Staying ahead of the curve

Accounting firms like PKF-CAP are switching things up as the economy slows by diversifying their business.

Mr Lee Eng Kian, its senior partner of assurance and advisory, says the company has been busy in the last 12 to 18 months laying out its strategic direction for the next five years. As it rides out the downturn, he adds: "We have set our strategic direction to stay focused on our core expertise while at the same time growing new service lines that are in demand."

The firm, which employs 90 professionals, including accountants and auditors, is soft-launching its data analytics services this year, after receiving its licence last year.

It is also planning to offer wealth management services this year.

Mr Lee notes: "Most of our businesses are still doing well. However, we need to manage our internal costs as it is becoming more expensive in Singapore."

The firm has been kept busy in corporate finance, which handles insolvency and valuations, for instance, as more projects roll in.

"It's been more busy in recent months, and some firms have called for valuations, either preparing themselves for the sell or buy side."

In fact, the firm has already filled its order book for this year for the corporate finance division - and is now recruiting more team members in anticipation of increasing demand - which Mr Lee says is "quite rare, and the last time this happened was when the financial crisis happened in 2008".

The accountancy sector has always been resilient, he said, as has PKF-CAP as it offers a spectrum of services from incorporation to insolvency and everything in between, when the companies are running, growing or struggling.

That spectrum was extended to include information technology and cyber security and human resource (HR) recruitment services two to three years ago in response to client demand. Mr Lee notes: "The downturn has not affected the firm so it's not like these services are making up for lost revenue."

HR recruitment, for instance, started as an informal service following requests from clients, and the firm jumped at the chance to offer more structured services. "Initially, we thought our forte should be in chief financial officer or financial controller positions. But our clients felt that since we know them and their business, we can help them to fill positions."

The firm is strong in finding people to fill senior management positions in finance, but is slowly branching out into operational titles. Mr Lee says these newer services make up a smaller part of its business than its core professional services, but the growth potential is something that is hard to ignore.

The firm is also not one to rest on its laurels.

"We try to do or start something new every two to three years, stabilise it and then look at other new services to launch."

Rachael Boon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Staying ahead of the curve'. Print Edition | Subscribe