The accounting profession in Pakistan is bringing in far below
its potential fee income, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers
Pakistan partner Syed Mohammad Shabbar Zaidi.

Zaidi, who is also president of the South Asia Federation of
Accountants, estimated the profession does not earn more than
PKR2.5 billion ($39.8 million) per year. “My view is that the
potential is more than PKR10 billion, but we don’t have sufficient
people and we don’t have sufficient number of firms with the
capacity to earn that kind of money,” he told IAB.

Zaidi explained there is also insufficient capacity among firms
to train and develop enough professionals. He said the Pakistani
profession is split between the Big Four and micro practices. “The
middle layer of firms has not developed in the way they should have
developed,” he said.

The Pakistani accounting profession has traditionally struggled to
attract the brightest students, who have instead chosen to pursue
careers such as engineering or medicine. “So generally the average
and the below average are opting for the accounting side,” Zaidi
said.

Today, the field of competing qualifications has widened to include
MBAs, which Zaidi said have a more glamorous reputation than the CA
(chartered accountant) qualification.

There are two roots to the accounting profession’s failure to
attract the brightest students, according to Zaidi. The first is
the profession not marketing itself properly and the second is
inadequate facilities among firms to train and develop staff.

A task force – of which Zaidi is president – has been formed in
Pakistan to address education and training within firms. Zaidi said
one suggestion for attracting more quality students has been to
target people who have already completed MBAs. The Institute of
Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) is looking to revamp its
course to give the CA qualification a distinct edge over other
business management programmes.

Another problem the accountancy profession is facing is that the
brightest graduates are not willing to work at trainee rates. To
solve this, ICAP is looking at introducing field training outside
the profession so trainees can be paid market rates while still
being educated by the institute.

One more issue the profession faces is harnessing the potential of
investment advisory, which Zaidi identified as the only area in
which “we have got an edge”. He said the investment advisory
business should belong to the accounting profession rather than
investment bankers.

“It is our business because we know the business… we have learned
the law and the tax. So the lead should be coming from our side and
they should help us, but unfortunately the lead is coming from
their side and we are helping them,” he said.

Zaidi also believes monotonous rules-based auditing standards are
driving staff away from the profession.

Carolyn Canham