Bassam Hajhamad

Bassam Hajhamad

Country Senior Partner & Consulting Leader, PWC Qatar
Ahmed Abu Sharkh

Ahmed Abu Sharkh

Country Senior Partner, KPMG Qatar
By helping companies design workplaces of the future and assessing the readiness of businesses post COVID-19, accounting firms see new trends emerging in the new normal.

How is COVID-19 disrupting your daily operations, and how are you ensuring business as usual in Qatar?

AHMED ABU SHARKH We moved rapidly to cope with the new requirements, and it took us about 10 days to get our IT infrastructure in place and increase our communications capabilities and bandwidth. The tools were there, but we had to build on top of them. In terms of our teams' ability to work remotely, we also managed to move quickly. The challenge we faced in 2020 was that clients did not move as rapidly as we did, and we are dependent on our clients' ability to cope with our information requests. However, there is also an opportunity there in terms of helping them reach the digital level required for operating in the coming months and years, though in terms of regular operations there was certainly a challenge. The Qatari authorities have been helpful, for instance, by extending tax filing deadlines. However, it is obvious that certain areas have been disrupted, especially those dealing with operations and contracts.

What were the main highlights for PwC Qatar in 2020, and in how far has the pandemic caused a shift in focus?

BASSAM HAJHAMAD Despite the tough year and its significant impact, there were several highlights that we are extremely proud of. To name a few, we continue to invest in our people and the sectors which are prominent to Qatari businesses, despite the global economic slowdown and the pandemic. Most exciting is our recent acquisition of Tyconz Enterprise Business, which has enhanced PwC's digital transformation capabilities in enterprise applications-based automations, intelligent and predictive analytics, operations excellence, human and customer experience management, training, and digital platforms. During these challenging times, PwC was able to quickly mobilize, and solutions were found to minimize the disruption for our clients and staff. We deployed efforts to embrace more digitalization. We also provided additional and extensive training for our teams on digital platforms that our clients use, such as Microsoft Teams. We have ensured the safety and well-being of our teams by taking swift and impactful measures, implementing our own protocols for social distancing, developed our own track and trace applications, and provided extensive support seminars and training for our staff to safeguard them and help them further adapt. At the beginning of lockdown, we launched PwC's Digital Wellbeing App to ensure our people have the support they need to maintain their wellbeing.

What is your assessment of the level of preparation of young Qataris at local universities in terms of analytical, consultancy, and accountancy skills?

AAS Qatar is blessed with many top universities, and the students they are graduating are of extremely high quality in many aspects. Therefore, every year we recruit graduates from those sources in all practices of the business. In the private sector, companies are encouraged to bring in local graduates, and that is an excellent opportunity for us because we know of and believe in their preparation. It would benefit everyone to build programs to train graduates, as we started doing four years ago. This has been a great source of talent and innovation, as younger people come up with different ideas and are more energized than some of us with more experience. We do recruit people with a general background in accounting, business, or digital. They are excellent recruits but we feel there is a lack of specific formation in business analytics or AI, for example. It would help if some universities offered more specialized programs.

BH PwC are in a good position to contribute to several of Qatar's national objectives as we have been developing our own people and creating business leaders for over 165 years—our academies have been helping our clients develop their talent over the last 16 years. Nevertheless, we are in the middle of a digital revolution, and this requires a skills revolution. Across the GCC and in Qatar, in particular, professionals of all ages and profiles need help to build their digital awareness, understanding, and skills to fully participate in the future workforce. At PwC's Academy, we have offered online versions of our programs for some time, and now we find that clients are embracing the value and effectiveness of this format. Our live online professional development programs aim to generate the same level of engagement and experience of those run face-to-face. We customize these to meet our clients' needs through multiple channels of engagement: live online classroom training, eLearn services, online coaching, capstone projects and curated e learning.

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