Data visualisation: a key skill for Chartered Accountants

Oct 23, 2017
Chartered Accountants are known for having high levels of competence in Excel and but rarely have a matching skill level in PowerPoint. Accountants don’t regard the presentation of their data as a mission critical skill even though the goal of our data analysation is to communicate information clearly and efficiently to executives and clients. Instead, it’s often seen as something to be used to humour executives during big meetings.  When we asked accountants to rate their skills out of five, they consistently rate their Excel skills at four (with a suggestion that modesty featured as a constraint) and their PowerPoint competence at two (with a suggestion that this might be more than PowerPoint deserved).  

We rate our Excel acumen so highly because we are experts only at what we do, and we practice the same Excel actions a lot. The sporting adage of “use it or lose it” is particularly apt for technology where reflex keyboard actions and habit all but blind us to changes in the environment.  Excel can change but most of us are too busy to notice and just carry on doing what we always did the way we always did it. Keeping yourself abreast of current updates in Excel is just as important to your job as the output that you get from the programme.

The PowerPoint and data visualisation requirement is very different.  As referred to earlier, skills here are lower and discussions with accountants indicate that this is largely down to two misconceptions:  one, that with advances in Excel dashboard functions and general flexibility, PowerPoint will diminish in importance as a tool for presentations of financial information; and two, that data presentation skills are not really core for accountants.  

Both are seriously wide of the mark. First, Microsoft explicitly places PowerPoint front and centre in their plans to develop tools (including Excel and Power BI) to improve the way data is converted to information and shared.  Second, Chartered Accountants have a vital role in helping line managers acquire the information they need to make financially informed decisions and therefore a duty to make sure that the information is clearly understood.  Data visualisation enables decision makers to see analytics presented simply, helping them grasp difficult concepts or identify new patterns in the data. Presenting numbers and financial statements in traditional formats that are comfortable for accountants but obscure to others is lamentable, especially when less than a dozen easily acquired techniques can transform the way people react to and benefit from presentations. 

Building on your skills in Excel and transferring those skills into more advanced data visualisation programmes like PowerPoint can really help you to add value to your organisation and advance your career.
 
Jack Foley is a director in FaB Practice Ltd and a trainer in digital visualisation with Professional Training. Jack will be delivering the course Data visualisation with Excel and PowerPoint for accountants on 30 November 201.

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