Monday, 28 January 2008

The 4 here and the 4 there

Now, for those who don’t know, there are currently 4 top accounting firms in the world where an abundant of students are willing to sell their soul to. Joining these big boys is already in most accounting students’ head before they even graduate. Be an auditor and your future will be guaranteed… they say.

In Malaysia, it is irony at the highest magnitude as all of these students know that they will have to work their socks off when they enter these firms but regardless, they will still join. There are a few readers of AZAIG who fall under this category.

I think the main reason why students will join the Big 4 in Malaysia is the eligibility of ‘study leave’ and ‘sponsored study’. Yes, having a degree in accounting doesn’t make you an accountant. One must study a professional paper such as ACCA or CPA in order to qualify as an accountant, provided if you pass.

Of course, that is also on top of the fact that one must also obtain 3 years working experience in an accounting firm to have the ‘qualified accountant’ and being in a Big 4 is an added advantage. Anyway, that’s not the notion here.

Because of this exam + experience requirement, most accounting grads in Malaysia will join these Big 4 firms to ‘make it big’. These firms will sponsor their professional paper and they are usually given 2 weeks study leave for each paper when exam looms. Of course, whether you can actually take these leaves with a peace of mind to study is a different thing altogether.

When they pass these professional exams and spent 3 years slogging their lives in the world of auditing. I shall not go into the details of the work but let me tell you something. Due to the immense work commitment, there are people who fail their exams again… and again… and again… and again… and again… and… ok la, they will eventually pass.

What happen to these people? Well, the usual consequences are non-promotion and a comparatively lower salary. The more times they fail, the more difficult it gets as they will become more and more experience in the firm and workload will increase making. And the longer they stay in their quest to pass, the more they are stuck in these firms.

So basically, an accounting grad joins an accounting firm to obtain an accounting status via sponsored exams, study leave and certified experience. If you fail, you have an option to resign or try till you succeed. That’s Malaysia.

Today, KT brought me up to his office to have a look. He is currently working with one of the Big 4 here in London and the office is situated in Canary Wharf, arguably the heart of corporate offices here. Check out the office that I took in KT’s office on a Saturday afternoon in the midst of a peak period.
Notice something? Yeah, there is absolutely… nothing! Totally empty on a Saturday afternoon… during peak period! Do you know how the office will look like if it’s in Malaysia?

Anyway, I had lunch with KT and his colleague, Richard; who both are currently working for one of the Big 4 here in London. I had a ‘lamb hotpot’, absolutely yummy-licious! We talked a bit about life in Malaysia and London and Richard asked about how I know KT, the usual stuff.
If was then that I found out something very peculiar. Do you know that an accounting degree in some crap university will not land you a place in one of the Big 4 in UK? All the new recruits who KT is handling are non-accounting grad. They have degrees in music, social science, geology, basically all non-accounting related and yes, they are all recruited into Big 4 accounting firms here. The difference is… they are from very reputable university.

“You have got higher chance of getting in if you have a degree in sociology from a university like Oxford than an accounting degree from Xxx University” Richard said.

Interesting isn’t it?

How do these people learn about accounts then? Well, they have to pick it all up through on-the-job training and learn up the theories via their professional paper, which they have to take in full as they don’t have an accounting degree.

And you know what the best part is?

If you fail your exam in the Big 4 here, you’ll be sacked. So basically, you can only join a Big 4 firm here if you’ve got an incredible degree; pick up the traits and pass your exam or else, you’ll be sent packing.

What a big difference huh…?

46 comments:

Freethinker said...

very true on the degree part because overseas value not just the certificate but the competency level and a different interview structure

may said...

almost like how the advertising companies don't always hire because of a degree in marketing and media. they see your creative talent ;-)

so glad I got out of the "biggies" yonks ago!

Huei said...

hahahahah here in msia..u just be one of "them", and u can get into big big companies eventhough u grad from paria U!

UghH!! ok i've got to get breakfast! i keep seeing food everywhere!!

adrian said...

I dun think it's just a british working culture, I think perhaps it's generally the european culture.

Many gwai los when they absolutely have to work, will work at home, at a cafe, etc. Work is not just confined to the office. But they work hard, they also enjoy life.

PurpLe~MuShRooM said...

Not only in London. In Shanghai, the Big 4 employs engineering grad, science grad, journalism grads etc. I wonder how these people can do the accounting work. The reason given was that it's too difficult to get really good people, that they open up to grads from anything apart from accounting.

- Ivan said...

Yup, when I was in the UK, some of us applied for those Big 4 - even though we are all from engineering background.

To them it matters more that you have the ability to learn quickly and perform. So they particularly look for people with an outstanding A-Levels grades from renown colleges. It doesn't matter if you don't have accounting experience cause you need to re-learn it and take the professional exams, even if you have an accounting degree - it might get you exempted from a few papers, but that's about it.

