October 31, 2020

Talent Crunch: There Are Far More CPAs in Korea Than Big 4 Firms Have Jobs

While we here in the good ole U.S. of A. are constantly talking about the “talent shortage” and industry concerns that not enough new accounting grads are taking the traditional CPA path, South Korea has a different problem: too many CPAs, not enough jobs.

According to a report in The Korea Times, the Big 4 firms on that side of the world — Samil PwC, Samjong KPMG, EY Hanyoung and Deloitte Anjin — are hiring far fewer CPAs this year:

The four were able to offer jobs to all 1,009 new CPAs last year, when they collectively posted nearly 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) in sales due to growing demand for external audits and consulting. Their 38 executives also earned annual salaries of over 500 million won each that year.

This year, the four firms plan to hire around 770 new CPAs of a total 1,100.

Samjong [KPMG], which hired 380 last year, recently recruited 267 new CPAs. Samil [PwC] decided to reduce the number of CPAs to hire to 220 this year from 279 last year, citing its digitization. Anjin [Deloitte] and Hanyoung [EY] each plan to hire less than 200.

Two suspects are to blame for reduced demand for new CPAs, one old and one new: increased automation in this sector (a.k.a. the robots that are coming for your job) and COVID-19’s impact on firm bottom lines and demand from clients for professional services. As we’ve learned this year, there’s literally nothing you can do about the ‘rona and its innumerable and far-reaching effects however you can at least prepare yourself for the robot takeover by keeping your tech skills sharp. And even then the ‘rona might still win out when it comes to finding a job (or basically everything but let’s not go there).

The news of Big 4 job shortages in Korea has led the Korean Institute of Certified Public Accountants to call on its licensing body to reduce the number of new CPAs. The Financial Services Commission (FSC) is considering doing just that, reducing the number of new CPAs in 2022 to 1,050, down from 1,100 this year. Just for comparison’s sake, there were 23,941 newly-licensed CPAs in the United States in 2018, according to the most recent available AICPA data.

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