Sivchheng Thlang is a co-founder and partner of HT& P Partners, a professional firm providing tax, audit and accounting, and advisory services. She worked for Grant Thornton Law & Associates and BDO Cambodia, a member of international firms, for eight years before she came out and set up her own practice in 2017. She earned her Master of Science in Accounting and Finance from Bangor University in the UK. Currently, she is an Active Fellow Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA) and Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors (KICPAA).
[Below is interview’s translation which is edited for clarity.]
Q: You are pretty busy these days.
Sivchheng: I am quite busy these days because of monthly tax return. The timeline for income tax filing is delayed, but the tax is still paid.
Q: Can you share briefly about your business?
Sivchheng: I am running an accounting firm, providing business registration, auditing, tax accounting, and monthly tax return filling services.
Q: When did you start your company?
Sivchheng: I started my company in 2017.
Q: Why did you decide to run a company?
Sivchheng: It is my dream. When I applied for a scholarship to study master’s degree in finance in the UK, I found my goal. In the application form, I was asked what I wanted to change upon my return. I thought about creating an accounting firm that has a Khmer partner. At that time, Cambodia had about 40 authorized accounting firms. Most of these companies have foreign partners who have a certificate to run an accounting firm. That’s why I wanted to run an accounting firm having a Khmer partner that can provide quality services such as tax accounting, tax agent, auditing, and business registration. We provide services to small and medium enterprises. Most SMEs are family businesses. They need more support and advice on registration, monthly tax return filing, and accounting. It is challenging for them to hire a big company or international company to support them because those accounting firms are pricier. Thus, local accounting firms can be their options.
I also wanted to contribute to developing the sector in Cambodia. Today, we have about 150 certified public accountants in Cambodia. Among them, about 80 accredited accountants are Khmer.
Q: It is interesting because we have fewer certified accountants in Cambodia. Why do we have fewer human resources in this sector?
Sivchheng: The issue is that it is challenging to study. We don’t have a course on the certified public accountant. If we want to get the license, we need to get a certificate from abroad. For instance, I obtained ACCA’s certificate (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants). It’s a qualification that I received from the UK. After that, I applied to get a certificate of public accountant in Cambodia. If you want to be a certified public accountant, you have to get that qualification.
Last year, Cambodia developed a curriculum on certified public accountants. I hope that, when we have our own curriculum, more Khmer people can access the course and get the license.
Q: You mentioned earlier that most accounting firms in Cambodia have foreigners as their partners. You have a Khmer partner. Is that difficult for you to build trust with your clients?
Sivchheng: It was challenging. First, we were new to the market. Clients were doubted whether or not we could provide quality services to them. Second, we are Khmer. Most accounting firms have foreigners as partners because we lacked human resources. What I could do to address these challenges was providing trusting services to them. I also offered value-added services to them, such as advising on what worked better for their companies. They trusted our services. They recommended other people to use our services as well.
Q: Could you share some tips to build client’s trust?
Sivchheng: First, we have to know our client’s needs. Thus, we can provide our services to meet our clients’ expectations. Second, we offer value-added services to our clients. We recommend what works best for our clients. To provide trusted services to our clients, we need a team. If our team can’t provide services to clients, we will face issues. For our company, we were new. We had a new team. We recruited fresh people in the field to work with us. For experienced people, they would hesitate to work with us because we were new. They were unsure whether or not we could continue our services. Mainly, I recruited fresh graduates or students in 3rd or 4th years of undergrads who had a high commitment to deliver services. We provided services to our clients while we trained our staff. We were meticulous in providing our services to our clients.
Q: What were your challenges when you first ran your company?
Sivchheng: I managed the company while I was learning how to manage it. It was my first company. Even though I have worked for other companies, I was just a staff. When I faced issues, I consulted with the partners of the company. When I became a partner, I needed to make the final decision by myself. I have to be responsible.
Moreover, when we run our company, we needed to have clients. We were new; clients didn’t trust us. We needed to build confidence for our clients. We needed to deliver results as our clients expect. Otherwise, they stopped using our services. For instance, monthly tax return is continuous work. We do it every month. If we deliver poor quality services, they will stop using our services. To meet clients’ expectations, we need a team to do that.
Another challenge is communication. It was my weakness because I was not good at communication. When I became a partner, I needed to do it myself. I went out to meet clients and communicated with them.
Q: Could you share your experience of how you strengthen your communication skills?
Sivchheng: First of all, we need to know who our clients are. We need to know what they want. We need to understand what services we want to provide to our clients. When we know our clients and services, it would be easier for us. Second, we were new to the market. We needed to find the clients. Clients would not come to us; we needed to go out and meet people. Like it or not, I must go out and meeting people. Before going to meet them, I prepared myself to be ready.
