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Big Data in Accounting and Finance: A Review of Influential Publications and a Research Agenda

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Abstract

This paper reviews the research in accounting and finance around data analytics and big data in order to better understand the use of big data techniques in auditing. We first point out the origins of big data techniques in the multivariate statistical literature and then categorize accounting and finance research under a number of research groupings streams. Our analysis shows that there are influential papers across five distinct genealogies: financial distress modelling, financial fraud modelling, auditing, stock market prediction and quantitative modelling. We review each of these streams of research to ascertain their main contributions, and also to outline knowledge gaps and future research directions. Our findings have important implications for the practice of auditing and the perceived reluctance to use valuable big data techniques for fear of getting too far ahead of the technology that firms themselves are using. We also identify future research directions in the areas of environmental finance; real time accounting and financial information; collaborative platforms and peer-to- peer marketplaces.
Accepted for publication in Journal of Accounting Literature.
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BIG DATA TECHNIQUES IN AUDITING RESEARCH AND PRACTICE:
CURRENT TRENDS AND FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
Abstract
This paper analyzes the use of big data techniques in auditing, and finds that the
practice is not as widespread as it is in other related fields. We first introduce contemporary
big data techniques to promote understanding of their potential application. Next, we review
existing research on big data in accounting and finance. In addition to auditing, our analysis
shows that existing research extends across three other genealogies: financial distress
modelling, financial fraud modelling, and stock market prediction and quantitative modelling.
Auditing is lagging behind the other research streams in the use of valuable big data
techniques. A possible explanation is that auditors are reluctant to use techniques that are far
ahead of those adopted by their clients, but we refute this argument. We call for more
research and a greater alignment to practice. We also outline future opportunities for auditing
in the context of real-time information and in collaborative platforms and peer-to-peer
marketplaces.
Keywords
Auditing; Big Data; Data Analytics; Statistical Techniques
[Graphical Abstract provided in separate file]
[Bullet-Point Highlights provided in separate file]
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1. INTRODUCTION
This paper analyzes the use of big data techniques in auditing, and finds that the
practice is not as widespread as it is in other related fields. We first introduce contemporary
big data techniques and their origins in the multivariate statistical literature to help unfamiliar
auditors understand the techniques. We then review existing research on big data in
accounting and finance to ascertain the state of the field. Our analysis shows that – in
addition to auditing – existing research on big data in accounting and finance extends across
three other genealogies: (1) financial distress modelling, (2) financial fraud modelling, and
(3) stock market prediction and quantitative modelling. Compared to the other three research
streams, auditing is lagging behind in the use of valuable big data techniques. Anecdotal
evidence from audit partners indicates that some leading firms have started to adopt big data
techniques in practice; nevertheless, our literature review reveals a general consensus that big
data is underutilized in auditing. A possible explanation for this trend is that auditors are
reluctant to use techniques and technology that are far ahead of those adopted by their client
firms (Alles, 2015). Nonetheless, the lack of progress in implementing big data techniques
into auditing practice remains surprising, given that early use of random sampling auditing
techniques put auditors well ahead of the practices of their client firms.
This paper contributes to bridging the gap between audit research and practice in the
area of big data. We make the important point that big data techniques can be a valuable
addition to the audit profession, in particular when rigorous analytical procedures are
combined with audit techniques and expert judgement. Other papers have looked at the
implications of clients’ growing use of big data (Appelbaum, Kogan, & Vasarhelyi, in press)
and the sources of useful big data for auditing (e.g., Vasarhelyi, Kogan, and Tuttle (2015);
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Zhang et al. (2015)); our work focuses more on valuable opportunities to use contemporary
big data techniques in auditing. We contribute to three research questions regarding the use of
big data in auditing, raised by Appelbaum et al. (in press) and Vasarhelyi et al. (2015): “What
models can be used?”, “Which of these methods are the most promising?” and “What will be
the algorithms of prioritization?” We provide key information about the main big data
techniques to assist researchers and practitioners understand when to apply them. We also
call for more research to further align theory and practice in this area; for instance, to better
understand the application of big data techniques in auditing and to investigate the actual
usage of big data techniques across the auditing profession as a whole.
This paper also integrates research in big data across the fields of accounting and
finance. We reveal future opportunities to use big data in auditing by analyzing research
conducted in related fields that have been more willing to embrace big data techniques. We
offer general suggestions about combining multiple big data models with expert judgement,
and we specifically recommend that the audit profession make greater use of contemporary
big data models to predict financial distress and detect financial fraud.
The paper proceeds as follows. Section 2 introduces big data techniques, including
their origin in the multivariate statistical literature and relates it to the modern mathematical
statistics literature. Section 3 offers a systematic literature review of existing research on big
data in accounting and finance. This section highlights how auditing substantially differs
from the other major research streams. Section 4 identifies novel future research directions
for using big data in auditing. Finally, Section 5 concludes the paper with important
recommendations for the use of big data in auditing in the 21st century and a call for further
research.
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2. AN INTRODUCTION TO BIG DATA TECHNIQUES
This section presents an overview of big data and big data techniques to promote a
greater understanding of their potential application. Auditors that use more advanced
techniques need to understand them (Appelbaum et al., in press). An introduction to big data
provides the necessary background to present the main big data techniques available and the
key information needed to determine which are appropriate in a given circumstance.
Appendix A describes the main big data techniques, summarizes their key features and
provides suggested references for readers who want more information.
Big data refers to structured or unstructured data sets that are commonly described
according to the four Vs: Volume, Variety, Velocity, and Veracity. Volume refers to data sets
that are so large that traditional tools are inadequate. Variety reflects different data formats,
such as quantitative, text-based, and mixed forms, as well as images, video, and other
formats. Velocity measures the frequency at which new data becomes available, which is
increasingly often at a very rapid rate. Finally, the quality and relevance of the data can
change dramatically over time, which is described as its veracity. The auditing profession has
a large and growing volume of data available to it, of increasing variety and veracity. Textual
information obtained online is one new type of data, and we discuss this phenomenon later in
the paper. Auditors also face an increasing velocity of data, particularly in the context of real-
time information, and this is described in Section 4.
