‘Just Graduated’ Bastiaan van de Laar

By Bastiaan van de Laar

My name is Bastiaan van de Laar and I graduated from Tilburg University with a Masters degree in Accountancy last June. After completing the Bachelor’s track of Business Economics and the master’s track in Accountancy, I now work as an auditor for one of the Big 4 accountancy firms that lead the worldwide accountancy industry. I now follow the Post-Master Accountancy course at Tilburg University in order to obtain a CPA-degree within a few years.

Working in the accountancy business provides great opportunities to work for companies from various industries with a great variety of people at a great variety of locations. Since every company simply needs an accountant, you are able to visit companies from all industries in the world and to have a very close look at the financial situation of a great number of companies. Big or small, listed or unlisted, domestic-based or foreign-based companies: the demand for accountants is huge.

For me, one of the advantages of working in this sector is that I have the opportunity to work in many different countries, amongst which some of the so-called ‘Emerging Market’-countries. For one of my major clients, I currently spend a lot of time working in Singapore. Singapore is known as one of the fastest growing emerging industries, amongst other South-East Asian countries like China, Indonesia, India, and Malaysia. Many American and European multinationals outsource substantial elements of their operational processes to these emerging countries, where human resources are available in large quantities and where operational processes can be performed in a relatively efficient way. Especially for Western European countries, a clear trend can be noticed; many of the operational elements of the production processes are relocated to countries with Emerging Markets, while the organizational hearts of the companies remain located in Western Europe. Directing and monitoring business activities in countries with Emerging Markets happens more and more easily and efficiently due to online technologies and company-wide targets and guidelines.

However, it can be quite a challenge to work with or provide work instructions to co-workers from different cultures and with different backgrounds. As you might understand, it is hard to find a typical Dutch lunch break-conversation at the vending machines in Singapore; hierarchical structures are very important in many of the Emerging Market countries, so mouth-to-mouth communication takes place on a very different level and even written (email) communication is often used and interpreted in different ways. One of the typical aspects of companies in Emerging Market countries like Singapore, is that a crystal clear hierarchical separation exists between blue-collar operational employees on the one hand and white-collar financial and managerial staff on the other hand. Whereas Dutch organizations usually encourage a lot of vertical communication between the implemented management levels, the situation is different in countries like Singapore. Within all management levels, hierarchy and respect for people with higher functions are regarded as very important ethical values. Talking to your boss in an informal way – like you would do in the Netherlands – is not much of a much prevailing matter in Singapore. Inherent to this is a no-nonsense mindset of hard work and striving for results, which is generally wide-spread across organizations in Emerging Market countries.

Typical for the situation in Emerging Market countries is the street view on Singapore’s main nightlife and shopping avenue, Orchard Road. While the local taxi drivers work 14-hour shifts with far below-average hourly salary rates, they transport the thousands of wealthy tourists and business visitors to the never-ending row of expensive Gucci, Rolex, and Armani designer stores.

Although the cultural differences are unmistakably there, working with colleagues and clients from Emerging Market countries can also be a great pleasure. It is both challenging and informative to enter a work environment that is driven by different rules and values. Working in the accountancy or financial service industry can give you this great opportunity to work in different settings all over the world and understanding what emerging markets are really all about.