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May 18, 2009

UTC Nexia grows despite downturn

Despite the economic downturn, Nexia International member Usamah Tabbarah & Co (UTC) has continued to increase the number of professional staff and grow its Middle East practice.


Founder and managing director Oussama Tabbara said the credit crisis has provided the firm with opportunities. In particular, he says his firm has picked up audit clients as companies ensure their accounts are in check.

There are also more professionals in the market but still not as many as required.

“We need people who can speak Arabic and English fluently and not just one or the other, which is still hard to recruit,” Tabbara said.

UTC Nexia was founded in 1962 and specialises in providing audit, tax and consulting services to companies in financial services, insurance, construction, government and telecommunications.

The firm has 14 offices in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq, with a total of about 400 professional staff.

“I expect with the opening of our new offices in Qatar and Iraq that the number of staff will increase by 100 to 150,” Tabbara said. “With the current growth we are having, in spite of the global recession, I expect the fee income to increase to $20 million in 2009.”

Tabbara was born in Beirut in 1938 and raised in Lebanon and Jordan. The 70-year-old has been a part of the development of the Middle East accounting profession for more than 40 years.

Tabbara graduated with a Master’s degree in business administration at the American University in Beirut in 1961. He then pursued a career as an auditor.

Tabbara said audit work in the 1960s was not well recognised in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Skills shortage

A modern day concern for domestic firms, especially those based in Saudi Arabia, is a lack of qualified professionals.

Tabbara recently submitted a letter to the secretary general of the Saudi Association of Certified Public Accountants (SOCPA), Ahmed Maghames, in which he made recommendations to encourage Saudi accountants to move into the audit profession.

Saudi Arabia has a population of 25 million but there are only 160 licensed practicing professional auditors, Tabbara said.

“I recommended in the letter that to serve such a large economy Saudi Arabia needs a minimum of 1,000 qualified auditors. In Lebanon, there are 2,000 qualified auditors serving a population of only 4 million,” he said.

Tabbara believes it is important to motivate Saudi graduates to join the profession and says that his firm is willing to employ 30 to 40 university graduates to be trained at UTC’s Saudi Arabia offices on the condition that they have to continue to work with the firm for three years. If they pass SOCPA exams they will be licensed.

The Middle East also has other barriers, which compound the lack of qualified auditors. It is against the law in Saudi Arabia for female auditors to work in public practice and Tabbara believes this is an important issue that needs to be resolved.

The Middle East profession is slowly advancing and in recent years local professional bodies have been engaged with the International Federation of Accountant (IFAC) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

“There have been a number of conferences where IFAC representatives were participating in events in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the UAE,” Tabbara said.

Tabbara has been associated with the IASB for several years and is a staunch advocate of global standards in the region.

“There is a lot more interest in [international accounting standards] in the Middle East now than ever before,” he remarked.

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