Hiring of accountants may be feeling the chill whipping the banking and finance industries across the globe, but some firms seem to be coping better than others. For instance, RSM Nelson Wheeler is confident it can benefit from the current economic malaise by relying on a good strategic mix of top-talent retention, hiring the best in the market and recruiting the most promising graduates.
“Come 2013, it will be an even harder year than 2012. The global economic situation will affect our business,” says Chris Wong, staff partner at RSM Nelson Wheeler, which was set up in Hong Kong in 1975 and is a member of the RSM International global network with its more than 700 offices in 90-plus countries.
Wong says the firm’s main business has been Hong Kong and overseas initial public offerings (IPOs), mergers and acquisitions, and the audit of listed companies. It also offers assurance, tax, transaction and risk, and corporate advisory.
With a weak US economy and a stubborn euro-debt crisis, Wong keeps a positive but cautious outlook for China. He expects the mainland GDP to grow by around 7 per cent next year, powered by Chinese government efforts to boost domestic consumption. Another welcome development would be more hot money flowing into the stock market, which could spur potential clients to list and raise funds, Wong adds.
However, he expects competition to heat up for IPOs, with the Big Four accounting firms increasingly more willing to take on smaller jobs that were traditionally the bread-and-butter of second-tier firms.
Accounting companies must contend not only with the economic blues, but also with rising overhead costs, thanks to rising inflation, rents and wages.
While the Big Four firms have reportedly already introduced non-paid leave this year, the first quarter is usually hectic and many accountants will be kept busy working on year-end results for companies with financial years ending in December or March.
“After that, the Big Four may offer more non-paid leave and career-break opportunities. This could affect morale. We’ll take this opportunity to hire and keep good, talented people. We are competing on quality and service,” Wong says.
RSM plans to hire 40 to 50 fresh graduates in 2013 to add to its 400 headcount. “Graduate recruitment cannot be stopped, no matter what the economy is like. This is a very good source of our staff,” says Wong, adding that they “will continue hiring talented individuals in this period in a prudent manner” as part of their replacement strategy.
Wong says they are looking for people who are highly professional, customer-focused, honest, motivated and intelligent, and have integrity. Applicants should be committed and responsive, proactive and solution-focused. They should also have good listening and interpersonal skills to understand clients’ needs.
Wong says salary is an integral part of their strategy to retain their best-performing staff during a slowdown. “It’s unavoidable that we offer good salaries to compete with other firms and get the best people to work for us,” he says.
The firm offers an in-depth orientation workshop for recruits and on-the-job training for sustained professional development. It has training courses to help hone technical and soft skills.
“Staff have to take at least 40 hours of training every year. The technical part is already very comprehensive, and in 2013, we will improve on the soft-skills training, which now covers topics such as project management, delegation of work, coaching, time management and others,” Wong says.
As a certified Caring Company, RSM fosters a family environment and offers a mentoring system for sub-manager staff and a counselling system for managers and above. It also makes sure that the communication channel with management is always open.
“There is a sense of belonging. If anyone has a question or difficulty, they feel free to ask and they will get a friendly answer or help, without anybody blaming them,” Wong says.
To nurture team spirit, the firm has lined up corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, such as organising a mid-autumn festival lunch and entertainment show for up to 200 elderly people, usually handled by 60 staff members.
In another CSR gesture, close to 30 employees spend an afternoon playing with disabled children – a meaningful way to mark RSM World Day in September, which is simultaneously celebrated by all its associate firms across the globe.