The Inside Story of Accountancy & Finance in Mainland China

The Inside Story of Accountancy & Finance in China

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Overview

The accountancy and finance sector in Mainland China matures to catch on with their western counterparts.

Organisations throughout Mainland China remain optimistic about business growth with seven in ten of them foreseeing heightened business activity in the coming year (as reported in the latest Hays Asia Salary Guide). As a result, employers have been on a lookout for accounting and finance professionals who, on top of possessing technical skills, have a keen business acumen to see expansion and re-structure plans to fruition.

Historically the perception of accountancy and finance functions in Mainland China has been of specialisms that are purely administrative; a backroom of bookkeeping, a department to decode profit and loss figures, but of little other consequence. However, the last decade has witnessed a maturation of Mainland China in line with business models in the U.S. and Europe, and this attitude has changed, bringing the acknowledgement that accountancy and finance departments, with greater visibility and input, can enhance a company’s value greatly.

Such vision can be achieved alongside incoming waves of digital transformation of the sector, which was once viewed as a threat to jobs and livelihoods. By contrast, recently as tedious tasks get automated, talents are needed to oversee and manage such technology and instead be a business partner to the organisation. The ability to navigate the world of digital finance and utilise new tools to obtain and analyse findings that aid in decision making is key skill required of finance professionals moving forward.

A&F inside story 

Finance candidates who come from the BAT companies are high in demand.

Talents with CICPA and ACCA certifications are usually most favoured by employers. In addition, in the following fields within accounting and finance are highly sought after:

  • Commercial FP&A managers
  • Financial due diligence specialists
  • Financial modelling experts
  • Digital Finance/ System Finance
  • CFO for local companies looking to IPO on global stock markets
  • Tax managers

We have also noted a rising trend of consumer businesses with e-payment or ecommerce system requiring their finance teams to understand the latest financial systems while being able to analyse data to value-add commercially. As a result, finance candidates who come from the BAT companies (i.e. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencents) are highly coveted because of their natively digital skillsets.

In addition, as Chinese businesses go global, talents with fluency in a foreign language such as English, Japanese and Korean, have an edge over their peers due to the increasing need for a collaborative environment between finance associates in transnational teams.

More businesses are encourating the formal education of their workforce and promoting both internal and external training and development programmes.

With competition for high-level candidates fierce, the last 24 months have seen an upsurge in learning and development as companies put together financial management programmes and leadership rotation programmes in order to enhance the development of their own staff within Accountancy & Finance departments. Major MNCs have also been sponsoring MBAs and other external training programmes, under the condition of a bond with the company as further efforts to develop their existing talent.

While this is seen across both local and international companies, the impatience of the former, as they look to expand at dramatic rates, means that they require candidates who are up to speed on day one and do not require extensive training. This means that they have been particularly active in headhunting ready-to-go candidates, with most of their targets being found at the more established MNCs.

In addition, to keep pace with the latest technologies, many employers have been encouraging their staff to network in external accounting and finance forums. Particularly, CFOs are urged to promote their professional branding by giving presentations or speeches while showcasing the company’s thought leadership.

Candidates who possess the right balance of hard and soft skills maintain their leverage.

While there is no lack of accountancy and finance candidates in the market, clients are struggling to fill vacant positions as there is a pronounced disparity between company expectation and candidate ability. Individuals who are able to marry technical abilities with the superlative soft skills that are mandatory to develop into the newly required business partnering roles - particularly in niche areas such as compliance - are in short supply and are able to exploit this situation to receive multiple offers and counter offers.

To add, if recruiters or hiring managers were to describe a candidate that is the absolute perfect fit for a mid-level role and a senior-level role, they would attest: someone who has had experience in the Big4 or MT+ MNCs, is fluent in English, and holds an accredited qualification such as CPA or ACCA.

A&F inside story 

Conclusion

With the perception of Accountancy & Finance sectors in Mainland China changing so rapidly, there has been a pronounced shift in mentality. These one-time backroom bookkeepers are becoming increasingly visible, with CFOs taking on board memberships at regional and global levels as well as rotating into business roles and GM roles, stepping out from their traditional shadows. And for those candidates who can successfully pair their soft and technical skills to a level that meets companies’ high expectations and exacting standards, the potential for high salaries and career progression is enormous.

If you would like to discuss this report in more depth or you wish to discuss your job search or recruitment needs, please email Sue Wei, Business Director for Hays Shanghai at Sue.Wei@hays.cn