Fiji’s reputation as a laid-back, carefree island nation contradicts the strength of the local HLB Mann Judd, which grew during the global pandemic and continues to attract demand across all service lines.

Here, managing partner, William Crosbie, explains how the firm is positioned for future success.

Originally from London, I moved to New Zealand in 1978 and worked for a mid-tier firm in Auckland before venturing out on my own. By sheer co-incidence, I had been talking to an accounting firm partner who was looking to buy out a sole practitioner in Fiji, and I ended up passing over my clients to them and took over the management of the Fiji firm. That was 1991.

Three years later, we joined HLB International which gave us exposure and strength globally, and opened up referral opportunities which otherwise would not have been possible. In 2018 we joined the HLB Mann Judd Australasian Association. Being member of the Association means there’s alignment with ethics and standards; the HLB brand carries such a strong ethics framework that it provides real weight to the work we do here in Fiji.

A year before the onset of COVID, I had been speaking with a Melbourne-based partner at a conference in the US, and we discussed the outsourcing of audit work. In hindsight, it was fortuitous timing as just six months later, the pandemic hit and the Melbourne firm was impacted by lockdowns and mandates. In Fiji, we were fortunate the COVID rules were less stringent and subject to following certain health protocols our office, for the most part, remained open and staff continued to operate as normally as possible.

Tourism is unquestionably one of the main sectors of Fiji’s economy and traditionally forms a large part of our business services work. While there was an obvious contraction in these engagements throughout the pandemic, the outsourcing work from the Australian firms made up for the deficit and, as a result, we were one of very few accounting firms in Fiji to experience growth. Working together throughout the pandemic is testament to the strength of the HLB Mann Judd network of firms.

Fiji coped with COVID differently compared to the rest of the world. Fiji’s tourism took a massive hit and half of Fiji’s population were out of work and sent home to their local villages. Fijians however are incredibly resilient; they went home to their communities, grew crops, helped and supported each other and survived.

Communities banded together and gave each other support and Fiji ultimately became an even better place to be and live. That sense of giving back is also reflected in our firm and HLB Global’s ongoing commitment to those around us. We give back in many different ways; last year, we helped build a new house for a family who lost everything including their husband and father in a cyclone; we restored and painted a local community hall, our staff planted mangroves on the beach and others helped in local street clean-ups; and next month, we will be packing and handing out groceries to two local villages.

With the reopening of tourism, things have changed yet again. In the last few months, we’ve had strong enquiries from people looking to invest in Fiji so we are actively advising new businesses looking to establish operations here. We manage everything from their immigration requirements to investment approval, ensuring full regulatory compliances and setting up the necessary systems.

We also have a good working rapport with the Fijian government, and consult with them on new tax policy initiatives, for example. As a small jurisdiction, we’re in a very fortunate – and unique – position to be able to have that direct dialogue. We recently engaged with the Ministry of Commerce on SOC 2 Compliance accreditation, which ensures client data is managed appropriately and secure from third-party cyber breaches.

At an operational level, the firm will likely grow its headcount over the remainder of 2022. With the ongoing outsourcing work, combined with the uptick in business services, we’re anticipating the workforce to grow from 52 to 60 staff.

Currently, two-thirds of our staff are female and we have a number of nationalities within the firm. A diverse mix of skills and people is important to our firm, just as it is to all of Fiji – and we expect this to continue long into the future.

This profile on HLB Fiji was first published in the Winter 2022 issue of Financial Times.