The rise in demand for accounting professionals is not only being driven by economic growth, but also by a host of regulatory changes affecting companies, and by an ongoing surge in IPOs and mergers and acquisitions. 'The supply of qualified talent is outpaced by the increasing demand for accounting services in [mainland] China, especially for those who have a few years of experience, and that will continue to have an impact in Hong Kong,' said Anny Tse Ting-ting, human resources director for southern China, Deloitte. According to Deloitte, the mainland needs 350,000 qualified accountants, but only about 130,000 Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CICPA) are available. To put that in perspective, there are about 1,500 accounting graduates from all the universities in Hong Kong each year. Although accountants with some experience are in big demand, graduate recruitment has increased in recent years and this pattern is set to continue. This year Deloitte China plans to recruit about 1,400 graduates, 300 of which are for the Hong Kong office. Most openings were for audit and tax roles. Other requirements were in enterprise risk services, financial advisory services, and reorganisation services and consulting, Ms Tse said. When it comes to selection, Deloitte keeps an open mind. 'We take a multidisciplinary approach in servicing our clients, so we look for people with multiple competencies and wide potential. We recruit graduates from both accounting and non-accounting majors, and prefer not to focus on one specific dimension. All areas, including academic results, experience and soft skills, are seen as equally important,' she said. Besides fresh graduates, there is keen competition for qualified and experienced professionals, especially those with a few years of experience, not only in accounting but also in financial services and the banking sector. As of last March, Deloitte had taken on more than 800 experienced hires locally and in the mainland, and recruitment is ongoing. Recruits can expect excellent career development. Fresh graduates start with a three-week orientation programme, while graduates from non-accounting majors take a conversion programme before commencing work. Thereafter, employees enjoy diverse learning and development opportunities and can be seconded to overseas offices in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia and the mainland. On-the-job training is also provided. Deloitte is committed to becoming an employer of choice for aspiring auditors and accountants and, besides training and development, this is reflected in competitive salaries and bonus packages. 'We are aware that to become the first choice for clients, we must also become the first choice for talent. Through our commitment to a work-life balance, by maintaining a diverse and richly cultural work force, and our development programmes for people in all stages of their careers, we will continue to attract, retain and develop talent,' Ms Tse said. Keith Pogson, leader of Ernst & Young's global financial services practice in Hong Kong and the mainland, makes an equally upbeat assessment of the coming year. 'There is a very high demand in the financial services sector, generally mainland-driven and also from associated developments, such as the stock market, and we expect these trends to continue. There may be some volatility in the months ahead, but that means more opportunities for bankers and funds, and people working in financial services,' he said. He said he expected the mainland's role as a marketplace for accountants and auditors to intensify. '[Mainland] China will continue to suck in accountants and accounting-related people. There is a huge 'hole' that needs filling, and eventually recruitment may become self-supporting in the PRC, but until then there will be a demand for Hong Kong accountants to go to the mainland,' he said. Over the past 12 months, Ernst & Young has recruited around 1,600 graduates and a similar number of experienced hires for its Hong Kong and mainland offices combined. This year, the company expects to recruit even larger numbers, perhaps 1,850 graduates, plus a similar number of experienced accounting professionals, especially auditors. 'In Hong Kong there's always a need for audit professionals, partly to replace those who go to mainland China and also because of the growth and extension of key service lines, especially in advisory space and management,' Mr Pogson said. Fresh graduates were not expected to spend time in the mainland immediately after recruitment, but needed to spend three to four years gaining experience in Hong Kong before switching offices if they chose to do so, he said. Competition between employers to find the right staff is having a positive impact on salaries and working conditions in general. Certainly, employees who join Ernst & Young can expect to be treated well. 'We want to be the employer of choice, so we want to be the leading payer, as well as the most family friendly with flexible working arrangements. We want people to feel that working for us is a long-term relationship,' Mr Pogson said.