Big data analysis is a tremendous asset for companies, from startups to international organizations. It’s a way for a finance departments to help CFOs prepare for economic change, develop forecasts and models, examine customer trends and gain competitive advantage.
Big data analysis can also be good for your accounting and finance career, and the demand for these technological tools is escalating.
“Financial and data analytics skills are becoming a much bigger part of the world of finance and accounting, and financial services,” says Doug Rickart, vice president of Robert Half Financial Services.
Big data expertise is rare
According to a report from Robert Half and IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), senior finance leaders suffer from a major talent gap when it comes to analyzing a company’s business intelligence. Employers in the finance industry say their in-house staff are deficient in a number of key technical skills that are critical for success in big data analysis — and also lack certain nontechnical skills that companies need big data experts to possess.
The biggest technical and functional skills gaps appear in the areas of identifying trends in key data, performing data mining/extraction and operational analyses, and using statistical modeling and data analyses. Additionally, finance and accounting professionals were found lacking in general technological acumen, as well as important nontechnical skills such as decision analysis, strategic thinking and process improvement.
Want to learn more about the big data skills that employers are looking for? Read our report, Building a Team to Capitalize on the Promise of Big Data.
But does everyone need these analytical skills?
For Jordon Heffler, vice president of Robert Half’s Permanent Placement Services, manufacturing, insurance, healthcare, banking, real estate, and any midsized to large corporation are examples of industries that need people in FP&A (financial planning and analysis), which is the process of compiling and analyzing an organization’s long-term financial strategy.
Other roles requiring big data skills are business analysts, business systems analysts, budget analysts, treasury analysts, cost analysts, data analysts, business intelligence analysts and financial analysts.
Rickart’s financial services clients are looking for quantitative analysts who have the ability to manipulate big data on a regular basis.
For the individual wondering whether to acquire these skills, that depends on your career objectives, he says.
“Not everyone wants to manipulate big data," Rickart says. "Not everyone wants to derive information from regression analysis, for instance, in a statistical model. They may want to look more closely at the day-to-day activities of the business, instead of those quantitative models that big data analysts use.”
What kind of salaries do such roles demand?
Competition for skilled workers is driving up compensation across the financial profession.
According to the 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide, an FP&A professional with one to three years of experience can expect a starting salary midpoint of $65,000 in 2018. The projected salary for the same position with three to five years of experience is $75,000 at the midpoint, and the salary midpoint for FP&A jobs at the manager level are expected to be $115,000.
Here are two other projected salary midpoints for positions with analytics in their titles:
- Business systems analyst — The salary for business systems analysts, depending on experience and level, ranges from $50,000 for up to a year of experience to $115,000 to business systems analyst managers.
- Data analyst — A data analyst with one to three years of experience can expect a salary midpoint of $72,000, with $92,000 projected for a senior data analyst.
These starting salaries are national averages and will vary by location.
What can you do to acquire big data skills?
Suggestions for anyone interested in pursuing jobs in big data include the following:
- Take advantage of professional development opportunities, including trainings and industry seminars, to build a foundational understanding of analytics.
- Enroll in an MBA program that offers big data analysis.
- Take online courses to learn such programming languages as Python, SQL (Structured Query Language) and VBA (Excel’s Visual Basic for Applications).
- Network within your company to understand where and how data analysis is used.
- Volunteer for projects requiring data analysis to get experience and feedback.
“College students can graduate with these skills,” Rickart says. “However, they have to specifically seek them in their finance or accounting programs. I would advise them to take information systems classes involving Microsoft Access and Excel, and make sure they know how to code.”
How can you stand out above other candidates?
Aside from database management experience and advanced software skills, communication is key, Heffler says.
“You may have all the spreadsheet and data-mining skills under the sun, but you also need to be able to articulate that to a team of people succinctly and effectively. The ability to take a lot of complicated and detailed data and turn that into numbers that people can easily understand is a critical skill set. ”
As demand for big data skills continues to escalate, a growing number of certification programs have become available for finance professionals (and others) who want to boost their abilities in data and analytics, statistical modeling, data mining and more.
See Robert Half Technology's Which IT Certifications Are Most Valuable.
There are a wide range of options available to finance and accounting professionals who want to develop stronger big data skills. By taking the initiative to improve your expertise in this hot area, you’ll not only be creating greater opportunities to advance your own career. You’ll also be helping your employer fill the finance industry’s big data skills gap.
Editor's note: This post was updated recently to reflect information from the 2018 Salary Guide.