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.”