Work for the Big Four in Asia? Now is the time to move to a bank
If you’re a young auditor at the Big Four in Singapore or Hong Kong with your eyes set on a banking career, now may be a good time to line up a move.
As poaching people from the finance departments of rival banks becomes more difficult in Asia, [efc_twitter text="recruiters expect an uptick this year in banks hiring from the Big Four"]. Much of this recruitment will come in the next two to three months – before headcount budgets for cost-centre staff start to close up.
As in previous years, banks in Hong Kong and Singapore want to hire junior to mid-level talent that they can mould into shape – Big Four auditors with three to five years’ post-qualification experience. But if you’re hoping that having Deloitte, EY, KPMG or PwC on your CV will land you a role in a newly lucrative sector like compliance or risk, you’re out of luck. Here are the three main job functions where banks in Asia are actually hiring auditors fresh from the Big Four.
“Financial reporting is an internal and external requirement, so it’s not something that banks in Asia can cut back on. With increasing regulatory requirements and IFRS changes, there is steady demand for these candidates and this could increase in the future,” says Nick Fenn, regional manager of recruitment firm Reed in Hong Kong. “Convincing people to move from bank to bank is getting more difficult unless it’s a big step-up, so banks are increasingly considering Big Four candidates to broaden their talent pool.”
Big Four auditors typically have strong IFRS knowledge and an awareness of financial regulatory requirements. In Hong Kong, for example, they are likely to have audited HKMA and SFC regulatory returns for their banking clients, says Tracy Tam, associate director, banking and financial services, at recruiters Ambition.
These transferable skills make the move to financial reporting an appealing one for Big Four auditors. But there are downsides. “The biggest challenge is that they don’t have a commercial background and banks expect them to get up to speed too quickly,” explains Fenn. “Dealing with issues from an internal perspective – with commercial objectives and having to satisfy many stakeholders – is very different to being at an external auditor.”
Some Big Four candidates see financial reporting as a short-term stepping stone into another department within the bank, which contributes to the high volume of vacancies in the function, says Fenn. “Some switch to doing management reporting or financial analysis after a few years,” adds Tam. “While others see regulatory reporting as a traditional career path to becoming a financial controller or even a CFO in the long run.”
Product control is not booming in Singapore or Hong Kong – many low-end jobs in this function are being offshored away from the two cities. But as the junior talent base shrinks, banks are finding it hard to source candidates who want to step up into mid-level jobs. And unlike risk or compliance, hiring budgets aren’t large enough to allow banks to poach people via big salary increases. “So again, banks now need to consider Big Four candidates to broaden their candidate pool,” says Fenn from Reed.
Tam adds: “Big Four auditors in Asia who’ve done some investment-banking or securities-brokerage client audit will know what the product-control function performs and will have a good fundamental product knowledge. Some also have a CFA qualification along with their CPA.”
She says product control is a good career option for accountants who want a mix of finance (product knowledge, valuation) and accounting (book keeping, month-end closure) exposure within investment banks. “Good technical product controllers can move into market risk, project management or business management after a few years’ experience.”
But in the meantime, not all Big Four candidates take easily to product control. “A lot of the reporting deadlines are daily and it may take a while to adjust to this tight working routine,” says Tam. “Product controllers support front-office traders, who may be demanding, and they may have to work with offshore production teams in India or Manila, which requires remote communication.”
Internal-audit roles at banks in Singapore and Hong Kong have largely escaped recent rounds of offshoring because they need to sit with the businesses they are covering. Recruitment rates in the function are tipped to stay strong this year, with banks plugging skill shortages with Big Four auditors. “They have good training, technical ability and are up to date with the latest regulations and financial standards as part of the job requirement at the Big Four,” says Lay Hoon Ng, associate director at recruiters Michael Page in Singapore.
But pure auditing skills aren’t enough – banks in Asia will typically only hire Big Four professionals who’ve worked with financial services clients, adds Ng. “Bank are very specific with their hiring requirements – an investment bank would most likely only consider an auditor with investment-bank or global-markets clients,” adds Tam from Ambition.
Banks in Hong Kong and Singapore are also looking for the soft skills that Big Four firms are renowned for producing in their auditors. “With Big Four training, candidates are usually more presentable, have better client-facing skills, and possess stronger communication, interpersonal, and project-management skills,” says Tam.
Big Four accountants typically join banks when they tire of moving from client to client and want to gain more in-depth experience within one company. “But an in-house role can be a lot more routine and detailed than an external audit role,” warns Tam. “Some people aren’t able to switch their mindset to working in just one detailed job.”