The consultancy arms of the Big Four accounting firms are still expanding in Singapore and Hong Kong, with Deloitte leading the charge, and they are open to banking sector talent. But recruitment standards are high: to become a consultant you need to demonstrate not only technical industry expertise but also client-facing potential.
Deloitte has reported 8.6 per cent growth in revenues for its 2012 fiscal year, with Asia up by 16.3 per cent, the highest rate of any region. “Deloitte is being particularly aggressive here and is paying more to hire new staff,” says a Singapore-based recruiter who asked not to be named. “Its focus is on getting the most enterprising people in the market.”
Ernst & Young, PwC and KPMG are also expanding in Asia. Will Russell, senior business director, Hays Singapore, says: “As the emerging market for most global businesses, Asia can lead to opportunities for growth for professional services organisations, so naturally they are expected to grow exponentially.”
The call of consulting
Reflecting a recent trend across the Big Four, Deloitte’s fiscal 2012 global revenue from consulting increased 13.5 per cent, compared with 6.1 per cent for audit. It’s also adding consulting headcount at twice the rate as auditing staff.
“As the consultancy side is less established, it can grow at a more rapid rate than the audit practice, meaning that proportionally it can seem as though it’s more of a focus,” says Russell. “However, both are equally important and it appears the Big Four are just responding to the market requirements.”
Mark Sparrow, managing director, Asia Pacific, NP Group, says improving business efficiency through technology, including cloud computing, and limiting business risk is helping to fuel the demand for consultancy services. “The real growth is in how companies can transform technology effectively and across markets to make themselves more productive and profitable – this is where the Big Four can provide best-practice know-how and tried and tested due diligence of approach.”
The ideal consulting candidate comes, unsurprisingly, from another Big Four firm.”It’s the lowest-risk hire as they should be able to plug straight into a role,” says Sparrow. “But there is already a shallow talent pool in a small market like Singapore, and you also may end up paying a premium for getting them on board.”
Banking and finance professionals in Asia are being considered for roles involving consulting to the financial sector, especially if they have “technology transformation” experience and the communication skills needed to succeed as a consultant, he adds. “They provide valuable insights and a certain advantage because they understand the industry, but for some it can be tough to migrate over into a revenue-generating consulting-style role at the Big Four.”
Finian Toh, manager, Robert Walters Singapore, has seen a recent increase in the hiring of professionals from industry. “This could be mainly attributed to growing demands for consultancy services as compared to the mature audit market. For a variety of reasons – among those, being in the front line facing clients – there are also some experienced candidates who have rejoined the Big Four after several years in the banking sector.”
The Big Four are wiling to hire overseas-based employees if they have the relevant technical know-how, says Toh. Internal moves are increasingly common, too, notes Russell. “But with the global structure of the Big Four, many candidates have to resign from their home country before being rehired by the same firm in Singapore.”
Sparrow says although firms are trying to reduce their reliance on international candidates, they will consider them if, for example, they are building a new practice or face a low supply of local candidates. “There’s no reduction in expats being desired, but there is more due diligence in looking to the domestic market first to ascertain skills availability.”