Tough and challenging, the Master of Accountancy Valuation program was developed in conjunction with Owen’s five partner accounting firms to fill a real business need. It is the second of two, one-year Master of Accountancy programs developed by the school to serve accounting firms and recent undergraduates. The first MAcc Valuation class graduated in May.
Kevin Moss, global managing director, valuation services for Deloitte, served on the MAcc advisory board. “What I liked about what MAcc was doing was talking to the clients, getting input from the community that they provide people to. A lot of programs do not do that,” Moss says.
In recent years, companies have tried to put a value on intangibles like intellectual property, goodwill and incentive-based compensation. Such valuation expertise is driving the need for a program like MAcc Valuation, says Karl Hackenbrack, associate dean and director of accountancy. “This is the nexus of accounting and finance. Valuation practices are in large part these days staffed by people who started their careers in a more traditional finance area and have to learn the accounting.”
The one-year program is intense; students take required coursework, complete a 10-week internship with one of the partner firms—Deloitte, EY, Grant Thornton, KPMG or PricewaterhouseCoopers—and then graduate. Even then they don’t leave Owen; they receive intensive preparation for the Chartered Financial Analyst and Certified Public Accountant exams.
The 13 members of the first graduating class all took the CFA and CPA preparation courses. They take the first of three CFA exams pre-graduation, and then take the next two exams over the next few years. Of the 2013 graduating class, 11 passed the level one CFA exam.
On the four-part CPA exam, the recent graduates scored a 90.2 percent first-time section pass rate—the highest first-time section pass rate of the top 25 graduate MAcc programs in the nation. Hackenbrack is proud to point out that the pass rate for the CFA exam nationwide is 37 percent while the percentage of those who pass the CPA exam on the first try is in the low teens.
Aptitude, attitude and bedside manner
“Whenever I recruit, there are three buckets that I look for: aptitude, which is probably going to get you into most one-year graduate programs; attitude: Do you understand what you’re getting into, in terms of Vanderbilt MAcc Valuation, and are you well-informed to what the programs are about? It is an immersion experience and that’s not for everyone,” Hackenbrack says. “The third is what I call bedside manner, client-facing skills. You have to pass all three to get in.”
Those who are accepted into the program, however, are well prepared for a career in valuation. After graduation, most are headed for a large public accounting firm in a junior-level position.
“That’s part of the value proposition from the firms’ perspectives,” Hackenbrack says. “Think of an audit service line. The bottom of the pyramid is junior staff and the top is partners. In valuation, up until about 10 years ago, those services were provided by professionals who were brought in as manager, director or partner. The pyramid is upside down relative to the audit service line. They need the capability to flip it. We’re first movers in helping them fill the junior service ranks so that they can internally identify the talent.”
The firms get a head start on that identification through the internship programs, which occur in January and February, typically a firm’s busy season. Deloitte, Moss’ company, hired six.
“They did an outstanding job,” he says of the interns. “They were well trained in technical skills. He’s (Hackenbrack) recruited people with good people skills. If you’re going to succeed outside of school, you need to have more than academic training, you need to be able to work with people.
“When the students came into the program, they integrated well into teams and … had the technical background that we were looking for,” Moss says. “The students were firing on all cylinders when they came through the door. Normally you’ll have to teach students something. They have all the bases covered as opposed to a few of the bases.”
Tough by intention
The internships provide something of a trial by fire. “I want you in the firms when it’s tough,” Hackenbrack says. “If it’s not for you, come back and say, ‘I don’t want to work that hard.’ It’s intentional to have (the internships) in what the firms traditionally view as their busy season because so many companies have the Dec. 31 year-ends.”
While Hackenbrack says it’s too early to tell what kind of students will be ideal for the MAcc Valuation program, he believes those who receive their bachelor’s degree in economics will be naturals. “They are taking course work and thinking about issues that they honestly care about and enjoy studying. But let’s face it: What jobs are they going to take at graduation? They’re prepared for graduate school.”
Which can prepare them to fill key roles in booming new areas of business like valuation.