Realising that competition for accountancy graduates is tough, top-notch professional services firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu devised a conversion programme for graduates with a non-accountancy degree, and has discovered they can perform equally well in professional exams.
A case in point is John Rasheed who originally obtained a bachelor's degree in biology. It was only while working as a biologist he completed a conversion programme to become an accountant. This directional change makes him the perfect person to head Deloitte's conversion programme for non-accountancy graduates in his current role as partner and national learning leader of the firm.
Deloitte has operated the conversion programme in Hong Kong for six years and was prompted to start it when the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) introduced an examination system requiring candidates to hold a relevant university degree, or to complete a conversion programme accredited by the institute if they graduated from other disciplines. Now, the programme is important for attracting talented individuals to Deloitte, particularly as the strong local economy continues to fuel demand for accountants.
"Deloitte offers a diverse range of services for clients via a multidisciplinary approach," says Mr Rasheed. "By broadening our recruitment net, we don't turn away from people who will thrive in our environment."
When developing the conversion programme, Deloitte turned to City University of Hong Kong for assistance. Though Deloitte provides facilities at its learning centre in Admiralty, programmes are delivered by lecturers from the university. The programme spans 13 weeks during the summer, and aims to ensure all partaking graduates are poised to join Deloitte in the autumn.
There are six subjects in all — economics, auditing, financial accounting, management accounting, business law and tax —t hough they are not compulsory for everyone. Graduates with degrees in business studies, for instance, may only need to take three subjects. The HKICPA reviews contents of the programmes every two to three years.
After passing conversion exams, a new recruit is assigned a "godfather" and a mentor. The godfather is someone with one or two years' experience at Deloitte who helps the recruit with the transition from university to "the real world".
The mentor will be one or two levels above the recruit, and will offer career development support. Every new employee is encouraged to join a specialised learning programme, with the focus on blending soft and hard skills. "At first, academic skills are most important," reveals Mr Rasheed. "Later on though, we support the development of management and leadership skills." Deloitte also bolsters recruits as they work towards professional designations, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification.
To support young aspirants to excel in the accountancy profession, Deloitte has established a Deloitte Club for local undergraduates, providing a platform for them to learn more about the profession and nurturing interest in accountancy. There are also internships for students during university vacations.
Karven Kwan is a recent recruit to Deloitte, who chose to join the accounting profession after obtaining a degree in business and law at the University of Hong Kong. "My mentor at the university was a partner at Deloitte," says Ms Kwan. Inspired and encouraged, she became interested in accountancy, and joined the Deloitte Club. Later, she spent two months as an intern with Deloitte, gaining some experience in the tax and audit departments that later helped map her career path.
"I like the culture —i t is friendly and my colleagues are incredibly helpful," says Ms Kwan. "After the internship, it was natural for me to consider Deloitte as a career choice. I value the fact that Deloitte devotes a lot of resources to staff training and development."
With her academic background, Ms Kwan only needed to take three of the six conversion programme courses. While the programme was valuable academically, she found the opportunity to build up relationships with people from different service lines at Deloitte the most rewarding.
Thanks partly to her experience during her internship, Ms Kwan has opted to become a tax associate. "It offers an interesting and challenging career which matches my personality attributes and coheres with my aspirations," she says. Daily discussions with her godfather covering work issues are a feature, while her mentor offers career counselling, and helps with stress management and task prioritising.
Already, Deloitte training coupled with Ms Kwan's drive have produced results which support Mr Rasheed's point that an accountant's background is not the ultimate prerequisite. Last year Ms Kwan won the gold award in the HKICPA final exam, scoring the highest marks among some 1,000 other candidates.