A team of accounting majors at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln won the national Deloitte Audit Innovation Campus Challenge, an annual competition where student teams demonstrate how innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies could be applied to a real-world business issue.
More than 50 university teams from across the country participated in the competition last fall, with 12 teams advancing to the national finals in April at Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas.
The team was comprised of five College of Business students: Cole Frye, accounting major from Ashland, Nebraska; Alex Nguyen, accounting major from Lincoln, Nebraska.; Alvan Tran, accounting and finance major from Lincoln; Morgan Wallinger, accounting and agribusiness major from Stuart, Nebraska; and Bruno Weiss Salles, accounting and finance major from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Each team member received $2,000 for winning the competition, and the college’s School of Accountancy was awarded a $10,000 scholarship.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team for their hard work, putting in nearly 400 hours since October working on winning first the regional and then national competitions,” said Debra Cosgrove, professor of practice in accountancy and faculty adviser for the winning team. “Their idea went through several iterations, and through it all, they learned a lot about ESG (environmental, social and governance) and the varied opportunities an accounting career can present.”
Deloitte asked teams to consider the accounting profession’s role in driving rigor and discipline with ESG reporting and how to accelerate the timely dissemination of ESG information to the capital markets.
“Now, more than ever, ESG is top-of-mind for many companies. Aligned with the growing demand for accountability, auditors are playing a key role by performing audit procedures on financial information as companies take meaningful steps toward enhancing sustainability initiatives,” said Christine Robinson, audit and assurance partner, sustainability and ESG services, Deloitte & Touche LLP. “Deloitte is proud to host this competition that helps students develop some of the skills needed for success in the accounting profession and empowers them to develop and share innovative thinking and ideas to enhance the reliability, completeness and accuracy of sustainability disclosure. I’m incredibly inspired by these talented auditors of the future.”
The team won for their concept called Deloitte Visualize, a customized ESG portal designed to help companies comply with evolving ESG regulations. It addresses the prominent pain points companies face in ESG reporting, including staffing levels, duplication of information and inconsistent data. The portal streamlines ESG reporting practices and improves a company’s ability to generate consistent, comparable and reliable ESG information.
“This easily digestible ESG portal included training modules, comprehensive reports and benchmarking tools accessible to all company stakeholders. It could help companies develop cross-functional financial and sustainability teams,” said Wallinger, who also represented Nebraska in winning the Beta Alpha Psi Best Practices competition at the international honor society’s mid-year meeting this winter in Seattle.
Cosgrove said the recipe for their success included stretching their strengths, healthy collaboration and not being afraid to put in the prep work to be competition-ready.
“The team played to their strengths. Some were better at research, some better at creative thinking, some better at writing, and some better at working on the presentation,” she said. “Overall, the team was very open to constructive feedback and became good friends along the way. They were surprisingly candid when critiquing each other during presentation rehearsals. Everyone was solely focused on performing to the best of their ability.”
Cosgrove handpicked students for the challenge, and Weiss Salles credits her for building a team capable of doing big things.
“We had different skills we each could contribute, and the big reason we all wanted to commit to the challenge was our faculty adviser Deb Cosgrove,” he said. “Besides being a great accounting professor, she advises Beta Alpha Psi, of which we were all members. Because of her individual interactions with each of us, she knew what we could bring to the table. Hand-picking each member, Deb created our amazing team.”
The challenge was Weiss Salles’ first opportunity to participate in a case competition, which is one of the ways how Nebraska Business students are not limited to developing their skill sets in the classroom. More than 100 hands-on learning experiences are offered by the college each semester.
“Participating in a case competition is an amazing opportunity that challenges you and helps you gain valuable experience and perspective. It also shows that you are willing to take risks, work hard and pursue excellence — qualities highly valued by employers and graduate schools,” he said. “I highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities to embrace the challenge, work hard and enjoy the experience. Who knows? You may surprise yourself and achieve something remarkable.”
Beyond the achievement for the team, Wallinger shared how meaningful it was to win a national title for Nebraska. This marks the university’s first win in the competition’s eight-year history.
“This is a huge accomplishment for our School of Accountancy and shows Nebraska Business continues to be a national leader in providing high-quality education and real-life experiences for students,” Wallinger said.