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From auditor to adviser

Dennis Ho, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been working at the Big Four firm for more than 20 years.  But even though he’s been with the same organisation for his entire career, the constantly changing working environment has made his job seem like a new one every year. 

As a certified public accountant, Ho tackles a wide range of business issues and complex commercial challenges. He sees the whole accounting profession steadily shifting from auditing and very technical aspects to more business-related advisory services. “I am not just performing professional audit services for our clients. What I’ve actually been doing is building relationships with them and becoming their trusted adviser.”

Ho says there are now more opportunities in the profession than ever before. “The demand has never been greater for accountants who can give more value to clients.” 

Generally, fresh graduates hired by Big Four firms such as PwC start as associates or junior staff for two years to learn about the core skills in the business. They then obtain a wider set of professional skills over the next three years as senior associates. 

Depending on their performance and qualifications, some of them eventually rise to become managers. 

“They will start to manage whole audit assignments and be involved in other services that we provide to our clients. It depends on the staff’s performance as well as their professional qualifications. Young staff who are brilliant performers have the chance to lead a small group of people at a very early stage of their careers,” Ho says. 

Recruiting and managing talent are key focuses at PwC. “We need the best people. They need to have team spirit and integrity. We need all of our people to lead and inspire others, and who can lead clients, teams and others through the changing business environ8ment,” Ho says.

Successful candidates have to be bright, passionate, innovative and possess excellent leadership and communication skills. Even non-accounting graduates are hired, as long as they are bright people who are willing to develop and pursue a career in the accounting industry. 

“We offer programmes that can support graduates from non-accounting backgrounds to get professional qualifications,” Ho says.

“Our clients and our people want to work with people they like and trust, and with whom they can build long-lasting relationships. That’s why we not only look for talented and intellectually curious individuals, but also for those who are passionate about what they’re doing so they can make a difference to our clients and to our business.” 

PwC ensures that its people stay current with industry changes as they grow personally and professionally. The firm’s learning and development department offers in-house revision courses, assistance on how to take core examinations, and subsidies to help junior staff pass their  qualification programme (QP) examinations to be qualified as a CPA as soon as possible. “On average, junior staff or associates receive more than 200 hours of training in their first year,” Ho says.

One thing that invariably surprises newcomers to PwC is how close the senior staff – including the partners – are to the young members. “Our senior managers and junior staff work very closely together. Twenty years ago, the partners always seemed distant to the young members. Today, the partners are much more eager to understand the younger generation and to spend a lot of time with them,” Ho says.

The firm promotes a coaching ethos through  what it calls a performance culture and development approach. All new joiners are assigned a buddy and a career coach. 

“We find the buddy system to be very effective in helping new joiners quickly settle in,” Ho says. “Each staff member is paired with a career coach who will help clarify roles and expectations for each grade, so that attributes, behaviour and key performance expected at each level are well understood.” 

Ho’s advice to new graduates wanting to join a Big Four firm is to seize every opportunity. He also recommends that they should always set short- and medium-term objectives in their career. 

“They must set career goals for, say, three to five years, so they can have a clear mindset on what they want to achieve. Then they should constantly examine themselves and their situation, and make changes if necessary,” Ho says.

“Finally, it is also important to set your expectations higher than others. People expect you to do things at their level, so if you set your expectations higher than theirs and you meet your expectations, that means you exceed the expectations of others and will gain higher recognition. 

“After people recognised the best things that I had done, that’s when I was given more opportunities. This is a continuous cycle that could lead to a rewarding and successful career,” he adds.