Hong Kong's accounting industry faces a talent shortage

In December, Hong Kong rolled out the Top Talent Pass Scheme, aiming to draw high-earners and top university graduates into the city.

Hong Kong's accounting industry faces a talent shortage
Pedestrians wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, walk past a HSBC bank branch in Hong Kong, China February 22, 2022. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo

The backstory: The Hong Kong government loosened restrictions and reopened the border with mainland China earlier this year after shifting from its zero-COVID policy stance. As a result, mainland customers are coming back to Hong Kong to do important stuff like opening bank accounts, investing money and getting insurance policies. Big banks like HSBC and Bank of East Asia are even extending their operating hours, with some branches open seven days a week to meet the demand.

But as businesses in the city started to bounce back, there was a big problem – a shortage of workers in different sectors. Some experts think this is because of structural issues, like the local workforce shrinking and immigration policies affecting the labor pool.

More recently: In December, Hong Kong rolled out the Top Talent Pass Scheme, aiming to draw high-earners and top university graduates into the city. And last month, to combat labor shortages in industries like construction and aviation, the city decided to ease entry rules, allowing 27,000 foreign workers to come in.

In May, the government expanded its Talent List from 13 professions to 51 to apply to the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS), the General Employment Policy (GEP) and the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP), with the aim of attracting more talent into the city.

The development: The Hong Kong Association of Registered Public Interest Entity Auditors (PIEAA) did a survey between October 2022 and February 2023, and it found out that over 30% of Hong Kong's accounting companies were grappling with a 20% staff shortage. It gathered data from 313 accounting practitioners and students, and here's what stood out – more than 63% of the local accounting firms were actually on a hiring spree.

Now, the thing is, even though this Top Talent Pass Scheme is in place, the PIEAA thinks it might not be enough, especially for entry- and intermediary-level roles that are in high demand. So, its suggestion is to put accountants on the HKSAR government's Talent List to tackle this issue head-on.

The association pointed out that emigration is just one of the reasons behind the shortage. Others include women leaving their jobs to prioritize family responsibilities. To address this, the association suggested providing more support to women in the industry by offering flexible working hours and remote work options. Plus, it believes offering competitive salaries could lure more talent in.

Key comments:

The labor force is the “linchpin to our economic development,” said Secretary for Labor and Welfare Chris Sun at a press briefing.

“The labor market should improve further in the coming months as the economy continues to recover,” said Sun in a statement.

“We see high demand for operational staff among mainland banks in Hong Kong,” said Michelle Hui, director of executive search and recruitment at KPMG China, to Bloomberg. “These banks are continuing to expand their presence in Hong Kong.”

“The easy and short answer is there’s shortage in pretty much every single area within banking right now,” with the exception of dealmaking, said Olga Yung, managing director at recruitment firm Michael Page Hong Kong, to Bloomberg. “There was a lot of talent moving out one to two years ago.”