Developing quality accountants for the entire market

by Alex Chan

Irene Heffernan Ho, principal, KPMG

KPMG principal discusses fast-track ways to a fulfilling career in accountancy

To most companies, the resignation of an employee immediately after benefiting from an extensive training and development programme would normally be viewed as a waste of resources. However, Irene Heffernan Ho, principal at KPMG, takes a more optimistic view of such a situation.

"We see ourselves as having a role in developing accountants and upholding professional standards even for the external market," she says. "If an employee decides to move on and work elsewhere, that means the quality of accountants in Hong Kong firms will be increased."

KPMG also finds that employees often remain loyal to the company even after they leave. "Many of our past employees go on to start their own companies or head up the financial department at other big companies and often become our clients," says Ms Ho.

Ambitious graduates favoured

As is the nature of the business, training and development plays a big role in accountancy with the process of becoming a professional accountant involving the completion of several exams and a minimum of three years' working experience in the field. The Big Four accountancy firms in Hong Kong, which include KPMG, tend to hire candidates who are fresh out of university. For these new young graduates, the company devotes significant resources to help them obtain professional qualifications. "We find that fresh graduates have the right mind-set and are more capable of handling the intensive training required to obtain their certification," Ms Ho explains.

The intensive training courses act as a way for accountants to fast-track their careers. Three years after joining KPMG, a fresh graduate can become a professionally qualified accountant.

Training within a firm such as KPMG also gives accountants an internationally recognised qualification. "Many big companies such as investment banks, actually look for in-house accountants who have been trained by one of the Big Four firms, so it is almost the same as to going to a good university," says Ms Ho.

Targeting fresh graduates

For the coming years, KPMG is targeting an intake of 1,000 graduates to their Hong Kong and PRC operations. As part of their recruitment process, the company visits universities in Hong Kong and the PRC to make presentations to students. They also target Hong Kong and mainland students who are studying overseas by presenting to universities in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.

The extensive search is to ensure that KPMG gets as wide a range of candidates with different backgrounds as possible. To encourage diversity, KPMG does not exclusively hire business or accountancy graduates, but also recruits within a multitude of other disciplines. "Our chairman has a mathematics degree, a number of our partners have a geography degree, while employees with computer science and engineering degrees are also popular," she adds.

At KPMG, new recruits who are not accounting or business majors will go through a conversion programme that typically begins in July. The conversion takes the form of an intensive six-week course to help non-accountants obtain basic accounting knowledge. In September, they are joined by the business and accounting graduates who then spend their first three months with the company training for the first accountancy exam in December.

Between January and March, the recruits will get their first on-the-job experience with an assignment, but they regularly return to training to prepare for exams that are held bi-annually.

Some 98.9 per cent of new recruits will qualify as accountants at the end of three years. Once qualified, they will be promoted to the post of assistant manager. In about two to three years, depending on individual ability, they will be promoted to managers, while within about nine to 10 years, again depending on ability, they can become partners.

"It is a fast career progression when compared to corporate careers which may take 30 years to reach the top," says Ms Ho. "We have a past senior partner who became a partner when he was 26 and the current head of our tax practice was 28 when he became a partner," she points out. "These are extraordinary cases, but it is possible and it is all up to a person's ability," she concludes.

Fast track to success

  • Fresh graduates are extremely capable of handling intensive training programmes as well as a demanding exam schedule
  • Entering a large accounting firm as a fresh graduate will lead to a fast-tracked career path with professional qualifications in three years
  • Training at one of the Big Four accountancy firms can be as prestigious as attending a top university
  • KPMG considers candidates from unrelated disciplines that add to the company's diversity
  • Depending on individuals' abilities, it is not unusual for an accountant to become a partner at KPMG in less than a decade

Taken from Career Times 10 March 2006
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