Q: What are the needed resources to run an accounting firm?
Sivchheng: Human resource is the most critical resource for the firm. I can say I am an essential resource for my firm. To establish an accounting firm in Cambodia, we need at least one partner obtaining the certificate of a public accountant from the Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors. If you don’t have a license, you won’t be able to run a firm. Moreover, we need a team to work together; I can’t do all stuff by myself. If we don’t have a team, we can’t progress. We need a team of people who have a high commitment to deliver quality services to clients.
Q: How do you build your team?
Sivchheng: When I created the company, we wanted to provide many services, including tax accounting, auditing, and business registration. I can’t do them by myself. I needed a partner to work together. When I started, I met friends and asked them to join me. Most of them said ‘No’ because they didn’t want to take risks. They didn’t want to give up their thousand dollars salary. Among them, only one friend wanted to create an accounting firm with Khmer partners providing services to SMEs. There are many SMEs. They need services such as accounting, tax filing, and business registration. They can’t afford international accounting firms. Thus, a local accounting firm would be feasible for them.
When I got a partner, I went out to get a client. My friend recommended a client for us. Then, there was much work for the two of us. We started recruiting our staff to help us. As I mentioned earlier, my company was new. It was challenging to recruit experienced people. We could find fresh graduates or students in their senior years who had a high commitment to work. I recruited them and taught them. We have in-house training and on-the-job training.
For our team, when they first join me, I told them that don’t just think about money. I told them to develop themselves. When they grow, the company also grows. When the company grows, our clients also grow. Our value is that “We grow together.”
Q: Have you ever doubted yourself?
Sivchheng: Never. When I started the company, I fulfilled my dream. I committed to run a firm when I applied for a scholarship. Upon my return, I didn’t trust myself enough. I worked for others. Until one day, I asked myself, ‘if not now, when?’ Why don’t I take the risk now? If I fail, I can work for others again. In Cambodia, if you have skills, you have many things to do. If you do not work for yourself, you can work for others.
Q: How about your family? Did they support you when you quitted your job and ran a company?
Sivchheng: My mom disagreed with my decision at first. I got a salary of around US $3,000 per month. I gave it up and ran a company. When I first started, I didn’t even have potential clients in hand. I stopped working to run a company. My mom asked me that, ‘how do you do it?’ I told her, ‘It is ok because I secure finance for the firm operation.’ My partner and I planned our finance for a one-year operation. If we could not get clients in our first year, we had the budget to operate the entire year. I told her, ‘If you do not allow me to run my company now, when should I do it?’ Why don’t you give me an opportunity to take risks? If I fail, I will learn from it.
My dad always told me to try something new. He told me to do it without fear of being failed. If I fail, I can learn from it. If I didn’t take risks at that time, I was not able to run a company. I would still be working for others. Some of my friends who rejected my proposal to run a firm regretted their decisions. It depends on us; how much we trust ourselves and how many risks we dare to take.
Q: How do you convince your mother?
Sivchheng: My mom is a risk-averse person. She likes to stay in her comfort zone. I told her, ‘If I only stay in the comfort zone, I can’t grow.’ Comfort zone doesn’t teach me many lessons. I want to take something more challenging. It will lead us to grow. I told her that, ‘Please give me a chance. I will try it for one year. If I can’t get a client, I will return to work for others.’
She supported me later on. I got my first client in less than a year. I changed to a bigger office after six months. We have many clients and staff. My business started to take off after six months. My mom was surprised. Even though she didn’t support my decision, she kept encouraging me to do my best in my business. She didn’t ask me to give up.
Q: Did you remember how you felt when you got the first client?
Sivchheng: I went out to meet my friends. I told them about my business. I introduced my company to them. A friend of my friend worked in a construction company that has three smaller companies in it. My friend introduced that client to me. Then, I went to meet the client. That wasn’t a Khmer client; that was a Thai one. The client hesitated on our capacity because we were new. My friend told the client, ‘The company is new, but people who worked there have been in the field for a while.’ For instance, I have worked in the field for about ten years, and I obtained a license. That client always allows younger people. It was fortunate for us because we got three companies for the first client. After that, our first client introduced us to others. This is how I started.
Q: Do you have messages for other young people who wanted to run an accounting firm?
Sivchheng: You need to ask yourself whether or not you are ready to run a firm. For instance, I prepared myself already when I applied for a master’s degree. Upon my return, I didn’t run it immediately. I’ve worked for others for about a year. Then, I decided to run a company myself. I asked myself, ‘If not now, when?’ It was time for me to take risks to fulfill my dream.
For people who want to run a business, you need to ask yourself what your dream is. Second, are you ready to do it? Some people have not prepared themselves enough to run a firm. It is a problem.
Q: Thank you so much for joining me today.