By Jenny Chua and Brian Wong

Accounting firms in Malaysia invest heavily in talent and the larger firms have built a reputation for progressive and innovative talent management practices. For instance, the largest accounting firms in Malaysia were again ranked at the top of the cross-sectoral Malaysia’s 100 Leading Graduate Employers Awards 2018.

Despite their efforts, accounting firms – especially their audit practices – continue to report high attrition, attributable to intense competition from within and outside Malaysia for talent in a relatively limited accounting talent pool, and from work-related stress pressures that come with the challenging external service environment.

This is a major concern as audit careers may no longer be as attractive especially to those in the present generation who have a different outlook in life. It was against this backdrop that MIA undertook the work-related stress survey with audit firms and published the survey findings in the July / August 2018 issue of the Accountants Today.

As a follow-up, MIA organised a high-level talent roundtable with HR Heads from 16 major audit firms, moderated by Mr.Brian Wong, the immediate past chair of the MIA Public Practice Committee (PPC).

Key Findings

In general, larger accounting firms have the resources to devote more time and effort in embedding first class talent management practices to heighten employee engagement, satisfaction, loyalty, and performance. These include:

  • Placing talent management at the core of leadership and management activities.  Leadership and management-based initiatives are supported by a clear strategic mission and inspire staff with a sense of purpose in developing their careers with the firm.
  • Clear and structured career pathways to enable talent to evolve and grow. High performers are often placed on a fast track career path.
  • A structured learning environment. Staff can expect life-long learning and professional development opportunities within the firm.
  • Employee empowerment. “We motivate employees by empowering them to achieve both professional and personal success.” said Ms.Monsy Siew, Executive Director, People, Performance & Culture, KPMG PLT.
  • Open communication and creating an atmosphere of inclusion and respect based on ongoing personal interaction. This is important for employees to have the right level of personal comfort regarding how they fit within the organisation. “At PwC, we are spending more time visiting audit teams to listen to feedback and respond to issues. We track our people engagement index closely, as we continue to focus on employee wellbeing and enhancing our work-life practices,” said Ms.Salika Suksuwan, Human Capital Leader, PwC Malaysia.
  • Overseas opportunities. In today’s globalised economy, a premium is attached to international experience, and audit firms can offer employees cross-border mobility and diversity of experience through secondment opportunities. Firms are able to enhance their attractiveness as choice employers by working closely with overseas affiliated offices to explore international staff exchange, including short-term arrangements.

Meanwhile, mid-tier firms’ flatter hierarchies have shortened the power distance between partners and junior auditors and enable more intimate mentoring and counselling. “We have seen results of some who have left the firm return afterwards seeking that sense of personal growth and belonging,” said Ms.Bonnie Tham, Head of People and Support, BDO in Malaysia.

Smaller professional services firms, however, have basic talent management systems that generally do not capture and effectively manage talent-related information. Many lack ongoing management processes and some have just begun the journey to implement better talent management programmes within their firms.  The lack of a systematic approach limits management’s ability to identify, nurture and motivate employees.  Smaller firms also may not have the in-house resources to develop structured training modules and hence, have to leverage on what is offered by external professional bodies.

Brian Wong is the immediate past Chairman of the MIA Public Practice Committee and Jenny Chua is the Head of MIA Small and Practices Department, Professional Practices and Technical Division.

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