The promise lands

When you think of overseas accountancy placements, the traditional
recruitment hot-spots come to mind: New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, the Cayman
Islands, Bermuda.

But as business becomes more global, so more locations are in need of
British-trained accountants. If you’re looking to combine a bit of
off-the-beaten track travel and a dose of exotic culture with career development
opportunities, look no further than Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The shift in recruitment opportunities could not have come at a better time
for those seeking adventures. The recruitment market in the high-traffic zones
of New York and Sydney are not hiring nearly as many foreign accountants as in
the past. People with travel aspirations are now looking to other locations to
further their careers while also enjoying a taste of the exotic.

The dip in recruitment is due partly to a ‘normal’ recruitment cycle, but
also because many companies have cut headcounts over the past 12 months. To hire
from abroad, companies first have to make sure there is no-one locally with the
skills they need. With the headcount cuts in places such as New York and Sydney,
it means that lots of locals are filling the job market already.

But in places such as Kazahkstan and Azerbaijan, both of which are enjoying
boom times, accountants are more in need than ever. Forget the Borat image: this
region is experiencing rapid growth and lifestyle transformation. So make the
trip before it homogenises with the rest of the world.

‘Kazahkstan is really booming. I was surprised to see how large a market it
is. It’s the ninth largest country in the world and has a year-on-year GDP
growth rate of 10%,’ says John Frazer, client relationship manager at Think
Global Recruitment.

That growth rate is even higher than that of China, which is increasing at a
rate of about 8%. Also, demand for foreign accountants in China is lower than
other locations because businesses, unless they are recruiting at a senior
level, tend to prefer locals because of the language barrier.

Steve Carter, managing director of Premier Group UK, which includes finance
recruiters Nigel Lynn and Morgan McKinley, says: ‘The financial markets in the
[Asia] region have been sheltered somewhat from the factors affecting financial
centres elsewhere in the world. Strong economic growth throughout Asia has
fuelled the development of the local financial markets and captured the
attention of many of the world’s leading organisations, whether they are
investment banks or blue-chip multinationals. In the commercial sector,
financial accountants, business analysts and management accountants are
particularly sought after.’

In Kazahkstan, it is not just about oil and gas. The boom there was kicked
off by the growth in the oil and gas market, but since then industry sectors
have broadened and there is demand for accountants with tax experience, in
particular, says Frazer.

Indeed, there are grand plans for Kazahkstan. ‘They’re looking to turn it
into the financial centre of Asia. It’s a fascinating market. It’s growing on
the back of its natural resources such as Russia, but lots of other investment
is pouring in now,’ says Clive Green, senior consultant at Hays International.

Astana is the capital, but Almaty in the south east is the country’s largest
city, with a population of just over a million.

The country still has a Communist feel to it, says Green, but it’s changing
rapidly with a new Sir Norman Foster building planned for Astana (see box) and
heaps of other developments under way.

As for travel opportunities, Kazahkstan is a prime location from which to
venture as it has a border with Russia to the north, China to the south east and
Uzbekistan to the south.

You don’t even have to leave Kazahkstan if you want to find off-the-beaten
track locations. Despite its boom and increasing popularity among multinational
corporations and the Big Four, outside of the main cities, Kazahkstan is
primarily rural and offers just about every type of geological feature you could
imagine ­ flatlands, steppes, canyons, deltas, mountains and deserts ­ so you
can get the opportunity to explore a totally different culture.

Across the Caspian Sea, neighbouring Azerbaijan is also booming, thanks to
its natural resources, and is in urgent need of qualified accountants. In fact,
the country is estimated to have the largest untapped natural resources in the
world. More and more multi-nationals are taking an interest in the country,
which in turn will fuel further investment.

‘There are big opportunities to head up offices and look after the whole
country for a firm. You can progress very fast here, becoming an FD much quicker
than you would in the UK,’ says Green.

Baku, the capital, is friendly and laid-back, with a lower cost of living
than you’d find in Kazahkstan. The climate is pleasant most of the year and
caviar is cheap. It is also steeped in culture and history. In December 2000,
the Inner City of Baku became the first Unesco World Heritage site in

Simon Ferrers-Dunn has been working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Azerbaijan
for the past two years and the 34-year-old has no plans to return to the UK
soon. He says he has learned much more professionally and at a faster rate than
he could have had he stayed in the UK. On a personal level, Ferrers-Dunn says he
has probably tasted finer wine and food in Azerbaijan than he ever did in
London. ‘Hospitality is first-rate here and national pride is exceptional.
There’s a passion to learn and get on in life that I really like,’ he says.

Ferrers-Dunn is a director with responsibility for assurance across the
Caucasus region for PwC. ‘That’s normally a partner-level role, so it gives me
leadership experience much quicker,’ says Ferrers-Dunn. ‘You feel like you can
make a real difference here in terms of client work.’

As for whether he would recommend the challenge to others: ‘Do it,’ he
‘Particularly the way the UK and US economies are going. If you’re at a newly
qualified level, the opportunities to professionally get ahead are there. And
from a social perspective, it’s fantastic. It has been easy to fit in and the
tax rate is low, so as a package it’s great. You won’t be disappointed.’

Related reading

The Practitioner