By Darrius Tan
The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.
On 15 June 2021, Advisory organised a Discovery+ online panel: Discovery+: Accountancy. On our panel that evening, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from academia, government and corporations. The panel consisted of Ms Lim Kexin (Moderator), Tax Partner, Entrepreneurial Private Business, PwC Singapore; Mr Chris Loh, Director, SYNOTax Pte Ltd; Ms May-Anne Tham, Regional HR Director, SAP Asia Ltd and Mr Ng Chieh Kwong, Asia CSA Finance Leader, Gas Power, General Electric. Our registered participants comprised students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in accountancy, and what they can do to better stead themselves in entering and staying relevant as a player.
There are two end-goals of accountancy: growth and profitability. Accountants may advise clients on a wide range of issues, such as taxation and business practices. As such, close communication with clients is key. Accountants will also need to work closely with the corporate and operations teams to increase business growth.
There are also multiple roles in the large industry of Accountancy. For instance, for accountants working in Multinational Corporations, their job involves frequent discussions with counterparts overseas, while others have more localised roles. The companies that accountants work in can vary in industry as well, such as green energy, private wealth and human resources, and the decisions that they make can have a real-life impact on people’s lives.
The clients that accountants work with also come from multiple sectors, such as shipping and cryptocurrency, because of the key role which accountancy plays in all businesses. For instance, human resources accounting involves developing employee skill sets and talent through retraining, fostering a culture which is aligned with business outcomes and working with labour and government agencies. In short, accountancy tends to be a people-focused industry.
Accountancy provides one with a wide range of transferable skills, which gives one access to a wider range of industries and career options. For instance, a number of our panelists worked in logistics and audit before entering the accounting sector. At its core, studying accountancy as a degree encourages critical thinking and to interpret trends, which can be useful in other jobs, or even in running one’s own business.
One does not require a degree in accountancy as long as the applicant demonstrates adaptability and a willingness to learn. Often, employees with diverse and non-conventional experiences in various industries can reinforce the team. Hires who make a mid-career switch can also learn on the job and upskill themselves by securing various professional qualifications.
While hard skills and content can be useful, what distinguishes applicants from others will be their soft skills, which includes communication, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and teamwork. Moreover, adaptability is especially important as every client’s situation is different.
Accountancy indeed involves a great degree of technical skills, and automation is a worry for some accountants as some parts of the work can be easily outsourced or replaced. However, the human element of accountancy is important, and will not be replaced by automation. Ultimately, clients want to deal with an accountant who can understand them, be a trusted advisor, and provide a human touch to their work. Furthermore, it is precisely because of digitalisation that AI and blockchain have become new areas of growth for companies, and accountants who have some expertise and background knowledge in these areas can have a strong edge.
Internships can help potential entrants into accountancy to familiarise themselves with the industry. Additionally, building networks is important, including with other counterparts within the company in other roles. Finally, developing one’s soft and people skills is important in any industry.
The ‘Big Four’ accounting firms, namely Deloitte & Touche LLP, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, may offer a cosmopolitan, happening, vibrant and diverse environment to work in. Training and talent development for employees is also a key focus in these accounting firms, and learning can be accelerated due to the presence of subject matter experts. Many employees are very motivated, and despite the long work hours, work in a ‘Big Four’ company can be fulfilling.
That being said, there are also more fluid opportunities in the ‘Big Four’ now, as you can work on a project in a separate specialisation to gain new insights into other areas, such as internal audit, external audit and tax.