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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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