Big data comes in a variety of flavors – “small p, large n”, “large p, small n”, and
“large p, large n”, where n refers to the number of responses and p the number of variables
measured at each response. These categorizations are important because they can influence
which technique is the most suitable. The big data techniques described in Appendix A are
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suited to different categorizations; for instance, Random Forests1 is particularly useful for
“large p, small n” problems. High-frequency trading generates massive data sets of both high
volume and high velocity, creating major challenges for data analysis. Nevertheless, such
“small p, large n” problems are perhaps the easiest of the three scenarios and the analytic
tools used are, in the main, adaptations of existing statistical techniques. The “large p, small
n” scenario is best exemplified by genomics. A single human genome contains about 100
gigabytes of data. Essentially the data is a very long narrow matrix with each column
corresponding to an individual and each row corresponding to a gene. The cost of sequencing
a genome has now fallen to a point where it is possible for individuals to purchase their own
genome. As a consequence, genomics is rapidly transitioning to the “large p, large n”
scenario. Climate change research is another example of science at the forefront of the big
data “large p, large n” scenario, with multivariate time-series collected from a world-wide
grid of sites over very long time frames.
Big data also refers to the techniques and technology used to draw inferences from the
variety of flavors of data. These techniques often seek to infer non-linear relationships and
causal effects from data which is often very sparse in information. Given the nature of the
data, these techniques often have no or very limited distributional assumptions. Computer
scientists approach big data from the point of view of uncovering patterns in the complete
record – this is often called the algorithmic approach. The patterns are regarded as
approximations of the complexity of the data set. By comparison, statisticians are more
inclined to treat the data as observations of an underlying process and to extract information
and make inferences about the underlying process.
1 Random Forests for regression-type problems uses bootstrap samples to develop multiple decision trees
(usually thousands) and then aggregates them together by averaging. See Appendix A for more information.
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The statistical techniques used in big data necessitate more flexible models, since
highly structured traditional regression models are very unlikely to fit big data well.
Furthermore, the volume (as well as variety and velocity) of big data is such that it is not
feasible to uncover the appropriate structure for models in many cases. The popularity of
more flexible approaches dates back to Efron’s (1979) introduction of the bootstrap at a time
when increasing computer power made such new techniques feasible. The bootstrap is a
widely applicable statistical tool that is often used to provide accuracy estimates, such as
standard errors that can be used to produce confidence intervals. Regularization is another
widely used technique which imposes a complexity penalty that shrinks estimated parameters
towards zero to prevent over-fitting or to solve ill-posed problems. Ridge regression, which
uses a L2 penalty2, was initially proposed by Hoerl and Kennard (1970) in the 1970s;
however, it has only become popular in recent decades with the advent of increased
computing power. More recently, regularization techniques have become popular
alternatives, such as LARS (least angle regression and shrinkage) proposed by Bradley Efron,
Hastie, Johnstone, and Tibshirani (2004) and Tibshirani’s (1996) Lasso (least absolute
shrinkage and selection operator) which uses an L1 penalty3. The use of an L1 penalty is
important because it is very effective in variable reduction and so results in sparse models
that are easier to interpret. These simpler models are often easier to communicate to clients.
Penalties that are a mixture of L1 and L2 are also available (Friedman, Hastie, & Tibshirani,
2010); indeed, contemporary statistics scholars continue to investigate new penalties for
regularization.
Supervised learning develops explanatory or predictive models from data with known
outcomes to apply to data with unknown outcomes. Some popular ways to conduct
2 A L2 penalty penalises a model for complexity based on the sum of all the squared coefficients.
3 An L1 penalty uses the absolute value of coefficients rather than the squared coefficients used in L2 penalties.
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supervised learning include artificial neural networks, classification and regression trees
(decision trees), Random Forests, Naïve Bayes, regularized regression4 (as mentioned above),
support vector machines, and multivariate adaptive regression splines (MARS). In contrast,
unsupervised learning seeks to uncover patterns in unlabeled data. Popular methods are
unsupervised neural networks, latent variable models, association rules, and cluster analysis.
Machine learning is an overarching term that encompasses both supervised and unsupervised
learning. The techniques mentioned in this paragraph are briefly described in Appendix A.
3. THE USE OF BIG DATA IN ACCOUNTING AND FINANCE RESEARCH
This paper offers a systematic literature review of the use of big data techniques in
auditing research and practice and follows methodical steps for collecting data to arrive at a
comprehensive data set of articles to include in the review. First, we searched the Social
Sciences Citation Index for ‘big data’ papers, searching for articles that contained the key
words “big data” or “analytics” or “data mining” in the title, abstract, or keywords. To ensure
that the search was not too broad, we limited the search to articles that also contained the
keywords “accounting” or “financ*” in the title, abstract, or keywords. Our search identified
a total of 286 records as of November 2016. Next, we screened the resulting articles to only
retain those of interest to the current research. This reduced the original article base to 45
records. Excluded articles discussed other big data and quantitative applications in the
context of business decision-making (e.g., improving customer retention in financial services,
see Benoit and Van den Poel (2012)). Next, we conducted further searches via cited
references and Google Scholar to manually add another 47 articles into the data set. The
articles were then assessed by the author team and categorized according to their main
4 Regularization is a general concept that can be applied to regression, but also commonly to the other models
mentioned to help prevent over-fitting.
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research focus. The analysis revealed four main genealogies, which we review below: (1)
financial distress modelling, (2) financial fraud modelling, (3) stock market prediction and
quantitative modelling, and (4) auditing. We find that there has been much progress in the
first three fields, but that auditors have been slow to implement research findings into
practice. We then proceed to address the lack of uptake of big data measures.
3.1 Financial Distress Modelling
Papers in the financial distress modelling stream use data mining techniques to detect
and forecast the financial distress (or financial failure) of companies and these techniques are
also of interest to auditors to assist with their going concern evaluations.
Multiple studies have used decision tree based models. Sun and Li (2008) apply data
mining techniques based on decision trees in order to predict financial distress. Starting with
35 financial ratios and 135 listed company-pairs, the researchers design and test a prediction
model to show theoretical feasibility and practical effectiveness. Koyuncugil and Ozgulbas
(2012b) use data mining methods to design a financial distress early warning system for
small- to medium-sized enterprises. They test the model on over 7,000 small- to medium-
sized enterprises and develop a number of risk profiles, risk indicators, early warning
systems, and financial road maps that can be used for mitigating financial risk. Similar work
has also been undertaken by Koyuncugil and Ozgulbas (2012a) and Kim and Upneja (2014).
Li, Sun, and Wu (2010) use classification and regression tree methods to estimate financial
distress and failure for a sample of Chinese listed companies, while Gepp, Kumar, and
Bhattacharya (2010) use US listed companies.
Chen and Du (2009) propose a different approach and apply data mining techniques
in the form of neural networks to build and test financial distress prediction models. Using 37
ratios across 68 listed companies, they demonstrate the feasibility and validity of their
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modelling. Additional research supports their approach and suggests that neural networks
perform better for financial distress modelling than decision trees and alternative approaches
such as support vector machines (Geng, Bose, & Chen, 2015).