I have a friend who did a degree in History, but ended up in one of the Big4 too...haha seems to be doing quite well too from the looks of it. And I have friends who slogged through the 3 years of professional exams while working. The pay during those 3 years will be low...well, lower than the usual London pay, but after they got certified as a Chartered Accountant...it was a whole new playing field. Having 3 years experience in a Big4 + qualification = marketability, and I heard - especially in the States ;p

imp said...

enjoy the work-life balance there for the now. have fun! :)

Zawi said...

Whatever you learn in Uni are just basic. From whatever discipline that you graduate from you can always morph into some other discipline if you have the desire to learn new skill, the intelligence to learn it the willingness to work hard. If you are good the world is your market. So Zewt are you going to settle in London? I can also whisper a few good words to my friend in Azini Capital over there. Just kidding.
While you are in London why not meet up with Nick Habgood?

Jason said...

i like the empty office on saturday. =D

Jemima said...

I wonder if you'll say the same thing when you've beer for lunch in OZ. :p

lynnx01 said...

There are some people who really aim high to climb the corporate ladder. For me, I am not in this line, so, no say. But I hear of friends' experience and stories when it comes to accounting. My cousin is one of them - she is taking her CPA papers now.. I call her accountant, she says "No, I am a tax auditor.." LOL!

Maverick SM said...

This is good information for aspiring accountants.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

harlo..where got 2 wks leave..CPA gets 3 days study leave with 1 day exam leave and ICAA gets 5 days study and 1 day exam..where got 2 weeks wor...GRRR...looks like damn fun la u..can even go big 4 firm for site seeing..wat la

Giddy Tiger said...

Everyone I know in Malaysia who is working on one of those Big 4 firms is always telling me about the stress and the peak periods, and now I know why.

zewt said...

freethinker - which explains why ppl like me can never get a job there... as a grad....

may - good for u... but not all are as fortunate.

huei - yeah... pariah U.... everywher in malaysia too sigh...

adrian - yup... ppl will work from everywhere... and when they work...they work.

purple mushroom - that's the reason i guess. they want smart ppl rather than people with the right paper qualfication.

Iva - not in malaysia though, only in the white countries. in malaysia, the employers just squeeze every bit of life out of you for their benefit.

imp - definitely... :)

zewt said...

Zawi - hello pak zawi! haha... azini capital... well, dont plan to stay here for now. have got other plans.

jason - what a rare sight eh?

Jemima - hehe... i dont think i will in OZ...

lynnx01 - hahahaha... that is what i say too!!! she is right.

Maverick SM - definitely is.

constant craver joe - eh... my former employer give 2 weeks leh... u join wrong firm la hahahaha..

giddy tiger - hahaha... there are more to this... much muh more.

gina said...

I tot the ppl here also have todi during lunch. Alcohol also what. Hahaha. My friend is with PwC in New York. She said - no doubt work culture differs and it's more relaxing compared to Malaysia - but... imagine they are still doing everything using spread sheet.. and there is no accounting software. HUH??

sharlydia said...

This is something truely different, and very surprising to find out too!

Helen said...

I might be generalizing, but did you ask your friend what are the percentage of these people failing the exams?

I guess not high at all. These people are from reputable Universities that are judged solely on the merit of the student. Not because of other 'factors'.

iamstillatey said...

hello. ur former employer does NOT give 2 weeks. 5 days study leave plus one exam day leave. if there is a public hol during the stuy leave, too bad, who asked you to plan ur study leave so badly.

jlshyang said...

It's not only with the accounting field but all the other financial institutions and firms here. My friend works in one of the banks in London and his director has a degree in geology or something but the difference is he's from Oxford. You find many bank employees here with degrees not relevant to finance or anything like that as well. Interesting eh but bad for non-Oxbridge grads.

missironic said...

yeah, u r right abt the big 4..whenever me n my fren meet our accounting frens..we surely named the big 4 and definitely one sure 'kena' one! kenot run...lolz..n my fren is currently living the life u just mentioned. kept on re-sitting the exams..sometimes i wonder when only they will pass?

mh said...

to be fair, some of the big 4 do employ non-accounting grads from reputable unis (including engineering students) - just that these recruits are normally placed in the advisory team.

mrbherng said...

I have spoken with quite a few Imperial students and it seemed that there is a trend for them to enter as an engineering student and end up in the world of finance and accounting.

I bet those that wanna do such courses( eg accounting) will really have to think twice before going ahead.

rachel said...

" Maverick SM said...
This is good information for aspiring accountants."

hv to agree wit maverick. cuz there were so many things that i didnt know until i read this entry. was about to ask u if KT or Richard needs a "modern slave" until i read the rest of the entry(the part about Xxx uni). *sigh*

june said...

just wondering, what do you think are the factors of late-working in M'sia? inefficiency, bad job planning, lack of resources or anything else? and say, once a m'sian qualifies in uk, do you think it's 'wise' to leave UK?

