The tale of how winning a competition in 1997 led to a trip to Manila and a career in accountancy. The Managing Partner of Win Thin & Associates tells the Myanmar Insider of his journey to the top of his profession and his view on the tremendous opportunities ahead.
Name: Moe Kyaw
Job Title: Managing Partner
Win Thin & Associates (Associate Firm of
MI: How did you begin your career in Myanmar? How did you arrive at the position you are in today?
MK: I completed my Bachelor of Commerce degree from Yangon Institute of Economics in 1993. Thereafter I was admitted into the CPA programme. The Myanmar CPA programme is such that you do your bonded training while working for an audit firm. That’s how I became involved as a trainee with Win Thin and Associates (WTA), working from 9am to 5pm, after attending classes from 7am to 9am. After completion of my training, I joined the same firm as a junior auditor. It was at that time that Myanmar’s former military government tried to open up the country. A few investors came and one of them was SGV Manila. SGV was a member firm of Arthur Andersen at that time. They decided to appoint WTA as their sole Myanmar representative and eventually we also formed SGV Win Thin Consulting Ltd in Myanmar, headed by a manager from the Philippines. Our objective was for them to assist in the development of audit methodology for our firm. With the tie up, staff were given the opportunity to be sent to Manila for a month for training. There was a competition via a test, and I scored first. I was sent to Manila in 1997. That was my first ever foreign trip, as well as my first ever experience taking an airplane. After I came back, I became an audit supervisor and, one year later, was promoted to audit manager. By 2001, Arthur Andersen collapsed due to the Enron scandal and our SGV joint venture was also dissolved. We formed a new consulting entity independent of our audit outfit, named Win Consulting Ltd. In 2003, in an amazing gesture, our founder and chairman U Win Thin decided to distribute shares in WTA to all fully fledged CPAs working within the firm. We have to take note here that, in Myanmar, auditing services are allowed to be carried out by the firm as a corporate entity, but all the shareholders must be a CPA to render audit services. Audit reports can only be signed by a licensed Myanmar CPA. It was then that I became a shareholder/partner in WTA. In 2012, I became the managing partner of the firm.
MI: Do you ever think of diversifying your business interests?
MK: I believe, as auditors, we want to avoid conflicts of interests as much as possible. As such, I do not want to deviate much from the audit and assurance fields. I also avoided making investments into private companies. I have spent more and more time on consulting and advisory services from 2011 onwards, due to the significant increase in foreign client numbers after Myanmar opened up. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) in November 2012 and became the local affiliate of one of the Big 4. I provided tax and market entry advice for PwC clients. As part of my contribution back towards the development of the profession in Myanmar, I give lectures on the CPA programme on practical auditing. I am also a central executive committee member of the MICPA (Myanmar Institute of Certified Public Accountants) and a secretary of the CGA (Commerce Graduates Association).
MI: Do you see any of your firms having to change or adapt to Myanmar’s new trends and its opening up to international markets?
MK: With humility, I would like to point out that WTA is supposed to be the largest local accounting firm in Myanmar. We are also attending as the Myanmar representative the ASEAN federation of accountants. We are the only firm with a separate in house training centre, providing formal talks and training to staff each week; specialists from PwC, professors and experts from the Yangon Institute of Economics and the IMA Institute. Our firm also earned many invites to participate in international forms, seminars and talks relating to Myanmar. We have to continue to walk the current path to keep up our good approach. The audit field is protected from international markets, as foreign audit firms cannot sign off on local company audits. ASEAN members have also decided that public practice – i.e. auditing – will only be allowed to local CPAs in accordance with an MRA to be signed at ASEAN level. For the advisory side, the tie up with PwC allowed us to hone our expertise further through interaction with more international clientele. Having said that, we really need to improve on our audit methodologies and standards to be on par with international levels so that we can increase our audit fee in line with the fee these international firms are charging.
MI: With the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently when you started, and if so, why?
MK: Both my parents are Karenies [one of Myanmar’s major ethnic groups]; my father is a civil servant and my mother is a housewife. As Karenies, we are typically contented people. If I had started in other lines, or if I had switched to other firms or fields, I would not have done as well as I am now.
