WITH AN INCREASING number of international companies expanding their mainland operations, there are simply not enough locally trained accountants with the necessary experience to fill the jobs available. Major accountancy firms are having to redouble their recruitment efforts and look further afield for candidates willing to take on a role in the country's economic development. Mark Fong, senior partner at accountancy firm Moores Rowland Mazars, said it had not been easy to find sufficient candidates of the right calibre in Hong Kong or elsewhere to take on senior managerial positions based on the mainland. He put this down to the sharp increase in overall demand for suitably qualified professionals and the reluctance of many senior accountants to uproot their families. The firm is particularly keen to find accountants with managerial experience to take up leadership positions. They would be expected to deal with key clients and monitor the quality of services provided by a team of subordinates. Mr Fong described the ideal candidate as a 'thinking accountant', who could be creative and analytical when working out solutions for clients, and who projected the charisma and self-confidence needed to win new business. He also identified the importance of good interpersonal skills, flexibility, sensitivity to potential risk, and the ability to provide detailed advice to help clients expand their business within a viable financial framework. Moores Rowland Mazars has been in Hong Kong since the 1930s and has more than 200 partners and staff. The firm serves local and international companies of all sizes and advises on everything from start-ups to developing strategies for diversification, public listings and the disposal of assets. The firm represents Moores Rowland International (MRI) as well as French company Mazars. MRI has the eighth-largest global network of accounting firms with 170 firms and more than 19,000 partners, while Mazars is an auditing and business advisory organisation with more than 110 offices and 5,500 partners. The mainland network is led by an MRI office in Beijing, which was set up last year. 'Many European and US companies are focusing on China and we have to react to this trend,' Mr Fong said. 'Since the Beijing office opened, we have been sending staff there on short-term assignments. Now, though, it has become inefficient to do things this way, as mainland clients need assistance at short notice and many more inquiries are being received from potential clients.' Mr Fong, who is also vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, said that mainland accountants only started adopting international practices five years ago. Most firms were previously state-owned and many had little experience dealing with issues related to multinationals or foreign investment. Tighter legislation governing accountancy standards started to take shape in 1995, so foreign enterprises still regard the profession on the mainland as being in its infancy. Their inclination is to turn to international accountancy firms with an established mainland presence for assistance. This obviously presents an excellent range of opportunities for individual accountants looking for broader experience. 'Our approach is not the same as some of the bigger firms since we are close-knit and believe in allowing staff to gain exposure in different areas of the profession,' Mr Fong said. 'Unlike the Big Four, we serve mostly owner-managed companies, so it is more about building personal relationships with clients. Working for a firm like this is good for one's personal development as you can have more influence and help a client's business to grow.' He added that this made interpersonal skills important, along with the recognition that there were clear differences between working in Hong Kong and in mainland cities. In view of this, Moores Rowland Mazars recently examined staff attitudes about moving to the mainland. Many respondents expressed concern about how their families would react to a move, but recognised that the mainland market was a good place to prove themselves and that those who did well would rise quickly in the firm. Mr Fong predicted that the shortage of qualified accountants would last for several years. This could be traced back to the brake put on the recruitment of trainees during the recent economic downturn. As mainland-trained accountants gain more experience in applying internationals standards, the competition for the best positions will intensify. wanted: thinking accountants Moores Rowland Mazars is looking for experienced accounting professionals to lead its mainland expansion. Candidates should be able to manage a team and develop new business. They need to be analytical, have good interpersonal skills and possess the ability to devise practical business solutions. China offers excellent opportunities for career and personal development and the chance for faster advancement.