Zhou, Lu, and Fujita (2015) compare the performance of financial distress prediction
models based on big data analytics versus prediction models based on predetermined models
from domain professionals in accounting and finance. They find that there is no significant
difference in the predictions. However, a combination of both approaches performs
significantly better than each on its own (Zhou et al., 2015). Lin and McClean (2001) also
find that a hybrid approach of professional judgement and data mining produces more
accurate predictions. Kim and Han (2003) go one step further and argue that analyses should
incorporate qualitative data mining approaches to elicit and represent expert knowledge about
bankruptcy predictions from data sets such as loan management databases.
The literature recognises that financial distress might not be limited to a company, but
may also extend to corporate stakeholders. Khandani, Kim, and Lo (2010) use machine
learning techniques to construct models of consumer credit risk at the level of the individual
and the customer, rather than the corporation. They combine customer transactions and credit
bureau data and are able to use machine learning to significantly improve classification rates
on credit card default and delinquencies. Singh, Bozkaya, and Pentland (2015) were inspired
by animal ecology studies to analyse the transactions of thousands of people; they found that
individual financial outcomes are associated with spatio-temporal traits (e.g., exploration and
exploitation) and that these traits are over 30% better at predicting future financial difficulties
than comparable demographic models.
Auditors could harness big data techniques and methods for forecasting financial
distress and, combined with their professional judgement, be better able to judge the future
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financial viability of a firm. This would improve the going concern evaluations required in
audits by the Statement on Auditing Standards, No. 59 for public companies (AICPA, 1988).
Incorporating big data models should help avoid the costly error of issuing an unmodified
opinion prior to bankruptcy. Read and Yezegel (2016) found that this problem is particularly
apparent in non-Big 4 firms within the first five years of an audit engagement. The authors do
not offer an underlying reason, but it may be that smaller audit firms are reluctant to issue
modified going concern opinions early in an engagement for fear of losing clients. If this is
the case, then smaller audit firms may be better able to justify modified opinions to their
clients by presenting them with objective results from big data models, and thereby
increasing the independence of the going concern evaluations. The use of these models also
represents an opportunity to increase the efficiency of the going concern evaluation part of
the audit, notwithstanding the initial overhead cost of becoming familiar with big data models
and techniques.
Although it is likely that the focus will be on one-year predictions that relate to going
concern opinions, financial distress models could also be used for longer forecasts. These
longer forecasts could be used by internal auditors who tend to have longer time-horizons
than external auditors. Financial distress models that are supplemented by the opinion of the
internal audit team as to the veracity of the forecasts could provide valuable information for
senior management and the Board of Directors. Longer range forecasts and opinions give
management more time to make strategic changes to minimize the likelihood that predicted
financial distress will occur.
3.2 Financial Fraud Modelling
A second major research stream centers on modelling financial fraud, which can help
auditors assess the risk of fraud (Bell & Carcello, 2000) when conducting fraud risk
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assessments. Section 200 of the Statement on Auditing Standards No. 122/123 requires that
external auditors “obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements as a
whole are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error” (AICPA, 2011). By
adopting contemporary big data models, auditors could provide this assurance,
notwithstanding the current debate as to the exact meaning of “reasonable assurance”
(Hogan, Rezaee, Riley, & Velury, 2008).
Financial fraud is a substantial concern for organizations and economies around the
world.5 The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (2016) estimates that the typical
organization loses 5% of revenue each year to fraud. Applying this to the Gross World
Product for 2014, global fraud loss amounts to nearly 4 trillion US dollars. These numbers
have prompted researchers to consider the application of big data techniques to fraud
detection, prediction, and prevention. For instance, R. Chang et al. (2008) suggest using
visual data analytics to interactively examine millions of bank wire transactions—they argue
that this approach is both feasible and effective. In contrast, Abbasi, Albrecht, Vance, and
Hansen (2012) model financial fraud using meta-leaning, which is a specialized form of
machine learning that combines the outputs of multiple machine learning techniques in a self-
adaptive way to improve accuracy. They find the method to be more effective than other
single approaches.
Other approaches use supervised neural networks (Green & Choi, 1997; Krambia
Kapardis, Christodoulou, & Agathocleous, 2010) or unsupervised neural networks based on a
growing hierarchical self-organizing map (e.g., Huang, Tsaih, and Lin (2014); Huang, Tsaih,
and Yu (2014)) to build a financial fraud detection model. The approach proposed by Huang,
5 An excellent review of financial fraud modelling using big data techniques is also provided by Ngai, Hu,
Wong, Chen, and Sun (2011) who offer a classification framework for the existing literature. West and
Bhattacharya (2016) also review computational intelligence-based approaches, such as neural networks and
support vector machines.
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Tsaih, and Lin (2014) involves three stages: first, selecting statistically significant variables;
second, clustering into small sub-groups based on the significant variables; and third, using
principal component analysis to reveal the key features of each sub-group. Huang, Tsaih, and
Yu (2014) apply this model to 144 listed firms and find that the approach can effectively
detect fraudulent activity. Ravisankar, Ravi, Rao, and Bose (2011) use neural networks,
support vector machines, and genetic programming to identify firms engaging in financial
fraud. They find that probabilistic neural networks and genetic programming outperform
other methods and are similarly accurate. Building on the work of Busta and Weinberg
(1998), Bhattacharya, Xu, and Kumar (2011) proposed a genetic algorithm to optimize a
neural network based on Benford’s Law. They used simulated data to conclude that their
algorithm showed promise for detecting fraud in financial statements. Meanwhile, Kirkos,
Spathis, and Manolopoulos (2007) found a Bayesian network that outperformed an artificial
neural network, as well as a decision tree. A support vector machine developed using the
output from principal components analysis has also been studied (Sadasivam,
Subrahmanyam, Himachalam, Pinnamaneni, & Lakshme, 2016).
The best approach to financial fraud modelling is heavily debated. C. C. Lin, Chiu,
Huang, and Yen (2015) compare the differences between data mining approaches and the
judgement of experts, and find that neural networks and decision trees achieve a correct
classification rate of over 90% on a holdout sample. The judgement of experts is shown to be
more consistent with the decision tree approach. Perols (2011) reviews the performance of
popular statistical and machine learning techniques and finds that logistic regression and
support vector machines perform well relative to competing models such as neural networks
and decision trees. Given that these papers come to opposing conclusions, there is clearly
uncertainty in the field. Chen (2016) constructs a financial statement fraud model using a
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two-stage process which appears to offer advantages over the one-step approach used in
Ravisankar et al. (2011) and Perols (2011). The first stage involves selecting the major
variables using two decision tree algorithms: classification and regression tree (CART) and
Chi-squared automatic interaction detector (CHAID). The second stage constructs the
financial fraud model using the variables from stage one. The second stage uses a number of
approaches including the two approaches from stage one, as well as Bayesian belief network,
support vector machines, and neural networks. Chen (2016) finds that the combination of
CHAID in stage one and CART in stage two proves to be the most accurate methodology for
detecting financial statement fraud. Zhou and Kapoor (2011) concur that a combination of
professional judgement and big data techniques provides a more effective and efficient
approach.
