Article in The Nation, June 19, 2012
In an attempt to phase in this freedom the Asean member states have identified seven specific professions that will be immediately open to inter-Asean migration and work, with plans for an eight profession being developed. These seven professions include: accountants, architects, dentists, doctors, engineers, nurses, and surveyors, with tourism serving as the "in progress" eighth.
While recent discussions at both the professional and ministerial levels have tended to focus in the potential impact in Thailand of increasing competition from foreign professionals wanting to migrate to Thailand for work, an additionally but often overlooked impact may well be the departure of some of Thailand's most experienced professionals for higher paying and arguably more challenging careers abroad. This could potentially have some negative but, hopefully, limited impact on the accounting profession.
Accounting is the backbone of the business community. It is the language of business and learning to speak this language effectively and fluently takes as much effort as learning a foreign language. Those in the profession will readily admit that graduating in accounting, while a necessary step toward becoming an accounting professional, is nowhere near sufficient. As with any profession, it takes years of experience to bridge the theoretical-practical divide and become a real accounting professional. The challenge to the profession after 2015 could be that some talented accounting professionals may decide to leave Thailand. Once accounting professionals become free to work anywhere in Asean, some talented Thai accounting professionals, especially those with strong English language skills and an international business perspective, may decide that there are better opportunities abroad in places such as Singapore and Malaysia.
Singapore may well present the strongest pull on Thai accounting professionals due to its relatively high level of development, its position as a strong regional financial and business hub, and the higher level of wages. Malaysia may probably be the second most significant competitor for Thai accounting talent. With its robust focus on developing into Southeast Asia's regional centre for Islamic finance, Thai accounting professionals looking to develop a competitive advantage over their counterparts may be attracted to Malaysia.
Thus, Thailand could face some difficulties in keeping some talented professionals, and those that do remain could face competition from an inflow of professionals from neighbouring countries. These issues are in need of a clearly focused response to the potentially adverse impact on the Thai business community.
What is being done?
The Federation of Accounting Professionals (FAP), accounting firms and Thai universities have each independently and collectively taken steps to address the issue. These important institutions are implementing policies to raise the technical quality of accounting professionals to international standards. This includes the FAP's promotion of the ACCA qualification, which many Thai accountants have pursued and completed. In addition, many of the accounting firms have adopted global secondment programmes, sending young Thai professional abroad to help them develop not only their English language skills but also give them global contacts and a greater appreciation of the background of their international clients. The universities have worked hard by renewing their commitment to improving academic standards; this includes a renewed focus on English language skills.
Great strides are being made in trying to ensure minimal impact on the profession and the business community and closing these gaps. Even accounting salaries have seen an increase in the past few years and while not completely comparable to those of Singapore and Malaysia. Much has been done, while other policies are still being implemented, and with 2015 not far off Thailand looks set to effectively minimise most of the potentially negative impact to the accounting profession.
This information is intended as a general guide only. Tax law is complex and professional advice should be taken before acting on the information provided.