Low pay, long working hours, rigorous professional qualifications, some of the major hindrances for UAE nationals wanting to pursue careers in finance and accounting, says top Emirati auditor Ahmed Al Maqtari… 

TÊTE-À-TÊTE: Ahmed Al Maqtari engages the Editor of Accountant Middle East publication, Joyce Njeri in a discussion, during a recent breakfast meeting on Emiratisation drive in the accountancy industry.

Ahmed Al Maqtari engages the Editor of Accountant Middle East publication, Joyce Njeri in a discussion, during a recent breakfast meeting on Emiratisation drive in the accountancy industry.

I HESITATED a lot before writing this article mainly because my mother tongue is not English and I may not be able to express exactly how passionately I feel about the topic of this matter.

Well then, you may ask. How do I feel about the profession?

Quite frankly, disappointment may be an understatement.

I feel disappointed and often times frustrated because a lot of injustices and harm has been caused to the finance/accountancy and audit professional. The high qualifications that this profession demands has mainly caused many Emiratis to shy away from it.

Let me attempt to explain the history of this profession in the UAE, its current status and what can be done to attract local nationals to go for it.

Jobs for expats
When the UAE gained its independence in 1971 the financial/accountancy services in the country were virtually confined to expatriates back then. No higher education was available locally and the finance profession was almost unheard of.

The Government relied on expatriates to provide audit and other financial services, the oil industry depended on shareholder secondees to manage their finances and fiscal matters and the private sector was generally relying on accounting clerks recruited from the Indian sub-continent who provided basic single-entry book-keeping services.

Some businesses back then, didn’t even maintain accounting records and were content with money-in money-out through the till. To such businesses, recruiting an accountant for a monthly salary of AED1000 was seen as an extravagant venture.

From 1971 onwards, the late Father of the Nation H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan exerted gigantic efforts to catch up with the rest of the world in every aspect and education was at the top of his priorities. The country witnessed the establishment of thousands of schools at all levels and his dream of establishing a UAE University came true in 1976. Afterwards, the campuses under the umbrella of Higher Colleges of Technology were established throughout the country followed by a tremendous upsurge of academic institutions in all the Emirates.

Practicing in public
Sadly, the financial professional education and its dominant renowned institutions were not on that train. Who then was to blame? The answer is worthy of being investigated.

As a consequence, the Emiratis still shy away from the profession, many believed and still believe that the profession merely supplies accounting clerks, book-keepers and accounting technicians. It is a fact that until today, book-keepers, basic accounting graduates with some experience and accounting technicians all rank pari-passu (at par) with the CA’s, ACCA’s and equivalents and all are granted licenses to practice in public. Most of the private sector recruit the least qualified and it is unfortunate that such employers wrongly believe that they are saving costs that way.

One can write endlessly on many reasons that lead to the refrainment of Emiratis from the profession. But to sum up… it is best to enumerate some important factors that significantly contribute to such adverse attitude:

  • Lack of recognition/status of the professional financial qualifications.
  • No adequate information on what a professional qualification really means and how important it is to the nation.
  • Lack of information of available resources that provide education for such qualifications.
  • No adequate scholarships available to Emiratis to opt for such qualifications, compared to most of the other fields of education.
  • No guarantees of a secured and rewarding job after qualifying from a course.
  • No attraction/appeal to the profession which is always wrongly portrayed as a difficult and boring industry.
  • Mingling of the good, the bad and the ugly in the employment/professional market is still prevalent, where a junior book-keeper or equated to a qualified CA or an ACCA.
  • Going into public practice by an Emirati is virtually an extremely risky venture within the harsh monopolistic conditions brought about by the dominance of the ‘Big Four’, and also by other expatriate firms which all appear to share a common goal of fending off any competition from a qualified local entity.

The above list is by no means exhaustive but it constitutes an indicator that there is a serious problem on the road map to Emiratisation of the financial profession and it is, therefore, the purpose of this article to provoke all concerned including: The Government in general, the UAE Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Economy (who is in charge of the applicable laws regulating the profession), the Universities, the ‘Big Four’, The UAE Accountants and Auditors Association etc – to form a common platform to discuss the existing difficulties, hurdles and brick walls facing Emiratisation, with a common objective of designing a solid solution to this problem.

I take this opportunity to commend the efforts that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) have demonstrated to bring full awareness of the challenges of Emiratisation that this profession is facing.