KPMG PNG’s Managing Partner Zanie Theron has been delivering professional services in Papua New Guinea for 14 years. Here, she provides her personal take on the challenges in her sector – and the significant opportunities on offer.
KPMG has been in Papua New Guinea for 52 years. It currently comprises a hundred professional staff. We provide, traditional accounting, auditing and tax services, but more particularly recently across advisory and all its components.
Papua New Guineans are traditionally not great rule followers, which is great in terms of innovation but challenging in terms of the sector. So, in delivering compliance services – these are the products that are not entirely valued in Papua New Guinea. We have seen changes in that regard, which is pleasing to see.
Delivering professional services in PNG involves a blend of diverse nations. Our own firm is 80 per cent PNG citizens and 20 per cent expatriates from various countries. There’s a very healthy culture mix there. With this blend, we need to learn to respect the different cultures, and it takes time to know how to operate within that environment.
‘The most important thing that I’ve found in my fourteen years in PNG is the imperative to build trust’
Traditionally, Papua New Guinea has been a male-dominated society. Coming in as a senior female in a professional services firm, it’s been challenging. I’ve attended many meetings where not only am I the only expatriate but also the only female. But we’re breaking down the barriers, and I’ve definitely seen some changes in that regard.
Communication within PNG is different; the approach we bring from our own countries doesn’t work in PNG. The most important thing that I’ve found in my fourteen years in PNG is the imperative to build trust, which means sticking around to a large extent.
There’s an uneven playing field in the sector because competition is not only across the big four firms but also the second tiers, the smaller firms, but also increasingly operators from overseas.
Within PNG, the firms of all sizes comprise about 700 professionals and about a half of those are with the big four firms. Increasingly, we find competition from professional services providers coming from overseas, doing fly-in/fly-out, and competing with firms that have been in the country for many years.
In terms of attracting talent, that’s not difficult to do. The retention of talent is what we need to focus on. It’s not so much about remuneration any longer, it’s about culture, it’s about communication in order to create retention strategies for our people.
There lies a responsibility too to hold accountants and service providers to a high standard. In terms of the Accountants’ Registration Board, in the last four years or at least since the last election, the Accountants’ Registration Board has not met to register or accredit any new accountants, auditors or liquidators, which means that it’s a shrinking pool and holding onto such a registration is having like a golden ticket.
In terms of oversight, monitoring and the compliance are done by the firms. We take it upon ourselves to advise our clients about new standards, new rules and regulations and we enforce those. The balance has shifted there and we hope that that changes in the future.
For any professional services firm, there is the opportunity to make a difference in Papua New Guinea and make a real impact.
‘If I had to give any new entrant any advice, it is to seek professional advice before any structures are set up’
There is the opportunity for localisation of staff. That is one of our strategic imperatives, and the initial plan was to get to 50% local leadership within KPMG in Papua New Guinea by 2025. We feel we’re on track there.
And then thirdly, to develop a real service culture within our profession, there’s a great opportunity there.
The changing landscape
PNG does have a history of leapfrogging technology; people have gone from not having phones at all to doing mobile banking. Automation means many professionals will have to reinvent themselves.
Millennials have also hit us, which means leadership and management styles need to adapt.
For an increasing number of clients, quality is starting to become more important than cost, which is again pleasing to see.
New companies entering PNG don’t come from traditional sources, like Australia. We’ve seen new entrants from Indonesia, from Spain, from the US, and not from the areas that you would expect, like mining. There’s technology and human capital consulting.
The most common mistake they make is arrogance, and also non-compliance with local laws and regulations, in particular in migration and tax.
If I had to give any new entrant any advice, it is to seek professional advice before any structures are set up, before you decide what kind of entity you want to register, and to make sure that you get your visas and everything in place before you start operating and doing business in PNG.
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