed on a laptop smartphone or tablet, while virtual reality (VR) is a fully immersive experience that requires a specialist headset). 

The Big Four firm also researched the use of VR for training. A group of new managers variously experienced classroom, e-learning and virtual reality techniques for the same training. It found the VR learners 40% more confident than classroom learners and 35% more confident than e-learners in their ability to act on what they’d learned. VR learners also completed their training four times faster than those in a classroom.

These are not the only benefits VR can bring to training and CPD. Because VR can be used to simulate real-life situations, different patterns of behaviour can be tested, roleplays undertaken and communication, leadership and teamwork skills developed in environments, where making poor decisions has no greater consequence than a little embarrassment. 

Where it is used for staff training, for example for 800,000 staff across 4,500 Walmart stores in the US, VR can improve people’s ability to empathise with others. In the Walmart case, a viewpoint that starts as the cashier’s and becomes the customer’s helps employees put themselves in the shoes of others, seeing a situation from another perspective and so developing empathy skills. 

Counting the pennies

Any organisation considering using VR for CPD or, indeed, any training, needs to consider two key aspects of the technology. Virtual reality experiences take place in an artificial, digitally created environment, and participation requires the wearing of a headset. Accessing both of these has financial implications. 

First, the environment. Some professions use detailed and bespoke virtual environments. To take just one example, surgeons can use VR to practice complex operations. Accountants don’t require such complexity and can work within generic environments such as in virtual meeting spaces, around virtual conference tables, in virtual client offices or even in virtual public spaces. These environments are less expensive to create – indeed in many respects they are ‘off the shelf’.

Second, getting into the environment. To participate in a virtual reality experience it is necessary to wear a headset. This takes us out of our real surroundings and delivers the virtual environment to us. It is what makes VR so completely immersive. Professional grade headsets are expensive, but it is not necessary to own one. They can be hired, and companies exist that provide both headsets and VR environments on a hire basis. 

Time to take the plunge?

What is still rather lacking in the profession is a solid, tried and tested, CPD environment that’s made specifically for accountancy. But until that comes along, there is little to stop a willingness to try out a new way to provide training, even if it doesn’t cover tax or financial reporting standards. Right now, there are services waiting to rent you an environment and some headsets. So maybe it is time to show faith and give it a go.

Sandra Vogel is a freelance IT writer.

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