Hong Kong finance professionals keen on seeking greener pastures abroad

67% of professionals want career growth, better salary packages, improved overall lifestyle and new work experiences overseas.

According to the International Talent Mobility Report launched on Tuesday by ACCA, the global body for professional accountants, and leading recruitment firm Robert Half International, many finance and accounting professionals want to gain international experience, but few firms in Asia Pacific are offering overseas career opportunities. This is one key finding of the International Talent Mobility Report, which examines the forces driving the movement of the finance and accounting talent pool.

The research is based on a survey of ACCA members and employers, and Robert Half business contacts in the finance, accounting and banking sectors in Hong Kong and Singapore, many of whom have hiring authority. The survey, which includes 645 respondents from Hong Kong and 793 from Singapore, was conducted by an independent research organisation in June 2011.

The International Talent Mobility Report reveals that two-thirds (67%) of finance and accounting professionals in Hong Kong and nearly three-quarters (73%) in Singapore want to work overseas.

The key reasons Hong Kong employees seek international work opportunities include a desire for career growth (24%), better salary packages (21%), improved overall lifestyle (14%) and new work experiences (12%).

Benefits Hong Kong respondents expect to receive in an overseas relocation package include a housing allowance (91%), medical insurance (82%), return visits to their home country (79%) and a moving allowance (76%).

Despite strong employee desire to obtain overseas experience there are not enough opportunities to work abroad. Amongst the Hong Kong firms that send employees on secondments overseas or to Mainland China, only 8% do so on a regular basis, according to the report. Similarly in Singapore, just 13% provide regular secondments abroad.

“There is a clear gap between the opportunities to work overseas that businesses offer and the opportunities employees would like,” said Pallavi Anand, Director of Robert Half Hong Kong. “Companies concerned about turnover may want to consider offering secondment programmes, as this can be a useful retention tool. Professionals who work overseas also increase their knowledge base and become more valuable to the organisation.”

The key reasons cited by Hong Kong employers choosing to send staff on overseas secondments are to encourage the transfer of knowledge and expertise between teams (62%), enhance the training and development of employees (52%), increase diversity of experience within the organisation (44%) and plug current skills shortage (35%).

“As business becomes more global, there is no better way to get professionals thinking globally than to give them overseas experience,” added Ms. Anand. “It’s important, though, to choose the right employees to send abroad. Ultimately, you want to select staff who have high potential and will stay with the company for the long term.”

Key factors employers will consider when choosing a candidate to relocate overseas include, “appropriate skills or job knowledge” (93%), “adaptability” (89%), “collaboration skills” (88%) and “cultural sensitivity” (70%). 

“There are factors that can sway a decision in an employee’s favour especially in the finance and accounting industry,” said Rosanna Choi, Chairman of ACCA Hong Kong. “Employers also value employees who are equipped with a recognised accounting qualification which proves their technical capability. Local language proficiency is also important when selecting talent.”

Although most companies do not plan to relocate their own employees to another country, they may be more likely to look abroad when adding to their teams.

One-third (30%) of Hong Kong employers surveyed who plan to add finance, accounting and banking staff in the second half of the year said they are likely to hire staff overseas. This indicates that employees who strongly desire an overseas career opportunity may have better luck looking outside of their firms than within them.

“If work experience in another country is important to a high-potential staff member, it may be better to offer the opportunity than risk losing the person,” said Ms. Anand.

Although hiring staff from abroad has advantages, it comes with a cost. According to the report, the primary reasons companies are reluctant to hire staff from abroad are relocation expenses (67%), followed by lack of knowledge of local accounting practices and regulations (37%).

“For candidates who want to work overseas, demonstrating an understanding of local accounting and business practices can help ease employers’ concerns. Those looking to pursue international opportunities should look to global professional bodies to help acquire the skills necessary for an overseas transition,” said Ms Choi.

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