There has also been research into the process of analyzing financial statement text for
the purposes of detecting fraud, which is well summarized by Gray and Debreceny (2014).
More recently, Purda and Skillicorn (2015) developed a language-based tool that relies on
data to identify important indicators of fraud (see also Van Den Bogaerd and Aerts (2011)).
The language-based tool has an initial training period which uses a decision tree approach to
analyze reports of known fraud firms and obtain a rank order list of words best able to
distinguish fraud versus non-fraud. The second stage uses vector order machines to predict
the fraud status of financial reports and assign a truth probability. The approach is able to
generate correct classification rates of over 80%.
The above review shows that studies have used big data techniques to model the
occurrence of financial fraud as a binary dependent variable, which implicitly treats all fraud
as equal. Even though the cost of financial fraud varies greatly between cases and has
obvious economic implications, very few studies have modelled the cost of financial fraud.
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There is also an opportunity for fraud models to take advantage of the fact that collusion
between multiple offenders often occurs in fraud cases. Free and Murphy (2015) conclude
that that the social nature of fraud may assist in identifying distinctive features. These
features could be incorporated into fraud models to improve their accuracy.
External auditors can improve their fraud risk assessments by using big data financial
fraud models that advance standard regression models, such as the well-known F-score fraud
model based on logistic regression (Dechow, Ge, Larson, & Sloan, 2011). These big data
financial fraud models are developed using data from past frauds. They offer valuable
information to auditors because past research has revealed that auditors often have little real
experience of fraud (Humpherys, Moffitt, Burns, Burgoon, & Felix, 2011). Nevertheless,
auditors tend to be reluctant to rely on decision aids to detect fraud (Eining, Jones, &
Loebbecke, 1997), so there is an opportunity for future research to investigate how to best use
big data fraud models in conjunction with auditor expertise. This research topic also
encompasses how to best present the analysis and output from big data models to auditors.
Hogan et al. (2008) also called for future research into incorporating more sophisticated fraud
models into audits. This is particularly relevant because big data models offer different
information than the more familiar and traditional regression models (such as the F-score
model).
Internal auditors could also use these models to draw attention to situations that
require investigation. Forensic accountants and forensic auditors could also use these models
to determine the probability of fraud having occurred, in order to provide initial
corroboration.
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3.3 Stock Market Prediction and Quantitative Modelling
In addition to the two research streams outlined above, a third stream is focused on
stock market predictions and other quantitative modelling. This stream of research is
particularly interested in predictive analysis and providing investment advice to managers
and investors. Although this stream is not directly relevant to auditing, relevant lessons will
be uncovered from the ways in which big data techniques are applied in this area.
Chun and Kim (2004) use neural networks and case-based reasoning, and a choice of
two markets and a choice of passive or active trading strategy, to generate financial
predictions substantially in excess of buy-and-hold returns. Lam (2004) employs neural
networks and predicts market returns using financial ratios and macroeconomic variables.
Chun and Park (2006) later find that a hybrid model further outperforms a pure case-based
reasoning approach in predicting a stock market index, although the result is not statistically
significant. Equity portfolios that outperform a benchmark index portfolio have also been
constructed using popularity in Google searches (Kristoufek, 2013) and changes in Google
search queries (Preis, Moat, & Stanley, 2013). Guerard, Rachev, and Shao (2013) also study
equity portfolio construction and Pachamanova and Fabozzi (2014) review other studies on
the topic. In addition, Zhang et al. (2015) use a genetic algorithm-based model to generate
stock trading rules (quantitative investment), which outperforms both a decision tree and a
Bayesian network.
Curme, Preis, Stanley, and Moat (2014) find that an increase in Google and Wikipedia
searches on politics or business are related to subsequent stock market falls. Li, Ma, Wang,
and Zhang (2015) use the Google search volume index as a measure of investor attention and
find a significant association between the search index and trader positions and future crude
oil prices. Adopting a different approach, Sun, Shen, and Cheng (2014) use individual stock
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transaction data to create a trading network to characterize the trading behaviour of stocks
investors. They show that trading networks can be used to predict individual stock returns.
Shapira, Berman, and Ben-Jacob (2014) model the stock market as a network of many
investors, while Gui, Li, Cao, and Li (2014) model it as a network of communities of stocks.
Many studies have analysed news articles in order to make stock market predictions.
Tetlock (2007) uses daily content from a popular Wall Street Journal column and finds that
when media pessimism is high stock prices decline but then return to fundamentals.
Additionally, unusually high or low media pessimism helps predict high trading volume.
Alanyali, Moat, and Preis (2013) find the daily number of mentions of a stock in the
Financial Times is positively correlated with daily volume, both before and on the day of the
news release. Piskorec et al. (2014) construct a news cohesiveness index based on online
financial news and show that this is correlated with and driven by volatility in financial
markets. Research has also examined the sentiment of news articles (Smales, 2014a, 2014b,
2015). Jensen, Ahire, and Malhotra (2013) find a significant association between firm-
specific news sentiment and intraday volatility persistence, especially for bad news. Nardo,
Petracco-Giudici, and Naltsidis (2016) review the literature and conclude that while there is
merit in using online news to predict changes in financial markets, the gains from
implementing such an approach are usually less than 5%. However, Ranco et al. (2016) find
substantial benefit in coupling news sentiment with web browsing data. Some studies (Dhar,
2014; Kao, Shyu, & Huang, 2015; Zheludev, Smith, & Aste, 2014) have also incorporated
non-traditional online sources of information such as social media, blogs, and forums, and
proposed many questions for future research.
Other examples of quantitative modelling include: service architecture for capital
market systems management (Rabhi & Benatallah, 2002); managing metadata in financial
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analytics software (Flood, 2009); identifying successful initial public offerings (Martens et
al., 2011); high-frequency financial data mining (Sun & Meinl, 2012); identifying drivers of
firm value (Kuzey, Uyar, & Delen, 2014); sentiment analysis for predicting economic
variables (Levenberg, Pulman, Moilanen, Simpson, & Roberts, 2014); volatility of returns
(Sun, Chen, & Yu, 2015); option pricing (Thulasiram, Thulasiraman, Prasain, & Jha, 2016;
Xiao, Ma, Li, & Mukhopadhyay, 2016); and market basket analysis (Videla-Cavieres & Rios,
2014), which is the identification of sets of products or services that are sold together.
