Fund accountants at private-equity and other buy-side firms in Asia are becoming more highly sought-after this year.
But while funds in Hong Kong and Singapore will gladly consider candidates from banks and the Big Four, they increasingly want senior people who can speak Mandarin and communicate well with the front-office.
“There is great demand this year within fund-accountant recruitment in private equity funds,” says Tracy Tam, manager, banking and financial services, at recruitment agency Ambition in Hong Kong. “This is partly due to many new small private equity firms building their finance and operations functions. Mutual funds and pension funds are also regularly hiring as they tend to have a higher turnover.”
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Established buy-side players – in particular Blackstone, PAG and Manulife Asset Management – are also searching for accountants in Hong Kong, according to a headhunter in the territory who asked not to be named. “And generally more people are now making a move after receiving their bonuses,” adds Marlene Chan, a senior consultant at headhunters Capital People in Hong Kong.
Demand is strongest for senior accountants who can help funds as they launch new portfolios, says Christine Wright, Asia operations director for recruitment firm Hays. Some junior roles, by contrast, are being offshored to lower-cost locations such as India, or outsourced to fund-administration companies.
Mandarin language skills are becoming more important to jobs in fund accounting as buy-side firms in Hong Kong make more investments in mainland China. Accounting qualifications (in particular the CPA, CA or ACCA) and experience in net-asset-value, handling clients, valuations, transfers and confirmations are also critical, says Wright. “And employers are looking for senior candidates who can lead and motivate teams and communicate with the front-office,” she adds.
The increasing need for language and communication skills means competition for candidates is strong in Hong Kong and Singapore. “You will see fund accountants having multiple job offers right now,” says Stella Tang, director, Singapore, at Robert Half.
A fund accountant with five years’ experience can expect a salary of up to S$100k and a pay rise of up to 20% if they change companies, according to Orelia Chan, manager, financial services, at recruiters Robert Walters in Singapore.
Buy-side firms in Asia are combating the skill shortage by poaching people from banks and Big Four accounting firms, says Tang. “A common strategy is to hire people from the Big Four who are keen to gain corporate experience – they tend to go on to become very successful fund accountants.”
Fund accounting in Asia is generally not a profession in which young Western number-crunchers can make their mark. “If the level is middle to senior management, then some employers are willing to consider overseas candidates, usually from Europe, for roles in Hong Kong,” says Chan from Capital People.
In Singapore, relocation is even less common. “But we have been placing people originally from Malaysia, India or the Philippines, and who are already in Singapore, into such roles,” says Tang from Robert Half.
“The skills of accountants working on the buy-side are more all-rounded than those at banks, and the work-life balance is better as well. Banks, though, probably offer a wider range of product knowledge," says Chan from Capital People. Accountants also tend to move into fund roles if they enjoy working in small teams, says Tam from Ambition. Bonuses tend to be higher and more performance-based than at banks.
“The main shortcoming is instability, especially if you work for a start-up,” adds Tam. “Processes can be a lot more manual as small companies tend to have less IT and infrastructure support. The base salary is not that attractive and hours can be quite long too.”
Wright from Hays sums up: “The rule of thumb tends to be that the smaller the company, the less complex the fund, but the wider the job scope. The opposite is true for larger companies.”