A report published by the International Monetary Fund in February this year noted that the market capitalisation of the Hong Kong stock exchange is now the second largest in Asia and that the city is one of the world's major centres for raising funds. In no small part, this is thanks to the increasing importance of mainland enterprises and the contribution they have made to overall market growth.
Locally, one proof of these developments is the almost unprecedented demand for professionals in audit and accounting, who have the qualifications and experience to advise on and regulate the business activities of investors.
"Our own China-related work has seen remarkable growth of over 100 per cent for many years," says Alex Cho, director of Horwath Hong Kong Group. The firm was established in 1981 and, in the past 10 years, has specialised in dealing with foreign investors involved in mergers and acquisitions in Asia and mainland enterprises listing in Hong Kong or overseas.
Mainland exposure provides a competitive edge because so many transactions nowadays have a China element
Having served as a member of the foreign expert panel, which helped to draft the Chinese Auditing Standards, the firm also has the necessary experience to provide clients with a range of consultancy services for start-up businesses or new operations being set up on the mainland.
"We currently have nine offices in Greater China including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Hong Kong is the coordination point," says Mr Cho. "We have been actively involved in such areas as cross-border tax planning, and our strong international network means we can offer the best advice and quality services."
Besides that, offices and clients in the US and Europe are kept up to date about changes in the mainland's tax regime and other regulations by means of newsletters, seminars and conferences.
In order to continue its current expansion, the firm is looking to recruit top professionals with China experience. Greatest demand is for those with a background in handling initial public offerings (IPOs), due diligence, and advising companies in the retail and manufacturing sectors.
"The usual prerequisites are a relevant degree and full professional qualifications," notes Mr Cho. "A passion for the job is also important, but we will provide training in all aspects of tax law and corporate taxation matters." To fill current vacancies, Horwath is also hiring from overseas, giving people the opportunity to work in Asia and, in most cases, to be based initially in Hong Kong.
Newcomers complete an orientation programme and are assigned a "buddy" and a mentor to help them adapt to their new role and learn about dealing with key clients. "If necessary, we will help with things like tax, work visas and children's schooling, so that they can settle in more quickly," Mr Cho explains.
At present, the firm has employees from Australia, the US, the Netherlands and elsewhere working in the Hong Kong office to gain practical experience. "They may also be sent to work in China to understand the service requirements and as a form of cultural exchange," he adds. "Mainland exposure provides a competitive edge because so many transactions nowadays have a China element."
This is all part of Horwath's drive to differentiate itself from other firms by having a one-stop service. The aim is to be able to give clients advice in all aspects for setting up and running a business in either Hong Kong or the mainland.
- Strong growth in mainland-related business activities and expectation that this will continue
- Hong Kong is the coordination point for offering a full range of audit and advisory services
- Fierce competition for talent has caused Horwath to recruit additional staff from overseas
- Training and orientation programmes help newcomers adapt to life in Hong Kong
- China exposure continues to offer a competitive edge in professional terms