Quantitative modelling and stock market prediction, particularly that which uses
online textual information and sentiment analysis, is an active area of research that is
leveraging the usefulness of big data techniques. This has been especially true in recent years;
most of the articles mentioned above were published in or after 2013.
Big data sentiment analysis has potential applications in auditing. Negative sentiment
appearing in online news, social media, and other online sources may influence a risk-based
audit. For example, consistent negative sentiment about certain products might steer auditors
to examine allowances for product returns or warranty claims. Online sentiment about a client
might also influence an auditing firm’s decision to accept or continue an engagement.
Conducting a sentiment analysis of company emails might help an auditor understand
the company under review and reveal areas at higher risk of fraud. For instance, inconsistent
email sentiment within a business unit could indicate internal disharmony and signal that
internal controls have been breached or that fraud has occurred. When email sentiment at the
senior management level of an organization is positive, but turns to negative at lower levels,
this may signal that employees are aware of and unhappy that management has committed
control breaches (or fraud). Similarly, an auditor might be encouraged to look more closely at
a business unit that presents a profile of email sentiment that is inconsistent with that of the
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rest of the company. Sentiment analysis focused on the co-occurrence of words and social
networks could also be used to search for collusive parties in internal or forensic audit
investigations. These are a few examples of how auditors could benefit from sentiment
analysis, and could be the subject of a thorough cost-benefit analysis in future research.
Other potential uses for sentiment analysis in auditing might be discovered by
studying its application in other domains. Ravi and Ravi (2015) review a study that analysed
Enron emails (Mohammad, 2012) to reveal marked differences by gender in the use of
emotional words, particularly those about trust. Would knowledge of the pattern of use, and
any outliers, help an audit team understand its client and the risks it faces when planning an
audit? Additionally, would the outliers in email usage assist internal auditors to identify risks
such as compliance or control breaches and unauthorised activities?
Sentiment analysis is also an opportunity to add value to the audit service (external or
internal) with novel and valuable information, such as providing clients with a list of their
business units, ranked by employee sentiment.
3.4 Auditing
Given the well-developed literature on financial distress, financial fraud modelling,
and stock market prediction, it is surprising that the auditing profession has been slow to
adopt big data techniques. Anecdotal evidence from partners at some leading audit firms
indicates they have begun to use big data, but the true extent of its use in practice is unknown
and would be the subject of valuable future research. Many scholars have lamented the lack
of big data in auditing (e.g., Acito and Khatri (2014); Alles (2015); Brown-Liburd, Issa, and
Lombardi (2015); Cao, Chychyla, and Stewart (2015); Earley (2015); Griffin and Wright
(2015); Krahel and Titera (2015); Werner and Gehrke (2015); Zhang, Yang, and Appelbaum
(2015)). Earley (2015) acknowledges that big data could be a game-changer in auditing, and
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Schneider, Dai, Janvrin, Ajayi, and Raschke (2015) predict that data analytics will
significantly change the way auditors work. Cao et al. (2015) contend that big data can
improve financial statement audits. Furthermore, Griffin and Wright (2015) refer to the slow
uptake of big data as possibly the greatest risk in the field and call for it to be more widely
used in practice, education, and research.
Alles (2015) argues that, to maintain credibility, auditors need to be aligned with the
practices of their clients. However, the argument for auditors to only use big data once their
clients embrace it is not on a sound footing; indeed, auditors’ early use of random sampling
techniques has already put them ahead of client firms. Furthermore, as data-driven
approaches become more prevalent, audit clients are likely to view the use of big data
techniques as commonplace. In fact, it is already happening in some places; the International
Auditing and Assurance Standards Board has stated that clients in some regions are enquiring
more about the use of data analytics, and in some cases are already expecting to see it used in
audits (IAASB, 2016). Appelbaum et al. (in press) identify a growing use of big data by audit
clients, which they link to an urgency for auditors to follow suit.
Krahel and Titera (2015) argue that accounting and auditing standards have not kept
up with technological change and still emphasize presentation, aggregation, and sampling. On
the other hand, big data enables auditors to analyze the processes that generate data, including
full population testing, which adds value to the auditing and accounting profession and to the
clients for whom they work. The call for a change in standards is also taken up by Moffitt and
Vasarhelyi (2013), Vasarhelyi et al. (2015) and Appelbaum et al. (in press), who point out
that practitioners, academics, and students would all benefit from knowing more about big
data.
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Brown-Liburd et al. (2015) examine the behavioral effects of big data on auditor
judgement, and discuss issues such as information overload, information relevance, pattern
recognition, and ambiguity. They conclude that adding big data techniques to the set of tools
used in the audit process would add value. They also note that it is important to use the
technique and data set most appropriate to each circumstance, which points to the need for
more research in this area. Yoon, Hoogduin, and Zhang (2015) also argue that big data offers
a complementary source of evidence for the audit function, and that its use should be
evaluated according to the audit evidence criteria frameworks of sufficiency, reliability, and
relevance. Moffitt and Vasarhelyi (2013) also support the use of big data in new forms of
audit evidence.
In addition to financial distress modelling and financial fraud modelling, big data
offers many other advantages to the audit profession. Process mining, which analyses the
event logs of business systems (Jans, Alles, & Vasarhelyi, 2014), has been shown to improve
audit results when tested on real world data sets (Werner & Gehrke, 2015). Big data video,
audio, and textual information processing can also improve accounting and auditing functions
(Crawley & Wahlen, 2014; Warren, Moffitt, & Byrnes, 2015). For instance, in addition to
verifying transactions against invoices and receipts, auditors could also use non-traditional
information such as photos, videos, and GPS location (Moffitt & Vasarhelyi, 2013).
Overall, Hagel (2013) and Smith (2015) make a case for accountants and auditors to
‘own’ big data, not just because it provides better information, but because doing so will help
move the profession up the value chain to become a true business partner, rather than a
transactional service provider. Examples of how auditors could use financial distress models
and sentiment analysis to contribute to this aim have been provided in previous sections.
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4. DISCUSSION AND NOVEL RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
R. M. Chang, Kauffman, and Kwon (2014) argue that there has been a paradigm shift
in the research questions that can be asked and the research methods that can be used. They
argue that social networks, blogs, political discourse, company announcements, digital
journalism, mobile phones, home entertainment, online gaming, online financial services,
online shopping, social advertising, and social commerce are just some of the new contexts in
which research questions can be examined. This context, and big data analytic tools, provide
researchers with opportunities to do frequent, controlled, and meaningful research on real
world issues. S. H. Kim (2000) also sees a paradigm shift, with big data offering the
opportunity to harvest an ocean of online data, filter information, and generate new
knowledge. D. S. Zhang and Zhou (2004) see big data as the way to find the ‘golden nugget’.
