As the world's freest economy, which is also home to Asia's third-largest stock market, Hong Kong is a premier international financial centre, renowned for its prosperity, stability and potential for growth. But while business is booming, the accounting industry is facing challenging times, with the overall number of accounting majors at universities lagging behind the growing demand over the past decade.
Every year, accounting firms compete with the finance and commercial sectors for quality staff. It is becoming harder to find qualified professionals with accounting experience, given the fast pace of China's economic growth, which is creating an increasing demand for accountants.
Rising salary levels and the many opportunities in other fields, leading to intense competition, are also major reasons for the difficulty in retaining experienced accountants in the industry. Technology companies, e-business, consulting firms, investment banks and other finance-related or commercial companies are competing directly with accounting firms for the same pool of analytically minded individuals.
One of a kind
In spite of the difficulties facing the industry as a whole, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, with more than 160 years of industry experience, is confident about its position. As a leading professional service provider known for its quality service, vibrant corporate culture and active community involvement, Deloitte employs 7,000 employees in Hong Kong and mainland China.
"What differentiates us from competitors is simply that we are a caring firm where our people come first," says Anny Tse, director of human resources, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in Hong Kong.
Aiming to improve the overall quality of life of its staff and to enhance their well-being, Deloitte has implemented an employee assistance programme (EAP), stressing the importance of a work-life balance. The programme includes health seminars and tips for employees, concierge services to help them take care of every-day personal tasks such as dry cleaning, postal services and even shoe repairs and maintenance. Recreational activities on offer include free movie tickets and cooking classes as well as corporate discounts on gym membership. There is also a personal, privacy-protected counselling hotline service.
To cater for staff's development needs, Deloitte has in place a "buddy system", pairing newly recruited staff with more experienced employees, an innovative way to provide peer support and guidance to help them settle in. The firm's counselling system offers ongoing coaching for staff career advancement, helping establish goals, providing feedback and reviewing performance results. "The ongoing coaching and feedback process is an important part of our overall performance management system, which facilitates discussion between supervisors and staff, helping them make their career aspirations clear and eliminate any discrepancies regarding expectations and perceptions," Ms Tse explains. "It aids senior management in identifying top performers and developing our people, adding value to our firm."
Even though the industry is facing a shortage of experienced staff, Deloitte makes a point of hiring only the best and the brightest candidates through comprehensive screening throughout the recruitment process.
"Recruitment is a year-round, ongoing process. Our Hong Kong practice receives over 1,000 applications every year, of which about a hundred are successful," Ms Tse points out. The firm also looks to labour markets other than Hong Kong and the mainland when sourcing new recruits. "We consider the offshore labour markets to be a valuable source of talent and we attract professionals from all over the world through our global recruitment website," she adds.
When recruiting experienced staff, Deloitte's approach is based on its grasp of the key issues and demands affecting the market.
Bearing in mind the trend towards technology, globalisation and corporate governance, the firm looks for candidates with leadership qualities. The ability to communicate effectively and work closely with clients, provide quality service and expert advice on accounting or business issues and uphold the highest level of professionalism and integrity are key. Deloitte also seeks out staff that can effectively develop strategies, manage risks and implement new programmes.
Staff development and retention initiatives are carefully planned and executed. Deloitte offers well-structured staff development programmes through the Deloitte Institute, a learning and leadership initiative to nurture qualified and talented individuals for the profession. It provides core technical training in the areas of audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory, customer service, marketing, sales and communications, effective management and leadership skills, as well as specialised, sector-based knowledge. Other development opportunities, including secondment, are also available for staff. Deloitte has a Global Development Programme that offers exposure in overseas offices, including in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, for periods of 18 to 24 months.
Deloitte retains its staff through good management and clear goals. The firm has a policy of promoting staff internally, with milestone programmes equipping upwardly mobile employees with a sound understanding of their new responsibilities and the knowledge required for their new roles. "We want to help our staff as much as possible with their career goals and development needs," Ms Tse concludes.