A shortage of accountants on the mainland has sparked a poaching war, with some firms willing to triple salaries to lure qualified staff. International accountancy Ernst & Young (E&Y) wants to double its mainland headcount to 6,000 within the next few years to handle a mounting workload driven by merger and acquisition activities and initial public offerings, according to China chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk. That called for aggressive recruiting tactics, Mr Wu told the South China Morning Post. 'There is a serious shortage of accountants in China,' he said. 'We have no choice but to pay higher salaries to recruit experienced accountants from other Chinese accounting firms.' Mainland enterprises tend to be large, meaning accountancies must assign more professionals to handle auditing works. The shortage problem is one reason the Big Four commercial banks have been unable to pin down their IPO schedules. To conduct a companywide audit of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which has 4,500 branches in the mainland, E&Y has to send 100 staff - 5 per cent of its auditing team - to each branch. Another means of expanding the talent pool is through mergers and acquisitions. PricewaterhouseCoopers doubled its headcount to 6,000 overnight by buying the Hong Kong and China businesses of collapsed accountancy Arthur Andersen in July 2002. E&Y has also tried the technique, taking over the mainland's largest accounting firm, Da Hua, two years ago. But Mr Wu said the firm now considered buying individual talent a better choice. 'The takeover of Da Hua has been successful, but combining the businesses has been very slow,' he said. 'There are such huge cultural differences between us. It is much easier to integrate individual accountants into our firm.' Mr Wu said recruiting from mainland accounting firms was made easier by the low salaries on offer - about 7,000 to 8,000 yuan per month to accountants with three years' experience, compared with 20,000 yuan offered by E&Y. E&Y is not the only firm chasing talent in the mainland. Last month, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu said it would spend US$150 million in the next five years boosting its headcount to 8,000, from 2,000. Chief executive Peter Bowie said the firm would welcome both experienced accountants and fresh graduates.