Wooing accountants big time

Daniel Cody

THE PROSPECTS FOR accountants with aspirations to work in China have never been brighter. The accounting profession is wide open to those with the right attributes.

China's banks are also expanding to fight off western competition. Since they lack sophisticated talent and management, their need for quality audit, tax and advisory services in the financial industry has never been greater.

'This may be the greatest demand I've witnessed in my career so far,' said Irene Ho, human resources principal in Hong Kong for KPMG.

Ms Ho has been choosing new talent for KPMG for the past decade.

Employing the right people is a key task for KPMG, the worldwide accounting firm that serves the growing audit and tax needs of multinational banks and the financial services industry.

Those hired will join a global network of 6,500 partners, 70,000 client service professionals, and 17,000 administration and support staffers in 148 countries.

Together, the KPMG team provides a range of audit, tax and advisory services.

KPMG is searching for highly qualified individuals from Hong Kong to fill a number of roles in Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

There are positions for managers, middle managers, information risk managers, auditors and accountants.

In fact, KPMG has witnessed staggering growth since it began operating in the mainland in 1992. In 13 years, it has grown from 20 employees to about 2,500.

'There is an old Chinese expression: no plant, no harvest,' said Maggie Wu, an audit partner in the Beijing office who works on accounts such as China Telecom, Sinopec and Motorola.

'Fortunately, we have been planting diligently and expect a good harvest.'

What features on a CV would get a qualified person through the door of a firm with a global reputation for excellence such as KPMG?

Experience at a 'Big Four' or mid-sized accounting firm would be a great advantage, as would specialisation in a particular field. To make the best impression, candidates must demonstrate integrity and uphold the highest standards, provide sound advice and rigorously maintain independence, Ms Ho said.

Individuals should be able to lead by example. Personality traits such as initiative and drive are greatly valued.

The candidate should also respect people for their knowledge, skills and experience as individuals and as team members. Honest and open communication skills are essential.

Accountants working in China should be able to converse fluently in Putonghua, although all the firm's internal reporting is conducted in English. Hong Kong people with a good background in English generally had an advantage, Ms Ho said. Those with an understanding of Chinese cultural sensitivities have an advantage that professionals from other backgrounds may not have.

KPMG adopts a team approach in its many projects. That means that an accountant working in an office in Guangzhou could just as easily be involved in projects going on in the Beijing or Shanghai offices.

Ms Ho said the ability to work in a collaborative way was valued. Although she declined to give details about compensation packages for the positions being filled, Ms Ho said the remuneration was 'extremely attractive'.

Those who find themselves rising in the firm realise they are being evaluated purely on performance. Things are not based on seniority at KPMG.

'The opportunity to excel is huge,' she said.

Excellence is quickly noticed. Accountants have risen through the ranks to become partners in the company by the age of 28.

'In auditing, merit is generally quantifiable. It is truly a function of how good you are,' Ms Ho said.

KPMG invests heavily in training. Most fledgling accountants receive professional certification within three years, although those seeking accreditation in the mainland tend to take slightly longer because of the different system used.

The firm sometimes hires staff from other professions, and gives them training to enable them to move into auditing. An engineer, for instance, would undergo six weeks of transition training before his or her official accounting education begins. On becoming an accountant, the employee could become effective with a background that was instantly respected by the firm's clients, Ms Ho said.

Qualities required

KPMG specifies six key qualities for people who work in its mainland operations:

Specialisation in a particular field;

Work centred on integrity and upholding the highest professional standards;

Ability to lead by example;

Exhibiting initiative and drive;

Respecting people and their knowledge, skills, and experience; and

Displaying honest, open communication.