The PwC Challenge case competition simulates real-world business scenarios that focus on the dynamic issues currently facing companies all over the world. Through the competition, Bryant students gain valuable insights into the accounting profession and make invaluable connections.
Professor of Accounting Michael Lynch, Ph.D., who has run the PwC Challenge at Bryant for the past 15 years, says the Challenge not only tests the students’ abilities, it also serves as important preparation for their futures. “If you are able to complete the Challenge, every single firm that recruits on campus will know you've already been pre-screened and you can basically do any job that they have to offer,” he states.
While the Challenge doesn’t require a background in taxation or accounting, it introduces students to the fundamentals and gives them a better understanding of what it’s like to work as a public accountant. “It helped me solidify for myself that this is the career path I want,” notes Erica Barley ’23. “I’m not sure what I expected accounting to be, but I Iiked this even better.”
The 35 sophomores and juniors who participated in this year’s Challenge were split into 8 teams and given two weeks to develop creative sustainability solutions for the fictional clothing and textile company Swagon. Contained in their briefing was information about fashion industry trends, an annual report for the company, some basic financial information, and a suggestion of some general areas to focus on. From there, it was up to the teams to build their own plans of action.
“In addition to getting to network with the people at PwC, it also gave us the opportunity to get to know the firm and see how they work.”
To determine the best solutions, the students had to familiarize themselves with a variety of areas, from packaging to delivery to raw materials, and figure out how to incorporate that information into a larger strategy. “At the beginning, there’s so many options you think ‘Oh, where do we start?’ But once you figure that out it's kind of fun saying, ‘Oh, maybe I can add this or do that,’” Barley notes. “You really expand your knowledge and your horizons.”
The simulation also required them to think like real-world accountants. “We had to put ourselves in the shoes of the corporation, as if we actually were employees and this was actually our job,” says Matthew Wilson ’22.
The Challenge helps participants hone their critical thinking, research, and teamwork skills – and build their confidence that they can handle difficult problems. “It was very intimidating right off the bat, but the more you look at it, you start to realize that you have everything you need and that you’re more capable than you originally thought,” Wilson says.
“When I picked my major, I thought Accounting was mostly just numbers and balance sheets. Through the Challenge, you discover there is a personal aspect to it and that you have to develop relationships, work in a team and be able to present your ideas.”
Network of support
To support their efforts, each team was assigned a mentor who works at PwC and a student “ambassador,” who has been through the Challenge before and can offer advice. “We had great mentors. They wouldn’t tell us the answers, of course, but they helped us see things from a different perspective,” says Wilson. “We’d tell them about our ideas and they’d ask us questions that made us reconsider our work and understand things from their point of view.”
“In addition to getting to network with the people at PwC, it also gave us the opportunity to get to know the firm and see how they work,” agrees Barley.
For the student ambassadors, returning to the Challenge is a chance to give back. “Being part of the PwC Challenge really does differentiate you. I had never done anything like it before,” notes ambassador Daniel Bennet ’21, who says that the Challenge gave him an important advantage in securing an internship with the company. “I wanted to pass that experience and the knowledge I gained on to other people.”
Presenting their work
At the close of the competition, the teams presented their proposals to actual PwC partners, all former students of Lynch’s. “We knew that the PWC judges were going to treat us as if we were a real, professional accounting team,” says Wilson.
"This was an introduction to real world accounting and a sneak peek at what we're going to be doing as accountants. This might not have been a real case, but we all treated it like one.”
Giving students the opportunity to present themselves in front of the judges is a very important aspect of the Challenge notes Bennet. “It’s almost like a first interview and you get real exposure to actual partners at PWC.”
The students prepared extensively for their presentations, including taking part in mock sessions coached by Lynch, his wife, and former Challenge participants. They also were aided by their previous Bryant experience. “At Bryant, we have a lot of group projects and presentations, so by the time we’re sophomores and juniors, we've already had more than a year of practicing,” Natalie Epp ’23 notes.
Presenting their results helped them explore another side of the profession as well. “When I picked my major, I thought Accounting was mostly just numbers and balance sheets,” Epp adds. “Through the Challenge, you discover there is a personal aspect to it and that you have to develop relationships, work in a team and be able to present your ideas.”
“I think that one of the most important things students take away from the Challenge is that they develop a love of public accounting. It helps them see the places it can take them.”
Thinking like a pro
Many Bryant Accounting students cite the PwC challenge as a formative moment. “This was an introduction to real world accounting and a sneak peek at what we're going to be doing as accountants. This might not have been a real case, but we all treated it like one,” says Cole Nelson ’22, team leader for this year’s winning team, “The Big Bad Bookkeepers.”
Lynch is proud of Bryant’s long-term partnership with PwC, noting that the firm is one of the University’s leading recruiters, and employees often return to campus to offer advice and serve as guest speakers. “The Challenge gives students broad exposure to the firm as well as the opportunity to learn from experts in a variety of areas,” he says. “They also see the support they’ll receive.”
“I think that one of the most important things students take away from the Challenge is that they develop a love of public accounting,” states Lynch. “It helps them see the places it can take them.”