Plenty of married faculty work at the same university, or at the same college or department, and, indeed, a few might even also teach and research in the same discipline. Ania and Jake Rose, professors of accounting at the College of Business, are in this latter category. As naturally as some couples cook a meal together, the Roses are a couple that research, write and publish together in the same specialty areas of accounting – experimental accounting and experimental accounting information systems.

And they are the best in the world at what they do: Ania and Jake lead global research rankings for experimental accounting, tied in first place.

How they fit all of this into the married space is secondary, however, to a bigger question for today: what is experimental accounting, anyway?

Accounting, generally known as rules and principles systematically applied to financial transactions and the transparent analysis and reporting of profit and loss, becomes puzzlingly murky with the additional word – experimental. Yet, the research yields practical, fascinating, actionable and understandable insights.

“Experimental accounting research uses methods from behavioral sciences to understand financial decisions and communications,” Jake said. “For example, experimental researchers study the decision-making of corporate directors, auditors, investors, and business professionals in order to help businesses make better decisions and improve processes.”

Consider the impact of their research: after publishing “When Should Audit Firms Introduce Analyses of Big Data Into the Audit Process,” in fall 2017, the professors learned that one of the major firms changed the way it trained all of its employees in the United States.

In that study, the Roses surveyed 127 senior auditors from two Big 4 firms to determine when the vast datasets of “big data” would most impact the accuracy and efficiency of an auditor’s work. In practice, some firms reviewed the data before a traditional audit, and others after. Their research found that auditors had difficulty distilling insights using big data visualizations, unless a more traditional audit had first been conducted. The auditors with a preconceived expectation could either verify the results of a traditional audit or discover something contrary in the data, but without the framework of expectations, they were getting lost or distracted by the data.

“Experimental researchers are currently leading the way to leverage big data and analytics to improve financial reporting and decision making,” Ania said. “Jake and I are actually two of the only people currently running experiments with the big accounting firms in order to see how these firms can integrate big data and analytics into their decision processes.

In another study, “Will Disclosure of Friendship Ties between Directors and CEOs Yield Perverse Effects?” — this one picked up by the New York Times — the Roses found that friendship ties between the CEO and board members impact corporate governance. If there was a friendship, directors were more willing to make decisions that would lead to the attainment of CEO’s performance pay bonus.

In their study, the Roses looked at scenario where board members weighed a reduction in R&D funding in order to meet CEO bonus targets, something that over the long term could adversely affect the company. Additionally, disclosing the friendship could lead to more bonus pay for CEOs since the actors believed they had achieved their ethical baseline with their openness about the relationship. Such patterns of behavior would be of interest to shareholders, or those regulating corporate governance, like Congress or the SEC.

The Roses, who joined the College of Business in fall 2017, have lifted the accounting program overall in experimental accounting research areas. The college is now eighth in experimental accounting and first in experimental accounting information systems.