Variety spices up profession

Tiffany Wong

A number of new roles have opened up in accounting as the industry is growing rapidly in Hong Kong and the mainland

The days of stereotyping accountants as boring mathematicians are over. Professionals in the rapidly evolving industry are now being offered a variety of roles in accounting firms in Asia - some of which have never been thought of as necessary in the region until now.

These days new hires need strong communication, interpersonal and team-player skills, with a determination to go the extra mile in what has become a challenging profession.

Leading human resources (HR) partners at Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton said there was growth in all sectors of the accounting industry in Hong Kong and the mainland, and there were various career options for accountants to choose from.

Dave McCann, PricewaterhouseCoopers' HR partner for China, Hong Kong and Singapore, said the highest priority for his firm was advisory.

'This can include areas of corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions [transaction services], performance improvement in the regulatory and financial stream, and crisis management [forensic investigation, fraud investigation and business turnaround].'


He said advisory positions were the newest and the most difficult to fill because 'these skills are quite sophisticated' and there were not many professionals with 'that kind of experience'.

As a result, his firm is looking overseas to fill these specific needs.

The post-Enron economic and regulatory climate has also created a need for more auditing and consulting specialists. Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Grant Thornton had seen growth in the need for forensic accounting specialists to 'look closely at the internal controls of organisations all geared around managing risk', Mr McCann said.

'We need people with skills in assessing risk and helping companies manage risks that they face.' To cater for the new demands placed on accounting professionals, PricewaterhouseCoopers has opened a training centre in Kowloon for 11,000 staff and fresh hires, most of whom have a minimum of five years of accounting experience.


Andrew Lam, Hong Kong assurance partner at Grant Thornton who has extensive experience in initial public offerings (IPO) in Hong Kong and overseas, said many opportunities in the financial services sector had been created on the mainland 'for both inbound and outbound investment traffic'.

His firm provides international tax advice for overseas companies seeking to invest in China and also for mainland companies investing abroad.


Optimism is high despite the global economic downturn, with the upshot for the industry being a rise in the number of China's IPOs requiring due diligence and regulations by qualified accountants.

Loletta Chow, Greater China people leader at Ernst & Young, said, 'There are actually many IPOs already in the pipeline [waiting for the economy to pick up]'.

She added that with more complicated rules and regulations and higher public expectations, accountants were expected to have top-notch qualifications.


For now, though, new recruits at all levels are needed. A university degree in any discipline is a minimum requirement, but accounting or business qualifications are preferred.

An additional qualification, such as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or a relevant master's degree or PhD, will be helpful.

'A good MBA at the right time in the career can enrich [a professional's] capability,' Mr McCann said. 'People on the consulting side tend to have a broader education rather than specific qualifications.


He added that 'accounting provides fantastic initial training for graduates of any academic background. It gives them a great basis for determining where they want to go with their career.

'They build their team skills, communication skills. They also develop their interpersonal skills, problem solving and diagnostic skills'.

For tax service specialists, who routinely come across legal issues, a law degree would be useful, Ms Chow said.

Although firms such as Grant Thornton and Ernst & Young recruit from all levels, including fresh graduates, Mr McCann said his firm preferred upper-level experienced hires with at least five years of experience communicating with senior executives and top clients.

Candidates who had taken the steps to cultivate the 'boardroom presence' necessary for presentations to board-level clients were in high demand, Mr McCann said.

For that reason, an outgoing personality, an ability to understand clients and keen problem-solving skills, in addition to language proficiency in Putonghua and English, are advantageous.