Accountants seeking to escape the UK’s tough economic climate might be
tempted to consider the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India or China. But
BRIC opportunities aren’t open to – and won’t suit – everyone.
Gaining a new job in a BRIC location does have some obvious attractions.
These are growing economies, offering those working within them the chance to
quickly gain new experience and achieve rapid promotion. So what opportunities
exist for UK-trained accountants?
Frederic Ronflard of Robert Walters Brazil offers initial encouragement.
“There is some demand in Brazil and other developing countries for financial
controllers and financial directors from the UK and the rest of Europe,
generally to oversee operations in certain countries or zones within
international organisations,” he says. However, he then qualifies the level of
“Tax regulations in Brazil tend to be extremely complex and vary by state,”
Ronflard says. “So it does not make sense for multinationals to source
accountants to the country when there are candidates available locally who have
been trained in local practice. For accountants that do move to Brazil, it is
absolutely essential that they speak the local language.”
Language ability is an aspect that Angus Braham, director of recruitment
consultancy McCann & Braham, also highlights as necessary for most emerging
markets. “I have never recruited anyone to Brazil who didn’t have fluent
Portuguese,” he says. “And all my clients in India have a requirement for
candidates to speak the local language.”
India is perhaps the toughest market for a UK-trained, pure English speaker
to access. “India produces more accountants than anywhere in the world,” Braham
says. “There are also experienced, qualified candidates who speak the local
language moving back from the US.”
In a similar vein, Braham sees most opportunities in India and China for UK
second generation immigrants who were educated and gained their accountancy
qualification in the UK, but who are fluent in their parents’ tongue and
understand the emerging market’s culture. “I recently recruited someone British
born and bred, who went to school here and became qualified here, whose parents
happened to be Chinese,” Braham says. ‘They had Chinese language skills and
thought they could really fast-track their career in China.”
One challenge for anyone wanting to gain experience in an emerging market is
that these countries are now producing many qualified accountants themselves.
Although UK and European qualified accountants are highly appreciated in China,
Carter Yang, managing director of Robert Walters China, says demand for their
services is not particularly high at the moment because “a vast majority of
local need is fulfilled by local talent”.
However, there are some opportunities at mid to senior level. “It is
necessary to possess an understanding of China’s local accounting practices and
China GAAP,” Yang notes.
“In addition, having the ability to speak Mandarin would definitely be a
China, of course, includes former British colony Hong Kong, which still has
some roles for those with limited language skills. “There are still
opportunities for English speakers,” says Frances Porter from Global Audit
Recruitment. “The roles I tend to deal with – for big accountancy firms and
global industry clients – aren’t language dependent. You might be based in one
country but travelling elsewhere, so you can’t have all the languages. Though,
if you do have languages, that’s a bonus.”
Recently Porter has been seeing demand for UK accountants in Hong Kong in
various advisory roles, particularly in transactions services, corporate finance
and risk management.
Jeff Davies, a partner at Davies Kidd, which runs the recruitment website
big4careers.com, also sees some potential for UK accountants in Hong Kong.
“Certain sectors, like banking and finance, are quite active,” he says. “There
are opportunities for people with language skills and at least two or three
years’ post-qualified experience.”
However, he feels there are fewer opportunities to join Big Four firms in
these emerging markets than there used to be. Due to the economic downturn,
firms are more likely to transfer their own people internally than recruit
Russia has a strong track record of recruiting UK accountants, but here too,
local trainees are increasingly meeting local employer demand. However, Braham
notes there remain opportunities for UK applicants at senior levels – from
manager to partner. “There is also demand for specific skill sets,” he says.
Porter notes that in both China and Russia, employers are “picky” about who
they recruit. “There’s more competition for jobs,” she says. ‘“Employers are
looking for the highest calibre people, maybe people who have had some
international experience before. That’s because both these countries can be
quite tough to work in – there’s a cultural difference.”
Some Russian employers will also look for expertise in US GAAP.
Recruiters agree that applicants to most emerging markets need to have a
clear reason for their desire to work in their chosen location. “I have problems
when candidates say they will go anywhere,” says Porter. “You need to have done
some research and have a clear reason for wanting to go somewhere.”
Those UK accountants who have a good reason to move to a BRIC economy, and the
required skills and experience, can expect to enhance their future career
prospects. Apart from the potential for rapid promotion, experience in an
overseas environment – particularly an emerging market – impresses most
“It shows you can work in a tough environment,” says Braham. “It shows you
are fairly adventurous. Experience gained in these locations is viewed
“Working overseas can significantly add to the value of your CV,” agrees
Clive Davis, director of Robert Half UK. “Many employers see international
experience as vital to their business needs, especially if they have offices
around the world or have plans to expand globally. In many cases the
opportunities to experience different business practices first-hand will only
serve to enhance your employability.”
Contacts made while overseas, as well as the understanding gained of an
international culture, can prove to be “crucial” to future career development in
the finance and accounting profession, Davis adds.
Brazil combines emerging market experience with an attractive lifestyle. For
expats, the country offers exotic glamour, a lively cultural heritage and
seductive beaches. Those who can master the challenges of Brazilian Portuguese
will fit in particularly well. However, many Brazilians live in poverty and
crime is an issue.
As a former part of the empire, Brits living and working in India will find
plenty of familiar practices as well as many English speakers. At the same time,
there will be plenty of new cultural experiences to be gained. The climate can
be harsh, however, while the continuing inequality of wealth can be disturbing
for Western Europeans.
The long-established tradition of expat workers in Russia means there are
plenty of support networks available. The country also has a rich cultural
heritage, which lovers of opera or ballet will particularly appreciate. However,
doing business in Russia is not for the faint-hearted, with corruption a common
Experience gained in China could be highly valuable, given the country’s
future economic leader status. However, for those of non-Chinese background, the
culture differences can be significant. There are also unappealing sides to
living in a Communist state, such as weaker human rights and reduced freedom of
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