A Q&A with Leslie Robinson, Professor of Accounting, Dartmouth College
How did you find Calcbench?
I was doing an internet search for something related to Purchase Price Allocation (PPA). I came across a Calcbench blog. Calcbench claimed to have what I was looking for. I explored and found that you had a lot more. I signed up for a demo and played around with the free access version till I finally plunged in and became a subscriber.
What do you like about Calcbench?
For me what I especially like is the ease of navigation. The site is very user friendly. I’ve tried other data sources. Many of them require programming. In the past I used to hire someone to write code that would enable me to search words in financial statements. Then I would hire another person to eliminate or keep items. It was time consuming and expensive.
You are an example of a client who uses Calcbench for research, but is planning to use Calcbench in the classroom. Tell us a little bit about this.
I had been using Calcbench for research. As I mentioned, what I like is that it’s user friendly. For students, it’s very natural to be intimidated by financial accounting. I believe that using Calcbench can make accessing and reading financial statements less scary.
How does Calcbench change classroom learning?
The world is moving quickly. So many business cases get old really fast. As a professor, I am tasked with updating material faster than ever before. It’s frustrating to spend weeks writing a case. And if you are using that case for five years, it’s stale. That just isn’t the model anymore. With Calcbench, I have more relevant and accessible examples. Take for example, teaching the early retirement of debt. It’s easily searchable within the financial statement footnotes. With Calcbench I can read through 10-20 examples and can pull out a case quickly. I will also use Calcbench to write exam questions. Professors often shield students from the financial statements because they are complicated. I think the opposite. Students need to see real financial statements as much as possible.
Tell us about how Calcbench will be used in the classroom.
Calcbench will be used differently across courses. I teach a financial accounting required first year course for MBAs. We teach how financial statements are organized and look at many companies daily. Calcbench will be great for pulling out examples. I also teach a Financial Accounting elective that uses cases in financial reporting. We talk about one company in each class and go deeper into what’s happening. I think that’s what Calcbench is made for. Lastly, as a director of the undergraduate class for the summer, we are going to experiment with Calcbench this summer. Our usual classroom studies have moved to online. We are going to ask students to evaluate a company remotely using Calcbench. Students will have to read various parts of the annual report and calculate ratios. With more advanced courses I will use Calcbench to show examples during class. We’ll put Calcbench on the big screen and search real-time. With the first-year class, we’ll use it more for student tasks, e.g., finding numbers in footnotes.
Where else do you think Calcbench can help?
Certainly I think that this could be used at a bigger school focused on information technology. One of the things that Calcbench makes you appreciate is how much variation there is in the disclosure of information - the labels, the categories. If you are interested in conveying the nuance, this is essential.
How do you use Calcbench for research?
I like to search the segments, roll forwards and breakouts tool. I am often accessing tax information in the tax footnote. This tool has made research faster and more efficient. It’s helped me also rule out some things. So I don't have to invest as much in the text analysis. I am just starting to get into the tagging and labeling. It’s set out in a really intuitive way. But pulling data on your own takes sophistication to do it right. You can reduce time by understanding false positives and false negatives. Recently I wanted to learn something about the effects of a provision in the tax reform. When I got deeper into the disclosures, the information was aggregated and it was hard to separate information so it was not worth spending more time studying this effect.
For those considering Calcbench for teaching and research, what advice do you have?
I expect my use of Calcbench to evolve. Using Calcbench in the classroom will provide a feedback loop to inform my research. For people who want to see patterns in data this tool is great. I also recommend that people use the cool features like reverse order by years, or divisible by a thousand. Lastly, reach out to customer service if you need support. It’s incredible. Within a couple of hours someone will show you how to get what you need.