Amoore (2011, p. 24) poetically describes the paradigm shift as ‘the analytic of the data
derivative – a visualized risk flag or score drawn from an amalgam of disaggregated
fragments of data, inferred across the gaps between data and projected onto an array of
uncertain futures’.
It is clear that big data techniques represent a valuable opportunity for the auditing
profession. However, this opportunity has not yet been capitalized on to the degree it has in
related areas. As previously mentioned, auditing would benefit from adopting modern big
data models to predict financial distress and detect financial fraud. Updated standards may
help overcome the auditing profession’s apparent reluctance to engage with big data
techniques. There is no doubt that having access to frequently updated big data sets that
incorporate non-traditional information would be of great value to the audit function. As
stated in Section 2, traditional tools are not adequate for analyzing big data, because it is so
large, arrives so rapidly, and its variability or relevance changes dramatically over time. It is
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also known that auditors can have difficulty integrating multiple pieces of evidence in some
circumstances (Moeckel, 1991), while big data techniques excel at integrating diverse pieces
of information into decision aids. Hence, the big data techniques listed in Appendix A would
be a valuable addition to the auditing profession and to audit research.
Big data techniques can also be applied to traditional, smaller data sets to gain
additional insights. For example, Read and Yezegel (2016) use logistic regression to analyze
the relationship between audit tenure and audit reporting. The authors use squared terms in
the model to control for a potential nonlinear relationship, but this still imposes the constraint
of a quadratic relationship. The use of a non-parametric big data technique, such as a decision
tree or MARS (see Appendix A), could reveal the presence of any non-quadratic
relationships. Furthermore, models produced using either of these techniques can be easily
visualized, communicated and explained. Lennox and Kausar (2017) also use squared terms
to consider potential nonlinearities in a supplementary analysis, but they also had to handle
skewness in their data. However, decision tree models are unaffected by skewness and so this
would not have been a concern for such models. A further example is Xu and Zhang (2009),
who use a stepwise method to remove variables from their bankruptcy regression models
because of highly correlated independent variables. An alternative would have been a Lasso
regularized regression (see Appendix A), which has more flexibility to handle correlated
independent variables. In addition to being able to exclude variables as done by stepwise
methods, a Lasso regularized regression has the ability to shrink coefficients towards zero
without removing them all together.
The non-auditing research streams reviewed above are more developed in their use of
big data techniques and offer some important findings relevant to auditing.
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1) Combining multiple techniques has been shown to outperform the use of a single
technique (e.g. Abbasi et al. (2012); Chen (2016)).
2) Big data techniques are best used to complement, not replace, human experts (e.g. Zhou
et al. (2015)). This could be an important argument for overcoming reluctance to use big
data techniques.
3) Non-traditional sources of information such as text offer additional value (e.g., using
online news to predict stock market movements). For instance, future research in auditing
could benefit from advances in natural language processing (NLP), which is used to
process and interpret natural language in context. A potential application is analyzing
unstructured contracts in audits. Using the context of the text, NLP can be applied to
automatically extract constructs such as company or person names, or key terms and
conditions, which could then be analyzed using other big data techniques. For instance, a
network of extracted names could be used to identify those that appear in multiple
contracts. Each name could also be matched against email correspondence and then
sentiment scores computed based on associated emails and online information. Models
could then risk-sort contracts either purely based on anomalies in the data mentioned or
by also incorporating expectations based on the auditor’s knowledge of the particular
engagement. NLP could also be used to advance fraud detection models that analyze text,
from either emails (see Gray and Debreceny (2014)) or the Management Discussion &
Analysis section of financial reports (Purda & Skillicorn, 2015). The NLP Group at
Stanford University has made their CoreNLP software freely available6. This software
can be applied to many different languages and can be tailored by training it on
documents containing, for example, financial or legal language. This is important,
6 See http://nlp.stanford.edu/software/.
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because finance-specific language solutions have been shown to perform substantially
better than general solutions when used in a finance context (Loughran & McDonald,
2011).
Other examples of future research directions include real-time accounting and
financial information, and collaborative platforms and peer-to-peer marketplaces.
4.1 Real-Time Accounting and Financial Information
How would audits adapt in the face of a real-time information paradigm? People have
become used to seeing their bank account information in real-time. The same sort of
information could be provided by firms, superannuation funds, and governments. Big data
techniques could allow financial information to be made available in real-time, instead of via
traditional quarterly or annual reports. Real-time information also poses an important
question about how to provide auditing and assurance services in such a setting. How do
auditing and governance practices handle a system where new information is available well
before a traditional audit can take place? Real-time auditing processes are required. The
existing literature on continuous auditing (Chiu, Liu, & Vasarhelyi, 2014) refers to a
continuous cycle of auditing; this work could be enhanced by big data techniques that are
well-suited to quickly analyzing and adapting to new data. As mentioned in Appendix A,
there are big data techniques that can automatically and computationally efficiently handle
new data sets with characteristics such as missing values, or irrelevant or highly-correlated
data. These are important features for real-time systems in which such data issues cannot be
manually addressed.
Much has been written on the ‘user-unfriendliness’ of company financial reports,
government budgets, and superannuation fund reports. Using big data tools, information that
is collected in real-time could be displayed using state-of-the-art visualizations and
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customized dashboards in a way that is more user-friendly than traditional financial reports.
Furthermore, the tools could be set to display changes over time, not just a snapshot, and this
may influence market participants to be less focused on the short-term. The issue would then
become how these new visualizations and dashboards would be audited for the assertions of
existence, completeness, classification, and understandability, and accuracy and valuation.
Changing the way such information is presented will likely require substantial shifts in audit
procedures, although practices relating to the existence assertion might remain similar.
Overall, real-time financial reporting to the public would necessitate a fundamental
change for auditors, from providing assurances about numbers to assurances about real-time
systems (that subsequently produce numbers). However, financial reporting to the public is a
long way from being a reality. Corporations in many parts of the world still report less
frequently than quarterly, including in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. A
sensible first step would be real-time financial reporting to senior management, who then
might be more likely to support real-time reporting to the public. Robust research on the
impacts of such a change would also help provide confidence during what would be a
paradigm shift.
Real-time reporting to management still raises important questions for the financial
statement audit. The information included on management’s real-time dashboard (or other
visualization) could be used by the auditor to better understand the company and its
environment, how it is managed, and its potential risks. For example, an energy company’s
dashboard which includes substantial information about the derivatives market might indicate
a high risk if the auditor discovers it is not predominantly for hedging purposes. In fact, that
might have been the case for Enron, if real-time dash-boards had been available at that time.