H.C. Tan said...

what can a musical or geology degree serve in an accounting firm? hmm..strange..adapted to UK time adi? how u celebrating CNY this year, zewt?

zewt said...

gina - do u think malaysians dont use spreadsheet?

sharlydia - and i have more to tell soon.

Helen - well, one of my friend's junior failed and he has to leave by this wednesday. as for those recruited on the merit of a student... well, i dont think it will work here in malaysia.

iamstillatey - that's wat i recall leh.

jlshyang - well, i guess anyone who gets into oxford or cambridge, we know they are people with calibre... unlike those who gets into reputable U in you-know-where.

zewt said...

missironic - they are given 10 attempts i think... all the best to him lor haaha.

mh - yeah, law and engineering... but art, political science... geology????

mrcherng - it's a good trend going forward. ppl will think twice before doing accounts.

rachel - well, you can always join those in malaysia... i am very sure you can get in.

june - you sound like someone who is currently working in UK ...:) ... i think the main reason why there is a work-late culture is big 4 intentionally keep the resources thin. it's a known fact. they would rather work their slaves till the death than to employ more. this means, during peak, resources over utilised, non-peak, resources just nice... it's a way of managing resources in these firms. another reason is the expectations which becomes an obligation.... you wanna get promoted? better stay late.

HC Tan - well, i will keep a close tap with KT and ask him how these musicians and geologist handling accounts. i will be having a steamboat probably.

missironic said...

ooh..10 attempts..wow..kenot imagine sitting the exams 10times... if me, i'll get bored by then! lolz...but then is part of the career rite..have to go through it no matter wat..i dunno weather they are any other options if u dun sit the exams..are there? and yeah..gud luck to her (yeah, is a she..=P)....

Jun said...

this is wat i like abt the western culture-- they encourage their ppl to be all-rounded individuals rather than nerds/workaholics. i mean, wat's the point of working ur ass off if u dun have time to enjoy life, rite?

Bee Ean said...

I wonder how it works in France, since firing someone is more painful than keeping the employees? I'm not sure failing an exam would be a valid excuses to fire a French employee. In France, I heard that graduates get the job in their own domain, it is rarely an art student works in an accounting firm. If this is true, then the UK big 4 practices wouldn't be able to apply in France.

-=SiN=- said...

my younger sis is training in one of the top 4 for finals..
wahsai.. for measly $500 work ppl like hard labour..
not everyone is cut for that job..

zewt said...

missironic - well, if you dont sit... cant pass lor hhahahahaha...

Jun - definitely, work life balance... absolutely the gem of life.

Bee Ean - well, i dont think france financial industry is that level of UK... not yet. so maybe they dont need that many bright students?

-=Sin=- - but everyone THINK they are cut for it.

Aleckii said...

Oh wow... great food! I¨m in Prague right now, eating cheap food and drinking great beer every single day. Have you heard about pilsner urquel before? It¨s made in Cyech Republic and apparently it's the best in the world...

missironic said...

find other job lo! lolz..nah kidding...where got so easy, rite...yeah, u r rite..have to sit the exams no matter wat...unless bcome a bum! lolz...

frostee said...

Interesting insight into the world accounting... it is an eye opener for me indeed.

Guess it's pretty common in this part of the world to have that desire to be in THAT big corporation to clock your 'time' and then jump ship and make it out there with that name on that resume.

Hope the weather's fine over there. Oh and I wonder why my nose sh*t is always black after taking the tube in London. Sorry to gross ppl out but don't seem to experience this in other subways/metros in other cities... hmmm...shed some light?

alan zed said...

beer for lunch? man, i envy you. haha.

Terra Shield said...

The empty office looks amazing... heheheh

It's a big difference, but the UK system sounds very severe!

ethel said...

Zewt! I'm so sorry for being such a bad friend. I ter"miss" your wedding lah! So I hope it's not too late to say "Congratulations!!" :-)

Oh.. you're in London odi? All the best ya!

jam said...

I have to say western people dun work like cow like horse like us in Malaysia.

zewt said...

Aleckii - really? i must try... yeah, prague is a darn cheap place to have hols... have a blast ya!

missironic - find another job is a solution la.

frostee - yes... i have been disposing a lot of nose shit lately.... hahahhaha....

alan zed - man or woman... all the same here bro.

Terra Shield - well... small price to pay :)

ethel - thanks... no worries about being late :)

jam - hahahaha... like cow like horse... sometimes, i feel we're worse than that.

Alex said...

zewt... do they like... 'despise' degrees from aussie unis? haha

i read in a journal few months ago a lot of aussie accountants 'migrate' to uk... better prospects thre?

zewt said...

alex - i am not sure bout that... but i can certainly inquire for u...

Alex said...

thanks zewt. btw, did u get the email i sent to ur gmail?

zewt said...

alex - no worries. i got it.