2017 saw the need for flexibility and innovation in the accounting profession.
KPMG remains the biggest accounting firm in Singapore with a 3,000-strong team. PwC follows at a close second with 2,800 total staff, up from last year’s 2,742. Unsurprisingly, the 3rd and 4th firms are EY and Deloitte with 2,760 and 2,300 employees, respectively. The twelve largest firms of last year retained their spots, but the thirteenth largest firm this year came as a surprise. RT LLP almost doubled its staff number from 62 in 2016 to 120 today. Deloitte also saw to fit that its regional staffing would be adequate to cover the entire region. Whilst the numbers remained the same in Singapore, Deloitte saw a double-digit growth both in terms of talent numbers and revenue in ASEAN. “With different countries at different stages of growth, and with our clients’ needs being different for each country, our talent has spread out and grown across the region,” said Philip Yuen, chief executive officer, Deloitte Southeast Asia and Singapore. Max Loh, Asean and Singapore managing partner, EY, said that major global developments such as China’s Belt & Road initiative will eventually spur growth, hence accounting firms must seriously consider physical presence as well as strategic staffing in the region.
Lack of skills
Despite the growing demand for accountants in the region, a survey by EY and CPA Australia revealed that 150 accounting professionals in Singapore expressed weak confidence in their present skill set. According to them, strategic thinking is the top skill required these days, and their training and experience are no longer adequate to meet future job demand such as statistical analysis and data mining. According to Ong Pang Thye, managing partner, KPMG Singapore, the breadth and depth of experience offered by digital talents will enable the firm to provide its clients with an international and regional perspective in addressing present challenges. For KPMG, this means hiring more international talent whilst keeping its core workforce Singaporean.
Loh said that in 2017, EY grew to about 250,000 people across 151 countries and new hires reached up to 65,000, with 25% being experienced hires and more than 10% being alumni or what the firm calls boomerangs--people who worked for the firm, left, and came back. Meanwhile, Deloitte announced that it has increased its global workforce by 8% from 2016, greatly benefitting its major office in Singapore as well as its markets in the ASEAN region.
Rise of the data scientists
In terms of the expectations for accounting professionals, hiring managers have begun prioritising curious and creative individuals who are confident not only in using established technologies, but in easily working with emerging ones. Loh said that business acumen, professional skepticism, an analytical mindset and the ability to interrogate large data sets will also be critical to an accountant’s present and future success. “Finding individuals who fit this profile is no easy task. Hence, the accounting sector will need to diversify its recruitment to attract different science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines,” Loh added.
Lee Fook Chiew, chief executive officer, Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) noted that with more than 32,000 members in diverse roles across different industries, the sector in 2017 welcomed 1,000 accounting professionals from diverse industries as its new members. Singapore’s recently launched Financial Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) by the government will help facilitate pervasive innovation and technology adoption across the sector and equip the financial sector workforce with new skills and competencies. The ITM is also expected to create 4,000 new jobs in the financial services and fintech sectors annually.
“We enable our members to broaden their skills sets and deepen their expertise via specialisation pathways, such as the Financial Forensic Accounting qualification, and courses in cyber security and data analytics to help them stay relevant,” Lee said.
Evolution of work
EY’s belief in this strategy enabled it to deliver new services and solutions like people advisory services, operational transaction services, law, digital business transformation, analytics, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. Furthermore, firms outside of the Big Four are also observing new trends in terms of staffing. Sim Guan Seng, managing partner, Baker Tilly TFW LLP, said that they have been seeing an increase in interest among fresh graduates to explore a career with Global 10 firms outside of the Big Four. “We have been successful in attracting such graduates in the last 2 years to join us. I see this trend to continue. The challenge is for the mid-sized firms to live up to the expectations of these new recruits,” Sim said. 2017 is also significant for accounting firms in Singapore, as it marks the first year of implementation and regulation of the Enhanced Auditor Reporting standards (EARs).
Auditor’s reports now contain more insightful information in the form of key audit matters (KAMs) which enhances transparency amongst auditors as it enables investors to focus on critical areas including key accounting and audit issues in the financial statements. One year into the implementation of the EAR standards, ISCA’s survey revealed that nearly two thirds of audit committees (63%) and investors (60%) said that EARs gave them moderately to significantly deeper insights into how their auditors conducted the audits. The city’s new revenue recognition model is also expected to change the existing revenue recognition policies as well as pose challenges to businesses with long term contracts or contracts with multiple performance obligations.
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