This article was first published in the March 2018 Malaysia edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Malaysia has its work cut out if it is to produce 60,000 accountants by 2020 as part of the profession’s contribution to the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). Launched in 2010, the ETP was part of Malaysia’s National Transformation Programme,  whose goal is to elevate the country to developed nation status by 2020. In order to meet that ambition, the Malaysia will need to almost double the number of accountants.

The government and stakeholders in the profession acknowledge that accountancy is one of the key areas where the country is significantly under-served, and the public and private sectors need to ensure that the demand driven by Malaysia’s steady and strong economic growth is met.

There are currently just over 33,000 members registered with the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA), according to CEO Dr Nurmazilah Mahzan. ‘As a national accountancy body, the MIA is working together with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure there is adequate supply of qualified accountants in Malaysia,’ she said in April 2017. ‘As the nation progresses, diversity and inclusiveness will be critical in achieving the targeted number of 60,000 professional accountants.’

Edward Ling, head of ACCA Malaysia, hopes that the 60,000 target will be met. ‘Malaysia definitely needs more professional accountants, which is why we have been working with organisations such as Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera (YPPB) to boost the profession in Malaysia,’ he says. ‘For example, last April we signed a memorandum of understanding with YPPB to help 3,000 Bumiputera students take the CAT and ACCA professional accountancy qualifications.’

Building capacity

ACCA is making huge strides in building the profession in the country, working closely with the government and academic partners. ‘We currently have more than 43,000 ACCA trainees pursuing our qualification in Malaysia,’ Ling says. ‘While not all of these will end up as professional accountants, it does demonstrate the effort that is ongoing to build the profession in Malaysia.’

Datuk Tan Theng Hooi, president of the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants (MICPA), says that there is ‘definitely a large gap to fill’, noting that the figure stood at 28,500 five years ago. ‘Looking at the trend of growth over the years, we may need more time to achieve the target.’  

However, Tan says it is clear that everyone involved – the regulators, the professional bodies, the accounting firms and employers – are doing their best to promote the accounting profession. ‘And it is this continued effort towards common goals that will help the nation achieve this target. We need to keep building up the momentum,’ he adds.

A key platform for growing the profession is the work of the Committee to Strengthen the Accountancy Profession (CSAP), which submitted a report to the minister of finance in 2015. The minister accepted the report and its 15 recommendations in 2016 and mandated the Securities Commission to set up an implementation committee.

Under CSAP Recommendation 3, professional accountancy bodies have to commit to producing the required number of professional accountants. The committee also proposed that an education board be set up to coordinate strategies and measures with recognised professional accountancy bodies and assess their performance to ensure the growth in supply of accountants matches the country’s economic needs.

‘The cumulative efforts of not just us, but the entire accounting fraternity, will help to generate a strong interest in the field and ensure that more will come into the profession,’ says Tan.

Conducive environment

Second Minister of Finance Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani sees the government’s target of producing 60,000 professional accountants as part of the nation’s talent-building agenda. ‘To build and ensure we have the right talents in the future, the government will continue to strengthen our education system to ensure our students are equipped with the right qualities and skills such as critical thinking and multitasking,’ he says. 

In meeting the 2020 target, Johari says that the government will continue to work with industry players and associations to create a conducive environment so that the country can not only produce more professional accountants but also attract them to work in Malaysia. 

‘As this goal requires collaborative efforts from all, I suggest that universities and accounting firms enhance their existing partnership to create more awareness among accounting students on the importance of getting professional certification for their long-term career,’ he adds.

Acknowledging that currently there is limited number of Bumiputera professional accountants, Johari says that the government through agencies including YPPB, educational institutions and associations, have embarked on serious collaborations to fulfil the supply of accountants needed by 2020.

Speaking at the Yayasan Peneraju Accounting Symposium 2017 held in October, Johari said that even though Malaysia is progressing well in creating professional accountants, ‘more time is needed to meet the target’. 

He added: ‘We are committed to improve the number of accountants and chartered accountants. We also need to focus on the quality of the talents that we produce.’

Overcoming the challenges

There are obviously some major challenges that may be obstacles to achieving the government’s target. Ling points out that the main challenge faced in Malaysia is similar to that found in many other markets. ‘It’s to persuade young people that the accountancy profession is an attractive option offering excellent career opportunities, financial rewards and opportunities for personal development,’ he says. 

‘Our task is to continually promote the profession and educate potential new entrants of these benefits – and continue to work with our partners to continually enhance access and availability,’ he adds.

Tan agrees that it is always difficult to attract millennials into a profession that is known to be rigid in terms of working hours and the ability to exercise creativity. 

‘It’s no secret that long working hours are common, what with the tight deadlines and voluminous processing that needs to be completed according to schedule. For those in audit or consulting, managing multiple engagements and clients while ensuring accuracy and quality in deliverables makes it challenging. 

‘We need to make the profession exciting and relevant to them. Our qualified professionals need to be proud spokespeople for the profession and promote the vast prospects and rewarding careers that it offers,’ he adds. 

MK Lee, journalist