New IPOs drive demand
Edmond Chan, assurance partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says the outlook for the IPO environment in Hong Kong and the mainland looks healthy and will continue to require a steady stream of accountants to provide professional services.
"Over the next few years, compared to many other industries, demand for accountants to work on IPO projects will remain high," Chan says. During the first seven months of this year, 42 companies have listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, an increase of 83 per cent when compared with 23 in the same period last year.
Chan says to capture investor attention, IPO processes need to be conducted within a set timeframe without any compromise on the quality of information contained in the IPO prospectus, which is presented to potential investors and regulators. He says in addition to accounting knowledge, working on IPOs requires strong analytical skills and the ability to look deep into a company's operations from an investor's perspective.
Edward Au, partner, national public offering group, Deloitte China, says the "Big Four" firms make a concerted effort to ensure their accountants have access to training and resources to help them excel in projects, time management and communication skills. "We provide training internally and externally, plus on-the-job training with guidance and support to help accountants develop their career," Au says.
Eric Tong, global financial services industry leader, Deloitte southern China, says the firm has developed a core professional development programme designed to help staff understand different accounting interpretations and develop soft training skills.
"As the IPO activities market leader in Hong Kong and internationally, we rely on a large team of professionals to handle a wide range of IPO projects," Tong says. The firm established a Deloitte Club designed to encourage students to learn more about the accountancy profession. "Through our Deloitte Club, students are introduced to the industry."
Recruitment professionals say hiring activities at the "Big Four' accounting and professional services firms usually combine hiring experienced accountants and developing a talent pipeline through graduate training programmes.
Terence Ho, Ernst & Young's Greater China strategic growth markets leader and China IPO leader, is another who sees an attractive future for accountants interested in IPO projects. At present, Ernst & Young is hiring about 1,500 new recruits across the Greater China region. Ho says that for accountants working within private companies making the transition from private to a publicly listed firms, the experience can be the stepping stone to other management positions. For example, taking on the role of chief finance officer and in some cases, CEO. "One of the biggest changes that has taken place in recent years is the way that IPO accountants have taken on an educators role to help the management of privately owned companies understand the different mechanics of financing and decision making once the company becomes publicly listed. This provides valuable experience to accountants looking to steer their career towards a management position," Ho says.
Jack Chow, partner, audit, KPMG China, Hong Kong, believes to succeed as an IPO accountant it is vital that professionals familiarise themselves with the expectations of regulators, and closely watch technical requirements and professional reporting standards. "Every IPO is different. Accountants working on IPO projects often provide a bridge and act as a problem solver between the company seeking its listing, regulators, investment banks and the legal profession. In addition to accounting skills, good communication skills are a prerequisite to ensure the IPO process progresses smoothly," Chow says.
Andrew Lam, Grant Thornton assurance partner, says IPO projects are one of the most dynamic and challenging areas of the accountancy profession. "Working on IPO projects is definitely not a nine-to-five job. However, the reward of helping a privately owned company to become publicly listed and perform well is immensely satisfying," Lam says.