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Accountants chasing the money abroad

Are accountants allergic to Australia? Given the proportion of its 47,000 accounting professionals who’ve left the country, you might just think so…. According to Sheena Frenkel of the Aus Institute of Chartered Accountants, 14% of Australia’s accountants work offshore, 7% of them in the UK.

As ever, the impetus for heading somewhere else is cold hard cash – both when they’re overseas and when they return. Cameron Heaney of recruiter Imagine says a CA with two to three years’ experience earns AU$70k-$80k simply by hanging around in Aus.

“If they had done a stint in London, the same person could be on AU$110k-$120k,” he says.

No wonder 43% of the Institute’s 2007 CA candidates planned to work overseas within two years of graduating.

But it leaves a gap here. “There is ferocious demand in that three to eight-year category,” says Briana Hill at recruiter Michael Page.

The big accountancy firms are hard hit and are fighting back with grad programs and overseas placements and rotations.

Deloitte has an international secondment program and its D Academy which was a finalist in the 2007 national HR Awards for the best graduate intake program. “Grab them early and invest in their careers,” says Alec Bashinsky at Deloitte.

This year, PricewaterhouseCoopers has included graduates on its international secondment program and expects 20% of each year’s graduates to participate, says Sharon Bell, PwC’s director of human capital.

KPMG and Ernst & Young have similar strategies for getting, training and keeping grads.

But they still go, with a net loss to Australia’s talent pool. Worse, the ones who go,

Frankel says, are the daring ones who’ll chance their arm, the ones any company would want.”

It’s also hurting the banks. Melissa Cook, project accountant at Goldman Sachs JBWere, says : “There are just not enough accountants being trained. And THEN they go off to London…”

And when they come back, they are even more desirable and can expect relatively bigger salaries than peers who stayed home.

“It’s true, the ones who have travelled are highly regarded and sought after,” says Lisa Kuti at recruiter Ambition. “They have learned so much – different clients, cultures, markets. Just travelling itself.”

“There’s a real cachet in having worked in London,” Frankel says.

Sally-Anne Blanshard, research manager at Ambition, says, “Candidates who get exposure to global blue chips are a very attractive commodity when they return.”

But Kuti says staying at home does not disadvantage excellent candidates, and Blanchard points out leaving can create opportunities here for ones who stay.

So, if there’s a bit too much competition at the office, scatter around some glossy brochures of Big Ben.

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