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Big four audit firms dangle higher pay to keep Singapore talent

 The Big Four accounting firms are showering staff with pay increases in Singapore amid a labour shortage.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Deloitte LLP lifted base salaries starting from 1 July (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

By Low De Wei and Joyce Koh

(Bloomberg) — The Big Four accounting firms are showering staff with pay increases in Singapore, where an acute labour shortage is driving a fierce contest for talent.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Deloitte LLP lifted base salaries starting from July 1, according to internal documents from the two firms reviewed by Bloomberg News.

Ernst & Young LLP had an off-cycle pay adjustment in April for some parts of the firm, on top of a special bonus payout last year and the annual salary review in October, it said in a response to Bloomberg queries.

KPMG LLP said in May that it will raise entry-level salaries by as much as 20%, along with providing “market-competitive bonuses.”

The push by the city-state’s biggest audit firms to offer larger pay checks reflects the broader competition for skilled talent in the financial hub, where firms from banks to technology companies are expanding. A departure of expats during the pandemic, coupled with stricter rules on bringing in staff from abroad, also contributed to the worst shortfall of labor in decades.

Pay Rises

At Deloitte, the increases were concentrated among junior roles, with basic pay for associates jumping by S$500 (US$359) to S$3,500 per month, according to the internal document. Those for analysts rose by S$600 to S$3,800, with a more modest S$100 to S$200 boost for managerial roles.

The accounting firm reviewed salaries recently and adjusted them based on the “current market to remain competitive,” Ong Siok Peng, talent leader for Deloitte Singapore, said in a statement in response to queries from Bloomberg News.

At PwC, “higher increments” than previous years were made to base salaries, according to its internal email sent to staff. The firm is trying to keep both its compensation and benefits competitive, said Chua Chin San, the firm’s human capital leader in Singapore, without giving details on the salary increases.

EY may add to its off-cycle salary bump. The firm makes adjustments to salaries and benefits “above and beyond” the annual review cycle “if needed,” according to Liew Nam Soon, the firm’s Asean regional managing partner.

The salary increases came as firms struggle to retain staff. The average attrition rate among the Big Four firms in the city-state rose to 38% in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2021, compared with 24% in the year-earlier period, according to figures submitted to the government. Outside the Big Four, the median attrition rate among auditing firms in Singapore is even higher at 62%, after doubling from a year before.

Employees have “skills and knowledge that make them highly appealing to the market at large, which means that attrition will be inevitable,” said Janice Foo, head of people for KPMG in Singapore. The firm will do what’s needed, “including on the remuneration front,” she said, without providing more details.

—With assistance from Michelle Jamrisko.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.