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ST Forum

ST Forum
November 2, 2007 Friday
Are you cut out to be an external auditor?

SINCE early this year, The Straits Times has been constantly writing about the shortage of young accountants in the external auditing field.

As reported, the big four auditing firms are prepared to hire non-accounting graduates and sponsor their accountancy degree course in order to cope with the current shortage.

Hopefully, the economy remains buoyant for the next few years in order for the scheme to become a win-win situation for all parties.

In times of recession, the accountants are also not spared. I believe that some older accountants who were retrenched during the last economy downturn are still facing difficulty in getting jobs.

For the fortunate ones, they faced age discrimination and settled for lower remuneration packages.

Perhaps, the big four should tap into this pool of older accountants in their alumni directories who were once their audit trainees. Various working options can be creatively 'carved out' for both parties.

The role of accountants is getting extremely challenging with the rapid changes in accounting standards, codes of corporate governance and reporting requirements.

At an accounting seminar that I attended last November, one speaker commented that there were instances where lawyers were roped in to interpret some accounting standards that confounded the professional accountants. Possibly, some new/revised accounting standards are becoming more complex or they were not well-construed.

I once heard my audit manager made a remark to one accounting graduate - 'You are not cut out for it'.

Hence, having an accountancy degree may not necessarily make one a good external auditor.

I urge non-accounting graduates to think twice before taking the plunge into the auditing/accounting arena as it can be very tough. Such jobs are demanding and require much stamina and work commitment to meet tight deadlines. 'The juice is not worth the squeeze. Follow your heart.'

However, when my accounting subordinates sought my advice on their career path, I always encourage them to go for external auditing experience if they are ready for the tough job challenge. Their effort will pay off when they assume the role of accountants in the corporate world.

Questioning the effectiveness of external audit - Will it be possible to conduct 'compliance/substantive test on integrity of key personnel' as most of the recent scandals are tied to the integrity of key personnel?

Ideally, accountants should live up to their responsibilities ethically, truthfully and fairly. They should be discerning enough to point out questionable matters and rectify mistakes immediately. Such timely action would ensure that resources are appropriately deployed in the best interests of all parties.

Thinking aloud, perhaps, the accountants and treasurers of non-profit organisations (NPOs) should be bold enough to serve as watchdogs in order to safeguard the interests of the NPOs, donors and beneficiaries, even at the expense of losing one's job.

Lee Soh Hong (Miss)

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