China needs millions more accountants to raise standards

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Mainland China needs at least five million more qualified accountants if the country is to raise corporate governance standards, the chief of an international accountancy group said.

People walk along a pedestrian street in downtown Shanghai April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Anthony Harbinson, president of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the global professional accounting body, said China needed accountants for roles in government and regulatory organizations, as well as for private companies.

“Mainland China wants to develop accountants in the millions for both indigenous development and growth but also because Chinese companies are expanding out beyond the borders of Asia and they want people who understand what it’s like in an international market,” he told the Reuters Financial Regulation Summit in Hong Kong on Friday.

The quality of Chinese accounting and audit standards has been called into question by international investors, following a series of scandals that have seen mainland Chinese companies listed overseas investigated for fraud or delisted.

Raising professional accountancy standards in China would help foreign investors more easily scrutinize and compare companies, especially as the country opens up its equity markets to foreigners, he said.

“Investors do want to see what they’re investing in. They want to know is it real profit, is it real growth.”

Boosting China’s accountancy talent pool by between five and ten million more professionals would help bring China in line with developed markets such as Britain and Europe when measured as a ratio of the overall population, he said.

According to the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants there are around 300,000 accountants in China which has a population of 1.3 billion people.

This compares with around 327,000 accountants in the United Kingdom which has a population of about 64 million people, according to the UK’s Financial Reporting Council.

The ACCA is currently training-up 40,000 students in China, working through local Chinese universities, Harbinson said.

Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits; Reporting by Michelle Price. Editing by Jane Merriman