The world's four largest accounting firms are undertaking massive recruitment on the mainland, which is expected to eventually emerge as the profession's biggest market. James Quigley, global chief executive of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, said his firm had planned to spend US$150 million since 2004 for mainland expansion. The mainland was expected to be Deloitte's biggest operation by headcount, surpassing the United States, Britain and Canada, he said. 'We have decided to invest heavily in China. It is going to be a very exciting market. If China sustains its current growth track, it will not take long before China becomes the largest operation for Deloitte, passing the US,' Mr Quigley said. Deloitte has more than 7,000 accountants in the mainland and Hong Kong, its fourth-largest operation worldwide behind the 7,600 in Canada, 11,000 in Britain and 40,000 in the US. Deloitte's mainland offices are in Beijing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Suzhou and Tianjin. Seventy per cent of the US$150 million Deloitte set aside for mainland expansion has been spent on recruitment, training and retention of talent as well as opening new offices. That has boosted the company's headcount there more than threefold since 2004 and revenue by a double-digit percentage. The rest of the Big Four accounting firms also have aggressive recruitment plans on the mainland to capture business opportunities in the world's fastest-growing economy. KPMG China chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing said his firm planned to recruit 2,500 graduates and experienced professionals in the mainland and Hong Kong this year. The company has about 7,000 employees in the two markets at present. 'Our headcount has doubled over the last three years and we project to have a staff of 11,000 in the mainland and Hong Kong by 2012,' Mr Tong said. Ernst & Young, which has 14 offices and 8,000 workers in China, planned to add some 2,000 new recruits in the coming year, said David Sun Tak-kei, its Far East managing partner. 'The booming financial market in China has created tremendous new opportunities for accounting firms. We have 14 offices and 8,000 people now and we will continue to invest in China,' Mr Sun said, adding the region now trailed only the US and Europe in revenue contribution. Dave McCann, a human resources partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the firm expected to keep the annual new hirings at the current level over the next few years, which included about 3,000 in China - 2,000 new graduates and 1,000 experienced hires - across its three lines of services - tax, advisory and assurance. PwC last year started a programme to recruit overseas Chinese who have international experience to cope with demand on the mainland. Managers have been sent from its offices in China to London, New York, Los Angeles and Sydney to recruit graduates and those with international experience and Chinese knowledge and language skills. Mr McCann said this five-year plan was an addition to PwC's localisation strategy. As the Big Four expand, competition with local accounting firms is also intensifying. Mainland accountancy experts said Beijing hoped to see some local accounting firms develop into bigger players. However, Mr Quigley said homegrown firms would be partners instead of a threat to Deloitte because they could work together to help mainland companies raise funds, work on mergers and acquisitions and invest in overseas markets. Deloitte's international network would allow it to team up with some local players to serve clients, he said. Last year, Deloitte was the market leader for initial public offerings in the US by Chinese companies. It was the auditor for 16 of the 29 Chinese companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.