Number crunchers no longer: accountants blossom at foreign banks in China

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Foreign banks in China are being hired into a more diverse and interesting range of roles in China, and the functions which require their skills are enjoying a steady flow of vacancies.

Demand for accountants has increased this year as most firms are still expanding and opening up in second and third-tier cities, says Cherol Cheuk, director, banking and financial services, Hudson. "And banks are converting rep offices into wholly-owned foreign enterprises, so they must have on-the-ground accounting personnel,"

Sought-after slots

Jobs where accountants are most obviously in demand include finance, internal audit, financial analysis, statutory reporting and product control, says Cheuk. "Compliance and risk have also become more important in Asia in the last 18 months to support headcount expansion in the front office," she adds.

Emma Charnook, regional director of Hays in China and Hong Kong, agrees: "There is always on-going demand in these areas. This is the result of increasing demand from local regulators for more sophisticated reporting."

More surprisingly, accountants have even been taken on for corporate-banking relationship-manager positions. Employees in these roles work on credit reports, which clearly suits most accountants' skills. But because the job is sales-driven, banks will only consider candidates with excellent communication skills, says Gary Lai, associate director, financial services and commerce finance, Robert Walters China.

Fussy foreign firms

Five years ago banks were less stringent about hiring generalists from the Big Four accountancy firms. These days, however, you usually need to have audited banks - or at least financial institutions such as an insurance companies - during your time at the Big Four in order to break into banking, says Cheuk.

This requirement is particularly important for product control, internal audit and compliance jobs, where a deep understanding of banking is needed. Banks don't have time to train accountants who lack exposure to their sector. But for Big Four accountants who have audited banks, foreign firms like to hire you after you have three to five years' experience, says Charnook.

Foreign banks in China ideally prefer to poach accountants from each other, says Nicole Yan, branch manager, accounting and finance, Manpower. People who build up experience at an international bank are in a strong position to move to another one after a few years.

Accountants working in Chinese banks, however, are far less likely to be hired by the global banks. Different business cultures, English language requirements, qualifications, management styles, working hours, recruitment techniques, and compensation arrangements make it difficult for any candidate, accountants included, to make the transition.

"Qualifications are less strict for Chinese banks in terms of career advancement, while foreign banks want to see candidates with audit sense and an understanding of accounting principles. This can only be supported by the right qualifications," says Rio Goh, manager, Michael Page Financial Services.

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