MI: How do you feel that foreign companies now entering into business here will affect the local workforce, and do you feel that they will bring new opportunities to existing local businesses?
MK: In Myanmar, good talent with foreign exposure is hard to find. Local accounting experts are rare and in general not of high capabilities. It is offset by the fact that Myanmar people are generally quick at learning. Another resource would be Myanmar returnees [people of Myanmar origin working overseas, now returning home]. Their numbers keep on increasing. One issue keeping them from returning would be education for their children, so competition for qualified staff is very tough now. Our firm is preparing on many fronts to keep our staff; it’s not just about money, but management, continuing education and foreign training that we provide for our staff. We have regular staff parties and outings that we sponsor. And last but not least, I believe we pay our staff the highest allowances, bonuses among the CPA firms in Myanmar.
MI: From a business perspective, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you in the next one to three years?
MK: Capacity, skills and knowledge. We will definitely face increased competition locally and from abroad. In addition, right now, most professional services firms are small and dispersed. We will need to look at mergers and acquisitions; to become sizeable to compete with foreign firms for business.
MI: Hypothetically speaking, if you were entering into business for the first time in Myanmar, what are the key factors of consideration, and what would be the typical issues that you would address before putting money in?
MK: I would want to have adequate knowledge of laws and regulations. Also, foreign investors typically asked for issues on money transfers out of Myanmar. Since August 2012, a foreign exchange management law was enacted and there are official, secured ways to transfer money in and out of Myanmar legally. Investors have to go through the right channels for money movements to show investments into Myanmar.
MI: How do you see Myanmar comparing with its Asian neighbours in the short and long term future?
MI: I think it’s going to be a long while before Myanmar catches up with its neighbors. Firstly, our education system suffers from the past 60 years of weak policies, lack of good governance and management. There is one current generation of the Myanmar working population whose skills and competencies are well below those of our some Asian neighbouring countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia. Even in Cambodia, I noted that most of the people I interacted with are now improving their English, so we should not underestimate other neighbouring countries, too. At present, the government is no doubt going in the right direction by investing in infrastructure and capacity building. These are long term projects and the effects would not be felt in the immediate future. We have to be patient.
MI: If you could make one major change in the country to make it more competitive, what would it be?
MK: It would be two, not just one. First, it would be changes to the educational system; I mean, not just change a bit here and there, but wholesale changes; revolutionary change by adopting a system that works internationally and putting that in Myanmar without much localisation. A good analogy would be, instead of building a house from scratch, we just get the prefabricated unit. Second, we need to get the enforcement of law and order working. We have laws, but sometimes law does not seem to apply if you are a crony of some kind. This has to change.
MI: What advice would you give to someone looking to start up a business and invest in Myanmar? mk: To do the right things and to go down the straight path. Follow the law and it will be great for your future and your reputation. Sometimes, my clients ask why others can do the wrong things and get away and they cannot do the same. My standard response would be: When others are doing the wrong things and you are doing right, you become better! See this challenge as an opportunity. Just like a Myanmar proverb, “Kyee Lan Sar Sarr”, you do not have to eat like a crow, always turning around and watching out, if you do the right things.
MI: Can you briefly explain the differences of Myanmar accounting standards versus the IFRS or IAS? mk: Prior to 2002, we did not have formal Myanmar Accounting Standards (MAS) per se, even though we have referred to British standards since independence times. In December 2002, the Myanmar Accountancy Council adopted International Accounting Standards (IAS) and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as MAS and MFRS (Myanmar Financial Reporting Standards). We only adopted certain standards, as some were not applicable to Myanmar at that point in time. In 2010, we replaced the old MAS and MFRS with new IAS/IFRS in place at that point in time. All our standards are in English. We adopted the main provisions; we have not yet prescribed a SIC (Standards Interpretation Committee) or IFRIC, which should be part of our standards. mi: What would be your advice to the future accountants/CPAs on their roles in the modern business world that Myanmar is gradually being exposed to?
MK: Myanmar opening up will offer you tremendous opportunities in the coming year. Be prepared to grasp these opportunities, stick to your ethics, and you will be in good stead.