Increasingly important role of accountancy in China's boom

by Anna Tong

Dave McCann, HR partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Photo: Career Times stock photo

Big four company places increasing dependence on mainland

Business opportunities in mainland China are not limited to manufacturing but extend to such important industries as accountancy and related professions.

One of the first major professional services firms to set up there was PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The firm is a long-term player in China with financial investments already totalling US$200 million and expected to increase by US$50 million to US$100 million over the next few years.

PwC, the largest professional services firm in the world, was among the "early birds" to see the enormous potential of the China economic boom and has developed a great reputation through the years of international and local experience and the quality of its services, ranging from assurance and tax to advisory.

PwC is also a big supporter in hiring young mainland talent. In its recent intake for 2006, 1,450 of the 1,800 undergraduate students were from mainland China, with the balance mostly from Hong Kong universities. Such heavy dependence on the burgeoning skills of China-educated youth is set to continue, as the exponential growth of China's economy continues, and at the same time the firm continues to expand.

Dave McCann, HR partner of PwC in Beijing, characterises mainland graduates as smart, self-motivated and dedicated to quality, with a spirit of wanting to learn. He also finds the difference between mainland China and Hong Kong graduates increasingly indistinguishable, with graduates from both sources harnessing good communication skills and the ability to face and take on challenges. "When I first arrived in China 10 years ago, the big difference then was the language capability, lack of self confidence and the mental strength to challenge clients, which is important since we have a responsibility to the shareholders as well as to the clients themselves," he says.

PwC contributes to China's growth by assisting multinational companies with issues relating to initial entry and subsequent establishment of operations, and mergers and acquisitions in China. The firm has expertise in assisting Chinese state-owned enterprises during their initial restructuring exercises and subsequent listings in domestic and overseas exchanges. These exercises are very important to the success of a company, which requires experienced accounting professionals.

PwC believes in focused resourcing by establishing good relationships with local universities and local hiring agencies to cull the smartest graduates. Once new graduates are hired, the firm provides all the training and resources necessary to develop them into top accounting professionals.

One of the major recruiting difficulties at present is the lack of undergraduates or graduates with accounting majors. PwC has responded by taking on students from various backgrounds, provided they are equipped with strong language skills. As Mr McCann points out, "The bottom line in recruiting people from mainland China is about finding people with the right skills who can ultimately add value to the business."

In addition to local recruitment, PwC casts its recruiting net across campuses in Canada, US, UK and Australia, giving mainland China students an idea of the attractive opportunities now opening up in their homeland. To reach its recruitment targets, PwC is planning to engage recruitment managers who will be posted in these four countries. "They will work closely with the local market and create a global recruiting network," says Mr McCann. Already results are promising, with 50 graduates from the US and 20 from Australia among the latest draft.

Trainees recruited can expect further international exposure through a secondment scheme under which they are seconded to various offices around the world to gain experience in international regulations, after a few years in practice. "They come back to China with a better understanding of international regulations, which are significant benefits for our clients," notes Mr McCann.

Culture of engagement

PwC tries to enhance retention rates of talented young staff by creating a culture of engagement and satisfaction so staff feel a sense of belonging. The company employs a coaching culture. "Two-way engagement allows the company to be attuned to the likes and dislikes of staff, making them feel connected," says Mr McCann. "This two-way engagement is in the form of focus groups and surveys that are held three times a year, asking staff about the company's performance. We want to demonstrate our 'we care philosophy' to staff and find out how to make PwC an even better place to work."

Sporting events, such as football tournaments, are regularly arranged for staff from different offices in China. No matter which team comes first, PwC is the ultimate winner through the team building benefits of such exercises. "Our staff work hard, so we want to make sure they have time to relax and have fun," says Mr McCann.

The company is reviewed by the Chinese Institute of Public Accountants (CICPA) and given excellent ratings, which have been credited to the calibre of the trained staff. Mr McCann feels very optimistic over China's economic growth in the long term with international investors becoming increasingly comfortable about placing their money there, and accounting standards more internationalised.

Best of both worlds

  • 1,450 graduates from mainland universities recruited last year to cope with growing China business
  • Heavy dependence on the burgeoning skills of China-educated youth set to continue
  • Focused resourcing by establishing good relationships with local universities and hiring agencies to cull the smartest graduates
  • Secondment scheme offers on-the-job professionals greater international exposure
  • Retain talented young staff by creating a culture of engagement and satisfaction

Taken from Career Times 19 January 2007
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