Why a master's in accounting is your next step towards the C-suite

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Accountants are no longer the number-crunchers working away in a dusty office at the back of the building. The accountants of today are decision and measurement experts—and masters of technology—who know more about the business than almost anyone. It sounds cheesy, but the information accountants deal in (how well your business is doing) is the lifeblood of the organization. It touches every part of the business and is vital to its continued health and growth.

When considered from that point of view, it makes sense that accountants should be some of the most trusted leaders in an organization. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Due to years of bias or simple lack of exposure, company leaders don’t always automatically present accounting pros with a seat at the table. In order to assert your value and carve your own path towards leadership, consider a degree that’s becoming more and more vital every year: the masters in accounting, or MSA.

Why should the leaders of tomorrow consider an MSA today? Here are the facts:

Organizations today don’t need accountants to crunch numbers; they need information engineers who can power vital business decisions.

I encourage the students in my MSA classes to think of themselves as “information engineers.” Engineers are, of course, people who design, construct, and maintain structures, materials and systems. To take that further, “information” is defined as the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence, obtained from investigation, study, or instruction. A great accountant embodies both: They maintain structures that guide the development, implementation, maintenance, and use of information inside of organizations. You wouldn’t build a bridge without a civil engineer, just as you wouldn’t build a business without an information engineer.

Graduating with an MSA not only means an extra validator in terms of a diploma; it also teaches you the skills you need to fill this vital role. I teach in both MSA and MBA programs, and my MBA students are always surprised by how much they like the required accounting courses. They have a preconceived notion of what accounting means, but in application, it’s much more vital and urgent than just dry facts and figures. And as data gets bigger and technology advances, this role will only increase in importance. Seeking an MSA and becoming a true information engineer empowers accounting leaders to become an invaluable asset to their organizations.

With timely skills and expertise earned through an MSA, accounting pros are better able than ever to assert their value at the decision-making table.

Five or ten years ago, an accountant was likely not at the table when major business decisions were being made. He or she spoke for a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting, provided last month’s financial activity, then left the room – or became invisible. However, that is changing - especially in organizations where accountants with the right practical skills, technical knowledge, and business expertise can play the role of information engineer. This vital role transforms the accountant into a trusted leader, paving the way to move up in the organization.

Think of yourself, the accountant, like the point guard in basketball: You’ve got the ball, setting up the play, and enabling others to succeed. But before that, you’ve got to convince the coach you’re ready to be in the game. How? Know the playbook better than anyone. A good MSA program will teach you how to read the plays, develop new ones, and get yourself in the game.

With the proliferation of AI, cybersecurity, and blockchain, organizations need finance-specific tech know-how fast.

With the pace of technology today, business professionals are constantly being called to learn new tools, analytical styles and even currencies at a very fast rate. 41% of CFOs polled in a Robert Half survey said staying current with technology is the greatest pressure facing accounting and finance teams. It’s something companies are clamoring for: Ernst and Young reports they’re hiring for “newer, future-focused skill sets, such as robotics, AI, cybersecurity, blockchain and data analytics.” According to CFOs polled by Accountemps, the most marketable skills besides traditional accounting knowledge are general business knowledge (33%) and technology expertise (25%). In my own personal experience, I hear from many former students about how their role and responsibilities are changing, and the significant opportunities that exist for accountants well-versed in technology.

MSAs offer the best of all these worlds. Certainly, an MSA offers the technical accounting knowledge. However, it also offers the opportunity to develop and hone decision-making and problem-solving skills, especially when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. You’ll also learn the latest technological trends, and how to put these tools to work for your organization – and your career.

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