Students entering the accounting profession today must be more proficient in data analytics. Now, they can hone their skills with the help of an award-winning paper. 

Sarah E. Stein, assistant professor of accounting and information systems in the Pamplin College of Business, and Lauren M. Cunningham, of the University of Tennessee, co-authored a case study on using visualization software in audits to identify anomalies. 

The case has been selected to receive the 2019 Issues in Accounting Education Best Paper Award.

“We used realistic simulated data and workpaper documentation so that students can practice and enhance their analytical skills in a format comparable to real-world audit experiences,” Stein said. 

The case materials are available to all accounting faculty through the American Accounting Association and Issues in Accounting Education. “It’s an instructional resource that other faculty will benefit from, as we have more and more of a push to incorporate data and analytics into the accounting curriculum,” Stein said.

This education trend, she added, “also aligns directly with Pamplin’s focus on being a leader in business analytics.”

Stein, who is the Deloitte Foundation Faculty Fellow in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems, noted that the case she co-authored can be used in undergraduate or graduate courses on auditing and internal auditing.

An important skill for auditors, Stein said, is the ability to identify anomalies and risk factors in the client’s data. “Our case provides students with experience in using visualization to identify anomalous transactions for further substantive testing, based on relationships between financial data, such as revenues, and nonfinancial data, such as weather patterns.”

Students, she said, create a memo for the workpaper files that documents their findings and recommends specific sales transactions for substantive testing to the audit team.

“Aside from gaining experience with Tableau visualization software, this case will improve students’ analytical and problem-solving skills by encouraging them to work independently and to break a complex problem into manageable pieces.”

Stein’s paper, “Using Visualization Software in the Audit of Revenue Transactions to Identify Anomalies,” was published in November 2018. 

The Best Paper Award is sponsored by the American Accounting Association, whose members vote online for the winner. The award and its $2,500 prize will be presented at the association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on August 13.

Stein, who has published other audit-related case studies in Issues in Accounting Education as well as Current Issues in Auditing, worked as an audit manager at Deloitte in Denver before becoming an academic researcher and teacher. 

Her research interests relate to topics involving audit quality, auditor expertise, accounting associations, and complex estimates. Her work has been published in The Accounting Review, Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory, Journal of Business Finance & Accounting, and Current Issues in Auditing. 

Stein has a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Truman State University.