These visualizations could also improve the efficiency of the audit process. For example, a
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dashboard that listed the age of each piece of inventory would help auditors substantiate
inventory value. However, what tests would auditors need to conduct in order to be confident
in the reliability of the dashboard? This question represents a shift towards providing
assurances of systems, which, as mentioned above, would be needed for real-time reporting
to the public. Thus, real-time reporting to management would likely also help auditors
prepare for a potential move to real-time reporting to the public.
The concept of real-time information is not limited to auditing. For example, fraud
modelling should take advantage of additional information by using big data techniques set
up to automatically update as new data becomes available. There are already examples of
data sources moving to real-time information. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago provides
financial statement data for holding companies on a daily basis in a simple downloadable
format, although no summary statistics or visualizations are available7. Daily updates
incorporate any revisions or new information that become available between the traditional
quarterly reports. Does this daily stream of information provide useful information for fraud
detection models? Research should take advantage of this and other more frequently updated
data.
4.2 Collaborative Platforms and Peer-to-Peer Marketplaces
Peer-to-peer marketplaces are changing the way business is done. Traditionally, firms
made profits by standing in-between businesses and individuals wanting to sell and buy
products and services, such as banking, insurance, employment, accommodation, and
transport. The advent of big data means that buyers and sellers can be brought together via
collaborative platforms. This eliminates the need for the middle broker. Insurance companies,
banks, and other brokers who provide matching services represent some of the most
7 See https://www.chicagofed.org/banking/financial-institution-reports/bhc-data.
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profitable and successful business models; thus, the advent of peer-to-peer marketplaces has
the potential to dramatically reshape the goods and services business landscape. Additionally,
peer-to-peer marketplaces are not constrained to traditional (geographic) borders, which
poses another line of research as well as different future data sources. For example, one of the
most popular new ways to source accommodation is via Airbnb, which is a peer-to-peer
marketplace that does not own any accommodation assets.
As is often the case with new technologies, including those facilitated by big data,
peer-to-peer marketplaces also present challenges about how we think about audit and
verification to ensure confidence in the marketplace. What information do market participants
use to assess the reliability of their counterparts and their financials? How can this
information be verified and what role can audits play in providing meaningful assurances to
market participants? Testing controls could be very important, because participants likely
expect that they are implemented by the software in a standardized manner. However, does
the vast number of market participants mean that going concern evaluations and fraud risk
assessments primarily become outputs from big data models for predicting financial distress
and detecting fraud, respectively? There are many important questions such as these.
Answering them will involve analyzing platforms and marketplaces which hold huge
amounts of various types of data, much of which is changing in real time and does not
involve primary documentation. Once again, big data techniques are well-suited to this
analysis. One approach is to cross-reference information from multiple secondary sources to
obtain a reasonable probability (assurance) of correctness, as is done in the Airbnb platform.
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5. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
This paper reviews research in accounting and finance concerning data analytics and
big data in order to better understand the use of big data techniques in auditing. We first point
out the origins of big data techniques in the multivariate statistical literature and then
categorize big data accounting and finance research under several research groupings. Our
analysis shows that, in addition to auditing, there are influential papers across financial
distress modelling, financial fraud modelling, and stock market prediction and quantitative
modelling. We review each of these streams of research to ascertain their main contributions
and to outline knowledge gaps. Unlike financial distress and financial fraud modelling,
auditing has been slow to make use of big data techniques. Auditing would greatly benefit
from embracing the use of big data techniques, regardless of whether client firms are using
them or not. Findings from accounting and finance research suggest combining multiple big
data models instead of applying an individual model, and using big data models to
complement human experts.
There are many opportunities to use big data techniques in auditing, particularly when
rigorous analytical procedures are combined with traditional audit techniques and expert
judgement. Audits could benefit from harnessing the improvements in recent big data
financial distress and financial fraud models. Sentiment analysis and natural language
processing are other promising auditing tools that require more research. There are also novel
research directions for auditing which are well-suited to big data techniques, such real-time
information settings, and collaborative platforms and peer-to-peer marketplaces.
The rapid growth of big data across all fields means that academic publications have
been leapfrogged by discourse in popular outlets Gandomi and Haider (2015). Going
forward, there is a challenge to conduct robust research that better informs audit practice in a
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29
timely manner. This includes the future research suggested above that evaluates the
effectiveness of different big data techniques in an auditing context, as well as associated
cost-benefit analyses and studies that consider the best ways to combine big data modelling
with expert judgement.
Research has an important role to play in bringing theory and practice into closer
alignment. Academic literature has lamented the slow integration of big data into auditing.
However, anecdotal evidence from partners at some leading audit firms indicates they have
begun to use big data. Indeed, the websites of some audit firms promote data analytics as part
of their innovation in auditing. For example, KPMG describes their audit as “powered by
Data & Analytics (D&A) innovations” (KPMG, 2016) and Deloitte’s Chief Innovation
Officer mentions the use of natural language processing and other big data techniques in
auditing (Raphael, 2015)8. On the other hand, while the academic literature had referred to
big data as potentially a “game-changer” that represents a “paradigm shift”, one KPMG
partner has stated that “From the perspective of an auditor, the rise of D&A does not
represent a fundamental shift in what we do” (O’Donnell, 2016). This statement might not be
representative, but it flags that practitioners do not yet realize the potential of big data.
Overall, the prevalence of big data techniques in audit practice remains largely unknown.
To help align research and practice, it is important to understand the prevalence and
nature of big data techniques in audit practice. A qualitative, interview-based study is needed
to fill this knowledge gap. It should cover as broad a range of firms as possible, from Big 4
through to small audit firms, because usage probably varies widely. Findings from such
research could be used to direct future research towards scientifically (in-)validating the
effectiveness of current uses, as well as providing clear guidance on the effectiveness of
8 The author does not use the term “big data”, but nevertheless discusses some big-data techniques.
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techniques not yet used. This might encourage research findings to be more quickly
implemented in practice.
ACNOWLEDGEMENTS
[Acknowledgements have been removed so that authors are not identified]
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31
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APPENDIX A: BRIEF DESCRIPTIONS OF COMMON BIG DATA TECHNIQUES
Technique Brief Description
Regularized Regression
(also known as shrinkage)
Aims to prevent over-fitting by shrinking variable
coefficients towards zero. This shrinkage reduces the
variance of the coefficient estimates that can adversely
affect prediction accuracy, particularly with “highly
correlated, large p” problems. It can also be used solve ill-
formed problems.
Further reading: James, Witten, Hastie, and Tibshirani
(2013, pp. 214-228) provide further detail in Chapter 6,
particularly Section 6.2.
