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Monday, 25 July 2011

Talents on the move

Local accountants attracted by foreign greener pastures


 KUALA LUMPUR: Despite unwavering interest in accountancy courses at universities and colleges, mid-tier accounting and auditing firms are finding it difficult to hire and retain their accountants.

The problem: the outflow of local talents to foreign “greener pastures”.

Baker Tilly International chief executive officer and president Geoff Barnes told StarBiz that something needs to be done about this, as “a strong audit profession underpins an economy with good corporate governance, a strong capital market and an economic environment that can cross borders.”

Barnes said the accounting profession has always demanded the brightest of people globally and that good firms have always had this “war for talent, because we are all looking for the best people”.

Barnes (left) and Heng stressing on the importance of retaining accounting talents.
Local member firm, Baker Tilly Monteiro Heng (BTMH) chief executive partner Heng Ji Keng said many Malaysian accounting graduates see better opportunities in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Singapore and Australia.

Heng added that many graduates left mainly due to the salary disparity. To counter this, he said firms needed assistance from the Government as “a word from the Government is better than a thousand words from practitioners”.

“We need to slowly bridge the gap between the salary we pay here and that offered in the countries attracting our talents. We need assistance from the regulators to impress upon clients that low fees also affect the quality of an auditing job,” Heng said.

A fresh graduate can earn up to RM100,000 per annum in China, around RM85,000 per annum in Singapore while Australian firms pay about RM160,000 per annum. Locally, they would earn about RM30,000 only.

SJ Grant Thornton (SJGT) managing partner Datuk Narendra Jasani said an estimated 500 accounting graduates out of 1,500 from local universities leave the country every year.

Both firms, BTMH and SJGT, said the Government could further benefit the country's accounting profession by liberalising immigration policies.

Heng said the many foreign students studying here could be a good source of accountants for local firms, provided the Government revises the related immigration restrictions.

“We must acknowledge their potential and train them to become qualified professional accountants,” he said.

Both Heng and Jasani suggested that the Government could look into giving foreign students a work permit of three to four years after their studies.

“To avoid disheartening our Malaysian accountants, a quota could be set for firms to employ no more than 20% foreign accountants,” Jasani further suggested.

Heng pointed out that another turn-off for young accountants to begin their career here is the difficulty in getting a licence to practise.

“The accountants have to go through about a decade of university education and training, topped off with a scrutinising interview that tests them on the technicalities of the industry before the Finance Ministry issues a licence,” Heng said.

Specifically, Malaysian accountants need three years for a university degree, three years of working experience, another three years of post-Malaysian Institute of Accountants membership and an interview to determine whether they would qualify for a licence. The tedious process and no guarantee of getting a licence to practise has become a deterrent to young accountants when embarking on their careers.

“We also have to change work procedures. One aspect is to change the audit methodolgy no more ticking and checking all the time but more thought-processing, overviews and comparative analysis which is more suited to the younger generation,” SGJT's Jasani said.

Grant Thorton International chief executive officer Ed Nusbaum said the rapid economic growth and expansion in the entire Asia-Pacific region has caused the shortage of talent.

“The demand is greater than the number of students graduating from universities and qualified experienced talent within the region. Whether you are talking about Malaysia, China or India, we need to attract people to the accounting profession,” he said, adding that dynamic firms also contributed to attracting young accountants.

“Being part of a growing organisation makes (one's career) interesting and employee retention is better because people see opportunities,” Nusbaum concluded.