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Should accountants learn programming?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Jun 2021

It’s time for accountants to unleash their inner computer programmer as technology paves the way for greater efficiency, better data insights and more streamlined ways of working.

Learning and using programming skills is well within the grasp of accountants and can supercharge your use of spreadsheets and transform the way you use data in your organisations, says data scientist Dr Rob Mastrodomenico, a data analytics expert who runs courses for ICAEW.

Mastrodomenico admits that to the uninitiated, programming may sound technical and scary but taking the time to invest in coding using languages such as Python and R has the potential to save huge amounts of effort and set you on the path to automating some of your most mundane and time-consuming tasks.

Despite the huge potential gains, fear of technology and knowing where to start is holding many accountants back, he believes. The starting point has to be a business problem that you’re looking to solve, Mastrodomenico says. “Start with an outcome in mind and think about what you want to achieve.”

“This is about making your life easier. If you have a load of spreadsheets to consolidate into a master spreadsheet, you can use programming to automate that process for you. Similarly, if you’re sending out regular emails to clients, you could write 10 lines of code that automates that process for you.”

“It can be hard to learn a language if you’re not used to it – whether you’re speaking it or programming it – but start gently and work your way into it. The key is to see the small improvements this can give you,” Mastrodomenico says. “If everyone could save 10 hours a week, imagine what you could do with that.” 

Manual accounting processes remain one of the top frustrations of every accountant—however automating the grunt work reduces the need for data rekeying and copy-and-paste, which not only reduces the risk of error but streamlines processes so you have more time to spend on analysing numbers rather than putting them together. 

This allows you to focus on the aspects of your job that you’re good at, that you enjoy and that add the most value to your business, Mastrodomenico says. “You can automate a lot of the boring stuff. So for example you can write a small programme that pulls data together from different sources, brings it together into a single file and performs analysis all in a matter of seconds. Focus on the time it can save you in the long run,” Mastrodomenico adds.  

  • Rob Mastrodomenico will run a free webinar for ICAEW members on Python vs R: which one is for me? on 8 June. On demand videos offering an introduction to R and Python are also available from ICAEW’s data analytics community hub.
  • Join ICAEW’s data analytics community for free and hone the skills you need to thrive in a data-driven business environment