- Ridge Regression
Uses an L2 penalty based on the sum of squared
coefficients, which performs well when all variables are
likely to be important in relatively similar magnitudes.
- Lasso/LARS
Uses an L1 penalty based on the sum of the absolute value
of coefficients. The important advantage of this penalty is
that it is effective at variable selection and so results in
simpler models that are often desirable for their improved
interpretability.
- Elastic-Net
Uses a weighted average of the L1 and L2 penalty. The
weighting can be automatically chosen based on the data
using a process called cross-validation. This weighted
average can result in substantially improved model
accuracy in some cases.
Tree-based Methods
Comprise single tree model or an ensemble of them. Tree
models are non-parametric models that are built in a
recursive process of splitting the data into homogenous
groups (usually two).
Further reading: Rokach and Maimon (2014) cover single
trees in detail, while Sutton (2005) also cover ensembles.
Accepted for publication in Journal of Accounting Literature.
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Technique Brief Description
- Single Classification and
Regression Trees (CART)
also known as decision
trees
The advantages of a single tree are that they: are resistant
to outliers and irrelevant variables, automatically model
interactions between variables, and do not require any
variable transformations. Relatively small models are also
easy to interpret and display visually. However, single
trees are very sensitive to changes in the data (as are some
neural networks) and so have high variance.
- Ensembles of decision
trees including
Random Forests
(enhanced bagging)
and
Multiple Additive
Regression Trees (MART
or gradient boosting)
Ensembles of decision trees that are combined through an
averaging process (Random Forests) or iterative
improvement process (MART). This reduces the high
variance of individual trees and usually results in
increased accuracy. Random Forests are particularly good
at “large p, small n” problems. Ensemble models are
inherently more difficult to interpret, but there are
procedures to extract information in interpretable ways.
Splines
- Multivariate Adaptive
Regression Splines
(MARS)
Splines involve dividing the range of independent
variables into sections and fitting separate polynomials to
each section. This is particularly useful when there are
known breakpoints that separate different distributions.
For example, the distribution for retail sales is different
during holiday periods. Alternatively, MARS is one
particular spline technique that automatically chooses the
number of sections and where to place the breakpoints
(and then fits linear models to each section).
Other types of splines include natural regression splines
and smoothing splines. Local regression is a popular
alternative to splines.
Further reading: James et al. (2013, pp. 271-282) cover
splines and local regression in Chapter 7, particularly
Sections 7.4–7.6. MARS is more complex and only
covered in a more technical book by Hastie, Friedman,
and Tibshirani (2009, pp. 321-329) in Section 9.4.
Accepted for publication in Journal of Accounting Literature.
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Technique Brief Description
Support Vector Machines
(SVMs)
SVMs are popular for classification problems, but are not
applicable to regression problems. SVMs place
hyperplanes in the data to attempt to separate it into the
desired groups. Kernel SVMs offer non-linear extensions.
Major drawbacks include no variable selection and no
easy way to calculate the associated probabilities of
classification. Logistic regression with an L1 or L2
penalty is an alternative to binary classification that
overcomes these drawbacks.
Further reading: Provost and Fawcett (2013, pp. 89-94)
briefly introduce SVMs, starting with a comparison to
standard logistic regression.
Naïve Bayes and
Bayesian (Belief) Networks
A simple model that assumes the variables (or features)
are (conditionally) independent. This assumption is almost
always violated, but it can still perform well in some
circumstances, because of the low variance associated
with the simple assumption. It also easily handles “large
p” problems. Bayesian belief networks are generalisations
of Naïve Bayes that relax some of the independence
assumptions by defining a network of conditional
dependencies between variables.
Further reading: Provost and Fawcett (2013, pp. 233-244)
introduce the basic concepts of Naïve Bayes and Alston,
Mengersen, and Pettitt (2012, pp. 348-360) cover
Bayesian Networks in Chapter 20.
Accepted for publication in Journal of Accounting Literature.
42
Technique Brief Description
Genetic Algorithms (GAs)
including Genetic Programming
(GP)
Types of evolutionary algorithms that are heavily based on
Darwin’s survival of the fittest principle to evolve better
solutions to a problem. They are non-parametric, and able
to handle missing values and model interactions, but there
are a large number of model parameters to set based on
user expertise. GAs can be used for both supervised
learning and unsupervised learning, and often to optimise
the parameters of other models.
Further reading: Negnevitsky (2011, pp. 219-257) cover
evolutionary algorithms in Chapter 7.
Artificial Neural Networks
(ANNs), sometimes called
Neural Networks or Neural Nets
ANNs are non-parametric models designed on the inner
processes of the human brain, primarily with respect to
pattern learning. There are many different types of ANNs
and they can be trained using supervised or unsupervised
methods (such as self-organising maps). Procedures
(such as genetic algorithms) are available to automate the
numerous model parameters. Advantages include their
ability to model non-linear relationships and handle highly
correlated variables and outliers. However, the black-box
nature makes interpretation difficult, although techniques
are available to extract some information.
Further reading: Negnevitsky (2011, pp. 165-217)
provide more detail in Chapter 6.
Association Rules
Unsupervised learning approaches that attempt to find
simple rules to describe frequently occurring patterns. For
example analysing a department store database might
reveal that customers who buy jeans also often buy music.
Further reading: S. Zhang and Wu (2011) provide an
overview of association rules.
Accepted for publication in Journal of Accounting Literature.
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Technique Brief Description
Clustering or
Data Segmentation
A large collection of unsupervised learning techniques
designed to find sub-groups within the data, such that the
data is more homogenous within each sub-group.
Further reading: Provost and Fawcett (2013, pp. 163-183)
provide more detail in Chapter 6, particularly in the
section titled “Clustering”.
Latent Variable Models
A class of models that assumes there are one or more
influential quantities that are hidden and unobservable.
Popular examples include principal components analysis,
principal curves, item response theory and
multidimensional scaling, which attempt to model the
complete set of data with a smaller set of latent variables.
Such methods can also be used as a first step that feeds
into a second supervised learning step.
Further reading: Finch and French (2015) provide
information on a variety of latent variable models.
Ensembles
Many of contemporary techniques, including those listed
above, combine the results of multiple underlying models.
Other techniques to combine multiple models include
averaging outputs, a majority vote decision, a hierarchical
approach, and more sophisticated processes such as
stacking, bagging, and boosting. Ensemble models often
outperform individual models in terms of accuracy, but
they are inherently more complex to interpret.
Further reading: Sutton (2005) introduces bagging and
boosting (in Sections 1.2, 5 and 6), two popular methods
to create ensemble models.
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