SMU Accountancy students emerge Champions at the Accounting Innovation Challenge 2021

Team ESGimos comprising Year 4 SMU Accountancy students Daryl Yap Ming Hui (Team Leader), Gabrielle Allison Maswi, Lim Kah Lok, and Sze Kai Wei, impressed the judges at the Accounting Innovation Challenge finals in October and emerged Champion at the competition.

The Accounting Innovation Challenge (AIC) is an annual competition organised by the Singapore Accountancy Commission and CPA Australia which focuses on future-proofing the accounting industry by creating curated solutions to solve specific business issues faced by professionals. This year, the competition theme revolved around six different challenge statements that focused on using technology to aid in areas of human resource, manpower optimisation, process automation, financial forecasting, Economic, Social and Governance (ESG), as well as accounting practice integration. Participants had to choose from one of the problem statements to develop their solution.

United by Common Interests

The members of Team ESGimos – Daryl, Gabrielle, Kah Lok and Kai Wei, were united by their common interest in sustainability and risk management. Coincidentally, the team members were also Teaching Assistants in Associate Professor of Accounting (Practice) Foo See Liang’s courses on Internal Audit and Ethics and Social Responsibility for Accounting.

When Sustainability Reporting was offered as a topic among the six problem statements, Team ESGimos unanimously decided to focus on it, as they hoped to solve the pertinent issues faced by practitioners in this area and make meaningful contributions to the accounting profession.

Although Sustainability Reporting is not offered as a standalone module in SMU, Team ESGimos was undeterred and decided to tackle the challenge head-on despite limited prior subject matter knowledge. Team ESGimos also decided to prepare for the competition by applying pre-existing knowledge on ESG-related topics learned through various internship experiences and leverage on familiar platforms to develop solutions for the chosen problem statement.

In the words of team member, Kai Wei, “Every success story begins with the first step. Take the leap of faith and you’ll learn along the way.” Echoing his sentiments, Kah Lok shared their team mantra, “Do your best, and don’t worry about the rest.” With determination and passion, they were prepared to adapt to various uncertainties along the way.

At the preliminary stage, a slew of workshops and mentorship opportunities were organised for teams to enhance their ideas and prototypes. Team ESGimos found themselves up against 61 other submissions from participants who included tertiary students and industry practitioners. At this stage, Team ESGimos was also assigned to two Sustainability Senior Associates from PwC who provided constructive scrutiny and feedback which allowed them to improve their initial prototype prior to the first submission.

In late September, Team ESGimos was excited to learn that their submission had been shortlisted and they were through to the finals.

Preparing for the Final Pitch

To prepare for their final pitch, Team ESGimos conducted extensive market research, and reached out to ESG/Sustainability Reporting preparers on LinkedIn to gain further insights on the subject matter. They sought to understand the pain points experienced by practitioners in the process of generating reports which are of high quality and accuracy. These efforts also exposed the team to the relevant reporting standards and resources available, such as the SGX and IIA white paper on sustainability, SASB and GRI standards. Team ESGimos’ Gabrielle summed up their learning process, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. Sharing resources and knowledge grows everyone in the team.”

However, due to increasing academic commitments, the team had been facing difficulty in putting together a draft deck and a practice script. Their main challenge was the process of consolidating and prioritising the relevant information that should be included in the 5-min pitch to the judging panel which included Big 4 Partners and the Chairwoman of ACCA.

Fortunately, Team ESGimos received timely guidance in finetuning their pitch for the finale through a workshop conducted by an established Public Speaker organised by AIC for finalists. The pitching workshop proved highly effective in equipping the team with the tools and techniques they needed to fine tune their pitch flow and delivery.

In addition, each finalist team was assigned to a mentor and Team ESGimos was attached to Ms Cynthia Yap, Senior Manager at PwC. Ms Yap provided valuable feedback on the technical merits of their prototype as they simulated their pitch, preparing them for what to expect at the finale.

Their efforts eventually paid off as Team ESGimos impressed the judges with their presentation on their collaborative and centralised dashboard for efficient Sustainability Reporting preparation. Teams were judged based on problem relevance; technical merits; business potential; originality and storytelling, and Team ESGimos stood out among the finalist teams to clinch Champion!

Encouraged by this impressive achievement, Team ESGimos feels they can do more. The team is currently looking to explore funding and additional mentoring opportunities to develop their dashboard for Sustainability Reporting further, with the hopes of pursuing their common interest in maximising sustainability efforts. As team leader Daryl puts it, “I believe that with the right synergies, the sky's the limit.”

In addition to Team ESGimos taking the top place at AIC 2021, Team ForetyTwo, which included SMU Accountancy student Zhuo Yanjie (Year 2), came in second place.