An Exploratory Study Of Public Accountants' Perceived Technological Competency And Cognitive Style In A Knowledge-Based Industry

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Lewis Shaw
Laurie Pant


Concrete Sequential learning style, CS


Partnership duties in large professional accounting firms have moved far beyond pure technical expertise to reflect the broad functional responsibilities of CEOs. Todays business model requires managing a multinational client base, a portfolio of audit and non-audit services across complex industries, and an increasingly technology-centered knowledge capital. Auditors are among those professionals who have had to acquire technology skills on the job. Has this learning been sufficient?

Additionally, the challenges of more comprehensive business lines preclude relying on textbook solutions to uniquely accounting questions. Rather, they require a contextual, integrative and non-traditional mode of learning from and adapting to the environment. Such demands are less suited to the Concrete Sequential (CS) learning style, as defined by Gregorc (1979). Yet Shaw (2002) found that more than 70% of accounting majors exhibit CS. This strong bias in public accounting recruits cognitive style suggests that a socialization process has occurred. Either the CS style thinker leaves the firm before making partner, or he/she adapts the necessary skills to manage these complete entities.

To address these alternatives, we administered a self-perception technology questionnaire and the Gregorc Style Delineator to 100 practitioners in several large public accounting firms. Results indicate that as expected, perceived technological competency diminishes with rank. Further, practitioners at all ranks and in all areas of public accounting score high in the CS cognitive style. We also find a relationship between respondents cognitive style at the two lower of three levels of perceived technological proficiency. These findings suggest that previous CS accounting recruits have adapted to at least of the technological demands of the profession in successfully survived the socialization process of becoming partner. There is also some evidence that recent public accounting firm hires include significantly larger proportion of other cognitive styles. To conclude, we raise implications for the professions, research, and accounting education. Data and research instruments available upon request.


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