Working Overseas – Not just for Multinationals

The buzzing, fast-paced lifestyle of Hong Kong is one many Australians have experienced as tourists.

But having the chance to live and work in that environment has been the domain of ex-pats and employees of multinational organisations. Choosing to work for a local firm with all the benefits of easy access to senior management and working directly with clients at an early stage has meant sacrificing the overseas option.

Not any more. A number of mid-tier businesses are using international links to offer overseas postings – or secondments - to their staff.

Judy Chu works with Sydney-based mid-tier accounting firm Walker Wayland. She recently returned from a four-month secondment with Hong Kong firm East Asia Sentinel.

“I was incredibly excited when the firm’s Partners offered me the chance to work overseas,” said Judy. “I have relatives in Hong Kong, so it was also a chance to catch up with them.”

Judy said that, because Hong Kong is a relatively small jurisdiction, international contacts are vital.

“Most of the companies we worked with have offices in other locations, from mainland China to the US and countries around the world,” she said. “It was eye opening to learn how they structure their financial reports to embrace a range of different legal and accounting systems.”

Both Walker Wayland and East Asia Sentinel are members of a worldwide accounting association called BKR International. Member firms across 70 countries are encouraged to take advantage of the association to offer secondments.

It’s a winning formula for everyone.

Grant Allsopp, a Partner at Walker Wayland New South Wales, said secondments are a vital part of the firm’s education programs.

“Our people learn a great deal by being exposed to new ideas, structures and technologies from similar firms in other countries,” he said.

“Walker Wayland offers one secondment to an associate firm every year and we reciprocate by inviting people from other member firms to spend time with us.

“The secondment program both through BKR and our own Walker Wayland Australasia network is also an important part of our recruitment process. We can now attract the brightest graduates who might otherwise have gone to the Big Four simply to gain international experience.”

Cathy Reilly speaks with a delightful Irish lilt, with excitement in her voice about living and working in Australia. And the world of business fascinates her.

She never considered a move to the Big Four. She prefers the close working contact with senior partners in a smaller firm.

She said young accountants in multinational firms never have the opportunity to work closely with a Partner, to see how they perform in a variety of circumstances.

“I spend a lot of time working alongside a Partner,” she said. “We are often out of the office visiting clients so I gain incredible insight from people who have seen so much of business. Listening to the way they advise a clients is so helpful.”

Cathy normally works for mid-tier accounting firm Ormsby & Rhodes in Dublin. Now she is on a secondment to Walker Wayland and is loving every minute of her time.

She believes she has found the best of two worlds – the benefits of working in a smaller company as well as the overseas opportunities.

Among the many benefits both personal and professional, Cathy will take home a greater understanding of the paperless process of e-audits.

“We are beginning to use this structure in Ireland,” she said. “But Australian firms are more advanced.”

Judy Chu, too, was able to bring home new ideas. During her time at East Asia Sentinel, she was able to immerse herself in alternative ways of working with clients.

“Hong Kong has the same business reporting requirements as Australia,” she said. “But I learned a lot about how they complete engagements with clients.”

She was also surprised by the pace of work in Hong Kong.

“It’s so fast,” she said. “A bit like New York, the city that never sleeps.

It wasn’t all work, however. Judy found time to relax and be a tourist.

“I went to the China mainland before I began work with EA Sentinel,” she said. “I went to Beijing of course and also visited the Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival in January.

“During the weekends on my secondment I was also able to visit a number of islands and locations out of the city such as Sai-Kung, Clearwater Bay, Cheung Chau and Macau. I was also invited to the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament which was a lot of fun.”


The member firms of BKR may reap rewards of stronger recruitment, better educated people and greater loyalty. But for both Judy and Cathy, the experience has a greater dimension.

“I have travelled overseas a lot but this is the first time I have lived in another country,” said Cathy. “As a tourist, it’s always a bit of a rush to see everything. It makes a great difference to live and work in a new country. You have time to breathe in the culture and to make real friends across the other side of the world. The reality is just a bit better than Facebook!”