Liz Fisher, journalist

An extensive new survey of the views of accountancy professionals in China suggests that many feel under intense pressure amid increasing workloads, rapid technological change and a constantly shifting regulatory environment.

China talent trends in finance 2023 builds on ACCA’s Global talent trends report, which surveyed 8,405 professional accountants in 148 countries and is one of the largest studies carried out across the profession.

Burnout concerns

The report, which reflect the results of an additional survey of 1,840 respondents across mainland China and Hong Kong SAR, as well as 10 interviews conducted with accountancy professionals, highlights concerns over burnout in the profession.

Four out of 10 respondents say that they feel overwhelmed by the pace of digital change

More than 60% of respondents say that their mental health has suffered because of work pressures – with respondents based on the mainland more likely to report burnout than those based in Hong Kong.

Eight out of 10 say that they would like their employer to provide more support for their mental health, and over half believe that their own organisation does not consider mental health to be a priority.

Digital challenges

The profession has been transformed in recent years by digital technology. While respondents believe that technology is helping them to add value to their clients and their organisation, more than four out of 10 respondents say that they feel overwhelmed at times by the pace of digital change.

This view was particularly prevalent among Gen Z (those born between 1996 and 2010) – possibly because they are more likely to work in operationally-focused roles.

88% of respondents say they want and need more training support around technology from their employers.

The report adds that the pressure on accountancy professionals to keep pace with changing standards as well as technological innovation is adding to the pressure they face. In recent years a string of regulation has been issued in China intended to strengthen the accounting and auditing profession.

Attracting talent

The impact of mobility on the accountancy profession is a central theme in the global report and there are strong signs that, in common with other regions, China is experiencing a talent crunch in the profession that is driven by mobility.

Almost a quarter of respondents said that they expect to move to their next role within 12 months, and 45% said that they plan to move in the next two years. These proportions are slightly lower than the global average, which the report conjectures could be attributed to the global economic slowdown and strict Covid controls at the time the survey was conducted.

High mobility is a known feature of Gen Z, and the report warns that employers in the region need to pay attention to mobility and staff attrition, particularly among the younger cohort. Long hours and repetitive work, the report argues, is exacerbating the talent crunch.

‘The accountancy profession, especially within accountancy firms, usually serves as a platform for learning and career transitions, but it is now witnessing high turnover rates,’ says the report.

The tendency for some young professionals in firms to refer to themselves as ‘audit dogs’, it adds, could tarnish the reputation of the profession as an attractive career. ‘As a result of too much dull and unrewarding work in their early careers, these young individuals tend to have relatively short tenures within a company.’

‘A career in accountancy continues to be regarded as a wise choice for those seeking long-term prospects’

Even so, the accountancy professionals surveyed generally believe that the profession remains an attractive career path, especially during turbulent times.

‘A career in accountancy continues to be regarded as a wise choice for those seeking long-term prospects,’ says the report. ‘Its substantial rewards are an attractive feature. The acquisition of a globally recognised professional qualification enhances international mobility. Moreover, the great potential for gaining cross-sectoral career opportunities adds to the perception that choosing accountancy leads to a lifelong career path.’

Sustainability draw

ESG-focused roles, the report suggests, could also prove to be an attractive draw to the profession. Millions of yuan are being invested into ESG projects and sustainable assets, and the Chinese government has strongly expressed its commitment to high-quality green developments.

‘The increasing consensus that those in the business sector should be socially responsible has stimulated the surging demand for ESG talent,’ says the report. ‘And there is a significant shortage of talent in the pipeline across different markets.’

The report concludes with a plea to university students who are thinking of a career in the accountancy profession to future-proof their careers by:

  • gaining a diverse range of experience and exposure across various fields and positions
  • refining their core capabilities and skillsets as accountancy professionals, including ESG and technology skills
  • caring for their health and building resilience
  • thinking carefully before their next move, rather than adopting a job-hopping approach to career development.

More information

ACCA’s annual virtual conference, Accounting for the Future, features a session on ‘Global trends in talent’. Register today to watch live on 21-23 November or on-demand.

Read AB articles on responses to ACCA’s talent trends surveys around the globe: Africa, India, UK, Europe and Global.