Magazine article Strategic Finance

The Why and How of Case Analysis

Magazine article Strategic Finance

The Why and How of Case Analysis

Article excerpt

The field of accounting is changing drastically in the face of government regulations and technological innovation. Accountants are no longer just numbers crunchers. If you're a student majoring in accounting, you need to learn how to analyze the underlying data behind the numbers and make informed decisions. When you remove yourself from the relatively safe confines of the classroom and enter the business world, you must be able to put theory into practice. You'll be in a place where collaborative, team-oriented thinking is required to make decisions and communication is essential, and you'll need to understand different parts of the business, be a business partner, and think in an integrative manner.

So how do you develop the abilities to be a critical thinker, valuable team member, and persuasive advisor on business issues? One possibility is through work experience, but that isn't always possible for full-time undergraduate students. That leaves your coursework. But within the context of all this change in the industry lies a danger: As a student, you may have courses in the areas of financial analysis, audit, and tax but little or no exposure to business strategy and other professional skills. This means there may be a gap between the skills you learn in school and the skills needed to perform the evolving roles of an accountant.

It's up to you to master the skills you'll need, but what if your education hasn't fully helped you? One possibility is to learn through case analysis, and that's where this article may provide some help.

The Case for Cases

It has been well established that a gap exists between the skills companies need in their new accounting hires and the skills that most recent accounting graduates actually have. Colleges need to keep pace with the marketplace and help students develop the competencies to narrow the gap. Accounting is a discipline that contains concepts meant to be applied, which means students need opportunities for practice. Accounting programs need to integrate a variety of real-world competencies in order to produce graduates who are ready for the challenges they will face on the job. So don't be surprised if your classes begin to have less focus on abstract ideas and theories in favor of a more practical "what really happens" approach. Instructors may start bringing more real-world experience to the classroom, and this is where cases can play a role.

Like most accounting students, you're probably very familiar with the lecture approach to teaching. It's good at transferring information, but it has limitations. One of the most significant is that lectures don't encourage you, as a listener, to think about the content and apply it. Case analysis isn't like the lecture approach. A case isn't a long word problem with a right answer. In the lecture method, you receive knowledge from the professor and tend to be graded on your recall of facts. In the case method, you make the knowledge with the assistance of an expert. While case analysis isn't a perfect substitute for getting out of the classroom and getting direct experience, it offers an opportunity to encounter different settings, albeit through written words on a page.

This fundamental shift away from the lecture approach may fill you with some uncertainty or doubt about learning through cases, but don't let that scare you off. Even if you plan to go directly to graduate school before entering the workforce, don't think you can put off learning the practical skills that case analysis helps you develop. Know that cases are a routine part of graduate education. When it comes to learning about case analysis, resistance is futile. There's no escaping them. Rather than resist, consider the benefits.

What's In It for You?

Because cases have a specific context, their analysis creates an opportunity for you to think at a higher, more strategic level. In short, cases help you think like a manager, and you have to recognize that managers don't operate in a vacuum. …

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