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March 24, 2009

Singapore sets out to become Asia’s accounting hub

By Nicholas Moody

Singapore has set up a high-level government appointed board to help the city state become the leading centre for professional accountancy services in Asia.

The Committee to Develop the Accounting Sector has embarked on an 18 month high-level review led by Singapore Totalisator Board chairman Bobby Chin, to work out how to become Asia’s main accounting hub.

The committee is made up of 14 other senior representatives from the accounting profession, business community, academia and the public sector.

Seven of the panel members are practising accountants from the Big Four, Grant Thornton and a Nexia member firm. The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore is represented by vice-president Ernest Kan.

Shirlynn Loo, from Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), is leading the secretariat responsible for the new committee. Loo said being an international financial and business hub has been a key ambition and aspiration for Singapore for some time. The initiative wants to build on the city-state’s good geographical position connecting West and East.

“We want to leverage on that [geographical advantage], especially with emerging jurisdictions,” she said.

“We want to find out how we can put ourselves on the map, especially with the Big Four, to find a niche for ourselves.”

ACRA research released in July last year provides some indication of the size and potential for the industry’s growth in Singapore.

It found accounting activities provided nearly 9,000 jobs in 2005 and the accounting sector grew 7 percent between 2005 and 2007.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry expects rapid growth for the accounting sector based on its 2007 economic survey, which reported that business services exports grew by more than 18 percent per annum over the previous five years.

Loo said the new board will be consulting a broad range of stakeholders from education providers to HR head-hunters and accounting firms.

“There are no sacred cows – nothing will be left untouched, it is a fundamental review so we want it to be as comprehensive as possible,” she said.

The review will focus on three areas: services, talent and education.

Services will centre on promoting Singapore as a key provider of accounting services in Asia; talent will seek to position the city state as the leading hub for international talent in the accountancy field; and education will aim to develop it as a regional education and professional training centre for accountancy.

Part of this push is to create “vibrancy and competitiveness” in the market, which means generating activities, economic value, new initiatives and value-added education, Loo said.

Talent management is one of the topics being considered.

“As in many places, it takes at least 10 years to be partner, for Generation Y it is too long, so we are thinking about how to retain talent. We don’t need them to all become partners but we need to look at the next generation of leaders and we want talent to be retained in the audit profession as well as the wider accountancy sector,” she said.

Loo said it is early days and nothing concrete has been produced yet. The review’s findings are expected to be released in May 2010.

Nicholas Moody

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