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April 30, 2008

China leads the way on staffing growth

The number of professional accounting staff in China has grown by 35 percent during the past year; this is a stark contrast to the developed markets in the US and UK, where professional staff numbers grew by 13 percent during a similar period. Even the fast-growing Russian market did not come close to China’s growth rate – its number of professional staff grew 20 percent from 2006 to 2007.

The combined work force of firms surveyed in this year’s IAB China survey (see A year of consolidation) increased 32 percent to 49,606 in the past year. The number of partners grew by 30 percent to 2,204.

Another significant statistic to emerge when the Chinese figures were compared to other markets was the variation in the ratio of professional staff to partner between the emerging and developed economies. There are more than twice as many partners in relation to professional staff in the US and UK as there are in China and Russia. Retention challenges Despite the sharp nation-wide rise in professional staff, staff challenges are still high on the agenda for firms. BDO Asia-Pacific regional co-ordinator Floyd Chan said retention of quality staff can be quite difficult due to demand from industry – specifically, foreigner-operated joint ventures within China. “The recruitment of their financial personnel all comes from the international [professional services] firms… We have got to find a way to retain and hold our staff and of course we have got to pay them adequately well. That is an increase of cost,” Chan said.

Nexia China has also faced challenges retaining quality staff and the firm’s chairman, Henry Tan, said he believes it will have to raise fees in the future in order to maintain quality staff.

Kreston International executive director Jon Lisby was more optimistic: “The future opportunities are widening because the status of an accountant is now growing strongly in China and more and more students seeing the profession as an attractive career option… The problem is that even with an expanding profession, the growth in demand for accountants will continue to outstrip supply and the shortage will remain.”

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