As technology evolves, so does the role that Accountants play in an organization, as well as the tasks that they are expected to perform. Many tasks that were once the responsibility of higher-ranking accountants in a firm are now given to entry-level accountants, while the high-ranking accountants are involved in more managerial and macro tasks. This is largely thanks to the invention of accounting programs, excel and other tools that have helped reduce instances of human error in calculations. Of course, nothing can really help if data is accidentally omitted while being inputted.

How important is coding to accounting?

Nowadays, one could argue that programming is integral to accounting. Whether they are aware of it or not, most accountants use some form of programming on an almost daily basis.  As Carl Heinz, CPA and former Big-8 manager, succinctly puts it,

“In the age of paper, accountants could see what was happening in the paper books. They would “program” their accounting systems.

Now, we accountants use accounting programs, but very few of us really understand what’s going on inside those systems. While this is like the driver who uses a car but has no idea of what’s happening under the hood, everything is great until it isn’t.

Having a working knowledge of programming is very useful to an accountant trying to comprehend what a system does. Knowing how to program helps you design systems, test them for proper functioning, and suggest improvements. An educated user is always able to better use a system.”

What is the best programming language for accounting?

Most accountants will agree that the most useful coding language to learn is VBA for Excel and Microsoft, most specifically the Macros. Following that, the best coding language to focus on would depend on the software you or the firm you work for uses. Below, we are going to briefly touch on useful programming for accountants

1. Excel

Although people might not think of it that way, excel formulae have always utilized a programming language known as Visual Basics for Applications, or VBA. This function is integral to every level of accountant, including bookkeepers as they reduce calculations that used to take hours to seconds. This saves a great deal of time and provides the accountant with more time for analysis and, forecasting and other tasks.

However, since its original integration, the programming language has evolved to perform more and more functions. This included the ability of data inputting types to move beyond basic text and number inputs to also allowing for cells to contain first-class records such as links to external data and dynamic arrays that can spill over into adjacent cells. Finally, in December 2020, Microsoft even announced the release of LAMBA which would be an excel-exclusive programming language that would allow for the user themselves to define new functions within the language instead of being limited to the pre-programmed functions.

2. Coding languages in accounting

Learning coding languages such as Python, R, or SQL can help the accountant improve the process and workflow. Rather than hiring out to a programmer and trying to communicate what function you would like them to code for you, you code write the code yourself. Regardless of which you choose to follow, many accountants agree that learning to code Macros is the best place to start. According to Wikipedia, ‘Macros are a type of code that is used to make a sequence of computing instructions available to the programmer as a single program statement, making the programming task less tedious and less error-prone.’

3. Python

Although Python is designed as a general-purpose programming language, it is considered to be strongest for data analysis purposes. Indeed, it is this aspect that makes it most useful to accountants for the purposes of gathering business and financial data. Furthermore, some accountants prefer it to VBA, as it is considered to be a simpler language, in addition to being able to handle larger volumes of data and compatible with more software. Additionally, due to its being open-sourced, it is constantly updated by volunteers which helps with version control and more frequent updates. It also has the added benefit of being completely free.

4. R

R is another popular language among data analysts and data scientists. Like Python, it is also open-sourced and free. However, it is considered t be better for data cleaning and providing better analysis tools. This makes it better for once-off use cases and for exploring data sets. However, Python is more frequently used in corporations, as it is more adept at data manipulation and performing repeated tasks than R is.

5. SQL

Short for ‘Structured Query Language,’ SQL is another programing language for data manipulation. It preceded both Python and R by a few years, as it was released in 1987, while the other two were released in the 90s. Even though it is domain-specific, rather than general use, it is still considered a standard for relational database management systems, especially by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI.) A free version called ‘SQL Server 2019 Express’ was released in 2019. However, it remains closed-sourced and is rarely updated. SQL is generally used to access and extract data from databases. This makes it more task-specific than both Python and R.

It is important to note that there are many other programing languages used by accountants. Other examples include JavaScript and C++.

Which accounting fields need programmers?

Almost all fields of accounting entail using Excel, so we are going to focus on a couple of examples of positions where other forms of coding would prove useful:

Financial Analyst

Although not essential to the field, Financial Analysts are likely to encounter these languages during their work. As they are heavily involved in data analysis, they would need to pull data from multiple sources and consolidate them into a manageable template. Doing this in the most efficient way possible would require some programming skills in order to save hours on data entry and similar. Of course, this depends on which team you work with, as while you would certainly require some coding skills for financial reporting, it is unlikely to come up when working in payroll or as a Certified Financial Manager.

Audit and Data Assurance

Auditors are responsible for reviewing the financial records of companies to ensure that they comply with tax laws. Understanding coding can be useful for them, as it will allow them to understand how the company’s programs pull and compile data. This in turn will help them to identify instances of non-compliance within the workflow. This could occur anywhere in the process, be it from inaccurate or incomplete data inputs, incorrect categorization and so on. The same holds true of the method of data processing and the way in which and the accuracy of the data that is outputted.

Learning coding for accounting

Fortunately, learning coding does not need to be an expensive endeavor. There are many free tutorials on YouTube, dedicated forums such as r/SQL on Reddit and even the option to hire cheap tutors on Fiverr to guide you on your journey.  Furthermore, once you have mastered the basics, you can focus on the coding aspects that relate to accounting such as data transference and calculations.