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The power of Big Data for businesses, governments and regulators is substantial but potential legal and ethical pitfalls remain a worry, according to a new survey of finance professionals.

A poll conducted by ACCA and the Institute of Management Accountants, found that 52% of respondents in the UK and 62% globally had cited Big Data as hugely important to the future of business, potentially giving savvy businesses an edge over their competitors.

Furthermore, the market for big data analytics is growing rapidly. According to IDG, it is forecast to reach $23 billion by 2016.

Given this backdrop, the volume, scope and variety of data potentially available for collection by businesses and governments was seen to be increasing at an intense rate by the 2,100 survey respondents. However, legal and ethical pitfalls continue to spook executives.

Faye Chua, ACCA's head of future research, said: "Big Data represents one of the biggest opportunities the finance profession has seen in recent times. Using their analytical skills, executives will be able to provide senior management with real time updates on a wider set of variables which will place them at the heart of business strategy.

"We have talked for many years about the finance function being about more than just providing end-of-year reports and Big Data makes this a reality. Ethical stewardship will also be vital, by combining their analytical skills and ethics, C-suite executives will finally become the cornerstone of business strategy and success," she added.

ACCA and IMA reckon Big Data will make it easier for auditors and regulators to spot large scale fraud. The report acknowledged that accountants are neither software engineers nor data scientists, but they could be in the future. Increasingly, accountants will help decide the financial content used in 'data visualisation' and company dashboards and how non-financial data should be overlaid on it.

"Furthermore, the CIO, CTO and CFO roles will become ever more strategic and forward looking. The speed at which they are able to embrace this change will have a huge impact on the ability of the business to make the most of the potential offered by Big Data," Chua concluded.