Updated: Aug 7
Dr. Rengong Zhang (Alex), Former Assistant Professor, Department of Accountancy, City University of Hong Kong (CityU)
Dr. Xiaoli Hu, Assistant Professor, Department of Accountancy, City University of Hong Kong (CityU)
The need for interdisciplinary skills in Financial Technology (Fintech) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in accounting is increasing in the business world. Still, there has been a shortage of Fintech talents and tech-savvy accounting graduates. In light of this, Dr. Alex Rengong ZHANG and Dr. Xiaoli HU from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) incorporated online AI tools in student-led learning activities to enable discovery-based financial education in 2019. Their project was supported by the UGC Teaching Development and Language Enhancement Grant and the Department of Accountancy of CityU.
The programme aimed to shape our future accounting professionals in business technology. As said by Dr. Zhang, “many students believe that AI will eventually take over their jobs. But it’s not true”. AI is like human beings; it needs to be trained, corrected and validated. Therefore, what and how AI performs will be monitored by accounting professionals in the future instead of by Information Technology (IT) talents only.
Students do not have to learn the techniques of programming and algorithms but the adoption of well-developed AI tools. More than 340 students have benefited from the initiative under three courses: AC4382 Contemporary Accounting and Business Issues and Case Analysis, AC5512 Financial Reporting and AC6560 Accounting Information Systems. Besides, teaching students the application of AI tools to solve real-world problems is not the ultimate goal of the course. Instead, it is more important for students to explore their future job opportunities. To better prepare the students for future interdisciplinary challenges, Dr. Zhang and Dr. Hu provide (1) knowledge teaching of Fintech and AI accounting; (2) demonstration of several popular tools of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and cloud computing in online teaching sessions; and (3) integration of career development education in discovery-based group projects.
The students gave positive feedback on the courses. Not only they embraced the opportunities of exploring Fintech and AI, but they intended to further self-learn AI knowledge. In particular, a student shared her internship experience with a repetitive task from 9 to 5 daily for a whole month. After learning how UiPath (an automation tool) could assist her with the tedious tasks from the courses, she was determined to continue exploring AI tools.
When asked about the challenges in implementing Fintech and AI education, Dr. Zhang pointed out that neither he nor Dr. Hu came from an IT background. Therefore, they appreciate the departmental initiatives and support for integrating data analytics in accountancy, which inspired and equipped them with training in Fintech and machine learning.
Since our last interview with Dr. Zhang and Dr. Hu, their initiative has shown significant growth. They have integrated AI tools into the AC4382 course and expanded into ESG analytics, supported by a UGC grant under the TDG-IICA scheme. The technology-driven approach has made it more accessible for students to adopt AI tools in their learning, without the need for a physical lab. Positive feedback from students and their eagerness to self-learn AI knowledge demonstrate the project's impact. Furthermore, the development of an ESG analytics online platform highlights the initiative's commitment to shaping the future of accounting education and the business world.