Assistant Professor Xinlei Li Brings Data Analytics Expertise to MPAc

Q&A with newest faculty member

We are excited to welcome Xinlei Li to our faculty as an assistant professor who will teach in the UC Davis Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) program.

After six years at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Li brings her expertise on environmental social and governance (ESG) finance practices and data analytics to the Graduate School of Management. Li said she was drawn to UC Davis' diverse student body, close-knit community and collaborative environment.

What attracted you to UC Davis and the MPAc program?  

I was attracted to UC Davis for its great reputation, strong academics, inclusive community and unique location.  

UC Davis has an exceptional research environment, especially considering the interdisciplinary collaboration happening every day at GSM. The academic programs are designed with rigorous training that aims to bring out the best in every one of the students.

I also love the diverse group of faculty and students at UC Davis, who are very supportive of each other. This collaborative environment helps everyone in the close-knit community grow and thrive.  Its unique location near San Francisco, Sacramento, and the Bay Area offers precious opportunities for students to experience, network and eventually work with world-class companies. 

The MPAc program has a strong reputation with a focus on data analytics. The cohort size of 40-60 students is great for students to interact with professors and their fellow students constantly and to get extra support from the program in mock interviews, firm events, and career supports that make them well prepared and succeed in the future. 

Can you share an overview of your background, experience and research in the accounting field, including specific areas of expertise?  

I graduated from Columbia University with a Ph.D. in accounting. Before joining UC Davis, I worked at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology for six years.   

My research focuses on the relationship between corporate governance, accounting information and debt contracting. I am fascinated to understand the incentives of different market players, such as banks and borrowers, and how accounting information plays a significant role in their interactions.

For example, I have a current working paper that examines how banks adopt an active role in ESG and helps monitor the ESG performance of the borrowers. We find that borrowers are motivated to signal their commitment to better ESG practices through compliance with ESG covenants, while banks also benefit from establishing a better ESG reputation and a reduction in their ESG risk in the loan portfolio. I am thrilled for the remarkable journey ahead of me at GSM to further develop my research with top-notch researchers with broad interests and sharp minds.  

My work has been published in leading academic journals, such as the Accounting Review, Review of Accounting Studies, and Contemporary Accounting Research. I also serve as an ad hoc referee of Review of Accounting Studies, Contemporary Accounting Research and Journal of Business Finance & Accounting. And I hope to deliver a broader message to my students who are interested in the frontiers of academic research by introducing the most exciting findings into the classroom.  

How has your previous experience prepared you for your faculty role?  

My teaching experience in management accounting and data analytics has prepared me to help the MPAc students to be ready for their future careers. I am very enthusiastic about inspiring the greatest minds in the younger generation and helping them overcome challenges that are inevitable stepping stones that make them more resilient to uncertainties. 

I have worked in auditing firms and banks for a short period of time and have mentored many students throughout the years. I am thrilled to truly understand our MPAc students by having constant communication and witnessing their growth and success in their unforgettable years at UC Davis.  

What accounting courses will you be teaching? Can you describe your teaching style given the diversity of backgrounds of our MPAc students?  

I will be teaching Managerial Accounting, with a special focus on data analytics. I like to constantly engage students in conversations so we can tailor the content to their real-life experiences. 

The diversity of backgrounds brings many fabulous opportunities for us to learn from each other in a respectful way. Therefore, I view it as a goldmine to let students bring in their own perspectives and true life stories that relate to the business model we analyze.

The diverse backgrounds in students also mean different students learn at different paces and with various styles. I am happy to work with students with special needs to help them better adapt to a challenging yet rewarding learning environment in the program.  

How do you see the field of accounting evolving in the coming years? What are some exciting developments in the accounting field that you can prepare MPAc students?  

The field of accounting is evolving for a more data-driven and sustainable future. The accounting researchers are excited to understand how AI, machine learning and ESG impact accounting regulations and the accounting profession.

For example, external auditors are now playing an important role in ESG assurance (Asante-Appiah and Lambert 2022 Review of Accounting Studies). I am excited to introduce the latest research findings to MPAc students, so they are always up to date with the recent developments in the accounting profession.

The CPA exam is experiencing fundamental changes that introduce a greater focus on evaluating data and technology concepts. This poses new challenges that require students to master skills to convert data into actionable information for effective decision-making. I am looking forward to working with students in my managerial accounting class by introducing the data analytics tools that equip them as better decision-makers. 

What advice would you give to prospective students who are interested in pursuing an MPAc degree and a career in accounting?  

The nature of an accounting career is undergoing some profound changes due to the increasing use of automation and AI in the accounting field.

Future accountants must prepare themselves to embrace the use of data analytics tools integrated into accounting information. Therefore, accountants will increasingly be seen as leaders and decision-makers who understand the fundamental logic behind business transactions.

As leaders and decision-makers, accountants can perform better with exceptional interpersonal skills that help them achieve their goals no matter who they work with. 

What are key skills that students in the MPAc should focus on developing?  

As future leaders and decision-makers, students should focus on their understanding of how accounting and the business world work, obtain the necessary data analytics skills required by the new digital era of accounting, and work on social skills that help them better cope with different clients and co-workers. They should also stay up to date with the latest developments in the accounting profession. All these skills will help our MPAc students maintain their competitive edge in the ever-changing business world.