"Russian Journal", April 2002
By Lucas Romriell

Learning to count.

Staying on top of the heap in the financial world means choosing from a vast array of professional certification programs in order to keep up with the dizzying and everevolving world of bookkeeping regulations.

Educating Russian professionals is a twofold problem, as struggle both to keep track of the international standards preferred by most major Western companies and the local standards set down by the Ministry of Finance.

"Professional education is really more about continuing education and keeping up your qualifications than it is about having a degree from an institute of higher learning," said Mikhail Gorsky, director of Foundation for International Accounting in Russia, a non-governmental organization.

"Universities compete for diplomas, but they can't update programs as quickly as pro-chools and institutes, tend to change their programs every year."

The Russian Institute of Professional Accountants is the body In charge of regulating test centers and administering tests to certify "professional accountants." The institute is recognized by the International Association of Accountants and is in charge of meeting the standards laid down by the Russian Ministry of Finance.

However, all internationally traded companies are required to meet General Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Accounting Standards (IAS) regulations depending upon their country of operation. That means that nearly everyone who wants to work with a multinational needs some sort of international certification. But, "some companies also under GAAP and I attract investors or ir image," said Aram Magoyan, business director of Hock Accountancy Training, a company that offers financial-training programs.

Russian firms might also be interested in bringing their books up to Western standards because Russian bookkeeping standards can be very confusing. «"Russian accounting has had to switch from a state-regulated [system] to an open market," said Olga Nikolayeva, an associate professor of finance and at Moscow State University. “Now is a very difficult time for Russian accountants. It’s very for them to reconcile the fax-code goals with the financial goals of their work”, she said.

While many Russian professionals have proven to be capable of satisfying the difficult requirements to pass international exams, some experts say the language barrier excludes non-English speakers.

"One of the big problems for accounting education is the lack of testing available in Russian," said Donald Baskine of the Center for International Accounting Reform in Moscow.

Professor Nikolayeva works for the company Postgraduate-RAA, which offers the only internationally recognized Russian-language testing on the market. Students receive a from the International Association of Bookkeepers through a program administered by the Russian Academy of State Service under the president of the Russian Federation.

"A lot of older accountants who don't speak English come to us so they can get a Western certificate," she said.

However, the expense and difficult of gaining an internationally recognized certificate still prevents most Russian accountants from trying.

"There is not a great unsatu-rated demand [for training]," according to Robin Hall at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big 4 accounting firms. "Not many firms are willing to pay for training, but there is a demand for them [finance professionals] once they have it," he said.

Hall said that, despite the lack of Russian-language instructions, Russian students outperformed their Western colleagues. The pass rate for Russian was 73 percent on the Association offered Accountants exam, compared with the worldwide average of 50 percent and 55 percent on the Certified Public Accountants (CPA) exam, compared to the American average of 12 percent.

But experts caution that it is difficult for a young know what need without joining a firm.

Yelena Carats, a recruiter at Kelly Services, said that Russian students tend to worry about improving their education, without focusing on their careers. "One of the unfortunate problems in Russia is that young specialists work to improve their level of education first. They , 'I'll study now and see happens later.'" She said the best way to start a career in finance is to find a position as an : accountant or analyst, said ambitious young people should look for an entry-level job with a modest salary at a big company with the possibility of advancement. She estimates starting salaries are between $200-$800 a month, she noted that her company works clients, and that Russian companies may pay less.

Magoyan of Hocl-Accountancy Training believe that international cations like the CPA and ACCA are the most option for those who want to work in the domestic market. He said the Certified Master Accountant qualification way more practical.

"The exams are available in Moscow and other Russian cities and the content is very relevant for individuals working in accounting or finance in Russia."

The good news is that financial specialists in Russia are regarded more highly than in the West. According to Baskine, in Russia bookkeepers are generally thought of as "responsible and trustworthy people, probably even more so than in the United States and Europe."

He said that it's a big step up the Soviet days, when they regarded as little more "watchdogs of government property."

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