Article:

This Audit Firm Had Enough of The Industry Stereotype, They Chose People Over Numbers

04 August 2020

 

When I say “auditor”, you probably already have a stereotype in your head. 

But there’s an audit firm in Malaysia called BDO that has been diligently and consistently working to challenge the assumption that auditing is only about the numbers. 

A little bit of background: BDO is a 55-year-old auditing firm, with a staff strength of over 1,000 partners and staff in Malaysia and its regional offices in ASEAN.

One of their key values? Because relationships matter.

BDO drew a line in the sand and committed to actively pursue a healthy and sustainable culture that puts their people first. My immediate reaction to this sharing was, then what about the business? 

There is a simple answer to that.

“You don’t build a business—you build people, and then people build your business,” said Zig Ziglar, a renowned motivational speaker.

The BDO team echoed this sentiment and shared their own take: “Our culture drives our people and they drive the business.”

 

Winning The War On Their Own Terms

Speaking of people, Siew Fong described the race to hire and retain talent as a war, and that’s a pretty apt comparison. BDO operates in an era where tech startups and the gig economy have monopolised the concept of a “cool job”.

How then do you attract the right talent to an industry that is known for its tight deadlines and even higher client expectations?

BDO believes that the key is to have a healthy work environment where the employees’ well-being is their top priority. And this is why they place such a deep emphasis on culture.

They can now proudly declare themselves as a “People’s Firm”. For the past 5 years, the team has been actively working to revamp and enhance their employer branding and employee engagement initiatives.

At first, they took the obvious steps of movie nights, dinners, trips and team-building activities. However, while these were and still are ways to engage their team, they weren’t satisfied with just keeping the status quo.

To get a grasp on how their employees were doing throughout this time, BDO performed an employee engagement survey in 2018, and more importantly, acted on the feedback from the survey. One change that was greatly appreciated was the shared celebration of all major festive events and there was also more emphasis on better health and wellness within the firm.

“It goes to show how BDO values the voice of its staff and I’m very happy to note that several suggestions made during this survey were eventually put into place,” shared Christine, an Advisory Director who has worked in the firm for 8 years.

 

Breaking The Myths

When you think of well-being, the term “work-life balance” often comes up, but I personally believe that work-life balance is a myth. BDO’s approach of pursuing work-life integration on the other hand is both more realistic and practical.

“What we did is to integrate Life into Work and bring Life to the workplace. Our intention is to enlighten the workplace so that it doesn’t seem so mundane or stressful,” the team said. 

 

To give an example of how this works, BDO practices Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA) , where they have flexi-hours. This means that employees working in the firm are able to plan their time to start and end early, while still maintaining or even excelling at their work commitments.

In 2016, they were also one of the pioneer firms in the BDO network to implement an enhanced version of an online audit process tool (APT Next Gen) which is easily accessible by staff whether they are in office or at home. This empowers the auditors to be productive and efficient whenever and wherever they wanted to be. Having an online audit process tool brought great benefits during the movement control order (MCO) which was implemented on March 18, allowing the auditors to work remotely.

Many find meaning in life and work through learning. BDO encourages this through platforms like their Toastmasters Club where team members can brush up on their presentation and public speaking skills, with membership fees fully subsidised by the firm or special internal programmes that are tailored to new managers to upskill their leadership abilities.

To relax and stay fit, BDO-ians are welcome to make use of the BDO Gym and Pool or to join HIIT and yoga fitness sessions. 

Thashaayiny, a Senior Associate who has been with the firm for over a year described it thus: “The FWA creates better synergies of other areas that define ‘life’ such as family, personal well-being and health.”

But now with the New Normal of social distancing requirements projected for the rest of this year, this could be seen as a new challenge.

“COVID-19 will not stop us on our tracks in engaging our people and making human connections,” the team shared.

Among the initiatives that they are running include virtual engagements such as e-fitness, virtual Lunch N’ Learn sessions and even virtual Toastmasters meetings. This has come with added benefits; for example, their colleagues from their Indo-China offices in Cambodia or Myanmar can now easily participate in these initiatives, something they hadn’t had the opportunity to do before.

 

Measures Of Success

There are very promising indicators that the initiative to transform their culture, which started 5 years ago, is bearing fruit.

Take for example their active and enthusiastic in-house volunteers, who have taken charge of organising both long-term and short-term CSR initiatives. In 2019, this included a fundraising campaign where they raised RM66,000 for 6 charitable homes and a Wish List Tree which fulfilled the wishes of 111 children from 5 children’s homes.

 

Knowing a human’s physical health is simple, there are clear and measurable signs for that. But how do you take the pulse of a culture and determine if it’s healthy?

This is when you take a closer look at the employees. 

Wilson first had a taste of BDO’s culture as an intern in 2018.

He said, “When I joined as an intern, the guidance and support that I received from all the seniors was overwhelming. Apart from that, we are colleagues at work and friends off work.”

This led to his decision to rejoin the firm in 2019, this time as an Audit Associate.

I spoke to a few individuals within BDO, and all of them mentioned phrases like “friendship”, “supportive colleagues” and “meaningful relationships” when describing the culture.

“We are here to build a successful business. In living BDO’s why of ‘People Helping People Achieve Their Dreams’, the firm continuously creates uplifting moments at the workplace which drive their people’s motivation who in turn drive the business.”

With BDO’s acute awareness towards implementing positive work culture and constructive habits, suddenly it’s not impossible to inject a cool factor into the auditing industry.