The role of accountants in Asia and globally is changing. In a rapidly evolving world that is increasingly digitally interconnected, accountants need new personal competencies such as business acumen, data analytics and leadership skills to stay relevant and provide effective strategic advice. With a swathe of new accounting standards coming into force, competition for the smartest accounting talent is tougher than ever before. Recent research from Hudson Recruitment in a survey of more than 4,000 employers found that 90% of those in Singapore, 75% of those in mainland China and 42% in Hong Kong planned to recruit more accountants in the first half of 2018 and most of the rest of those surveyed intended to at least maintain their accounting and finance headcount. The future is bright for accountants in Asia.
Exponential development in interconnectivity coupled with continuous regional and global growth is leading to ever-growing volumes of data employed in business. More data drives demand for more CPAs and with auditing and transactional accounting becoming increasingly automated, what accountants do needs to change to stay relevant. Accounting will always be the language of business and one industry expert commented, “Rather than putting accounting professionals at risk, automation is transforming the industry in positive ways, and creating greater demand for candidates with analytical skills to provide deeper business insights. It is in the management and analysis of data where some of the most promising and exciting opportunities for CPAs lies.” The continuing development of digital commerce, social media and the internet of things (IoT) means that more companies have access to large volumes of data about customers, competitors, markets as well as their own operations. One seasoned accounting professional in Singapore commented, “The challenge is how to make best use of the vast troves of data, and this is where CPAs with good analytical and technological skills are shining. Many corporations are sitting on a lot of data, and they are confronting the question of how to make the best use of it. With their background in accounting and financial management, CPAs have the skills to organise and analyse large amounts of data and apply the insights they gain to operational and management roles and that is the big driver of growth in demand for CPAs in this region.” The same is true for accounting professionals across SE Asia.
Many people are drawn to study accountancy because it appears to be a stable, risk-averse job. Others are simply satisfying the aspirations of their parents or are following a traditional career path in a country with limited career options. Accountants are and must change with the changing external world and old personal competencies of attention to detail and prudence are becoming less import with new skills required for accountants leading to more interesting and fulfilling work experiences. Hudson’s recent report states: “Transactional, processing-type work is out and analytical, business partnering, value-add is in at every level. Businesses want to employ candidates that display potential to interpret data, order and assess its value, and present the findings to the relevant stakeholders in a clear and concise way.”
Industry feedback shows the most highly sought after skills are those that enable accountants to collaborate, support and partner other business functions within an organisation. One leading accounting professional in Hong Kong said, “The most sought after accounting talents right now have good soft skills like business acumen, leadership, communication and influencing, analysis and advisory, as well as technological skills such as information technology and digital skills. It’s even better if they also have network and information security skills, and information management skills such as statistical analysis and data mining.” Sending your accounting staff on short-term training courses in big data and blockchain could become a priority for leading companies who want to maintain their competitive advantage by up-skilling key employees with relevant, up-to-date knowledge and skills.
The war for talent in SE Asia is very real with the most competent accountants bringing desired competitive advantage to their organisations and clients. One recruiter specialising in accounting professionals across Asia commented, “The talent crunch has been a constant challenge for this region, especially with the outflow of experienced professionals to mature markets like Australia and the UK.” While the majority of employers try to recruit accountants from their home market, the war for accounting talent is forcing some to look further afield. Some employers are taking part in careers fairs further afield in Australia and the UK, and new initiatives such as PwC Malaysia’s ‘Aspiring Accountants Programme’ aims to hire and train graduates from disciplines outside of accounting. “We are looking for graduates with a balance of strong technical skills, including IT skills, along with good communication and relationship management skills,” said a PwC recruiter adding, “it’s also important to develop good management abilities, given that experienced accountants are required to lead teams and engage with clients. Even graduates who come equipped with wide technical, communication and analytical skills often fall short of what is required. One of the areas of improvement needed for both Malaysians and the Vietnamese is in their English language proficiency and I’d also like to see graduates with a broader world view beyond their coursework.”
The best and the brightest accountants now have and need to continue to develop a broad range of additional personal competencies beyond traditional accounting skills. As the world of business and finance evolves exponentially so the skills needed to compete and succeed must stay relevant.