Accountancy firms in Hong Kong are seeing the effects of China's rapid economic development in two ways. On the one hand, local businesses are expanding fast across the border and need expert financial support to help them succeed. On the other, more mainland companies are looking to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange and need assistance to meet all the listing requirements.
As a result, every major accounting firm has stepped up its recruitment activities in a search for qualified professionals and fresh graduates.
"Universities offer a steady supply of talent, and although recent graduates may be inexperienced, they are able to absorb everything we teach very quickly, " says Edward Au, a partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. He notes that graduates also tend to be more aggressive and intent on building a successful career. Many have covered the technical aspects of accounting in their degrees and, therefore, they are eager to enter the commercial world and put their skills to good use. "Our job is to foster their ability and offer the proper environment for further training," Mr Au explains.
Our job is to foster their ability and offer the proper environment for further training
To make the transition easier, Deloitte has a three-week induction programme tailored to specific functions within the firm. It covers technical details and soft skills that are essential in the workplace and for dealing with clients. A second-year employee is assigned as a "godparent" to help each new joiner and, in particular, offers guidance during the first few client contacts. The system is effective because the godparents still remember their own initial weeks and can warn against possible mistakes.
In general, the firm is now putting much more emphasis on online training. This enables staff to complete their training at home or in the office and thus creates greater flexibility. "Many employees need to travel for business and can't always attend classroom training sessions," explains Mr Au. Since accounting standards and regulations are changing all the time, online training also allows staff to keep up to date in the most efficient way.
Managers are required to appraise recent recruits after every project. The objective is to provide timely feedback, suggest areas of improvement, and recommend specific training courses. "We offer an accelerated programme for high-performing employees which can help them achieve faster promotion," Mr Au adds.
Deloitte recruits from universities worldwide, but Mr Au points out that Hong Kong graduates are generally more familiar with the culture and business practices in China. Many also have first-hand experience gained from university exchange programmes. In contrast, international recruits tend to be more outgoing and have higher standards of English. "Hiring from both groups helps us to strike a good balance," says Mr Au. "It also creates good interaction and a friendly level of competition, so that recruits learn from each other."
Mr Au stresses that teamwork is definitely an important skill in the field of accountancy. "Chinese state-owned enterprises, which want to list in Hong Kong, require a team of 50 to 100 to perform all the audit work," he explains. For this reason, communication and interpersonal skills are also essential in order to work effectively both with colleagues and clients.
"In this business we often have to meet deadlines, which means we have to work overtime," Mr Au says. "If people don't have a passion for the job, it is easy to lose enthusiasm and burn out."
Fast factsDeloitte's audit department takes nearly 80 per cent of all new recruits
Outstanding performers can make manager grade in five years and become a partner within 10
Last year the firm recruited over 250 graduates and plans to hire around 300 this year
Meeting business needs The mainland's expanding economy has brought new opportunities for Hong Kong accountants
All major firms are increasing recruitment to cope with business demand
Graduates are ideal candidates since they want to build a career and are eager to learn
A three-week induction programme makes the transition to the business world easier
Hiring a mix of local and international graduates encourages learning and friendly competition
Candidates should demonstrate teamwork, interpersonal skills and a passion for the industry