As a world capital market, Hong Kong needs accountants with specialities, says Alison Wilde, director of professional development at the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). And as technical and regulatory changes gather pace, the focus on specialising is likely to continue.
Taxation, insolvency, corporate finance, financial reporting and auditing, and risk management are some of the consistent specialities, says Wilde, who takes care of members' career development following their qualification as CPAs.
Her advice to those trying to decide on a speciality area is to follow their personal interest. This will lead to both an interesting career and one with high potential, she explains.
"They have the opportunity through developing their specialist area to become a real expert in their field, and they can gain recognition as a respected leader. Making a commitment with enthusiasm to a particular area of accountancy will, of itself, bring success over time."
No particular area of specialisation guarantees a job in today's economic environment, advises Wilde. Rather, CPAs should recognise that life-long learning is particularly important now. To stay competitive, CPAs need to maintain their skills, technical knowledge, understanding of economic and regulatory developments and best practices in management development and keep up-to-date.
"I think the skills involved in sound financial management - the recognition of financial problems and knowing what to do about them - will always be valuable."
CPAs are welcomed in many areas because their strong foundation of knowledge and experience facilitates their development into other areas.
"There is definitely scope to specialise beyond the Big Four," she says. "The market is very broad and mixed. This work is needed to be done across many sectors."
Wilde advises potential CPAs to take advantage of the Career Forum, to seek as much information and advice as possible about career paths and their benefits, and what different jobs and specialisations involve.
As part of its speciality training, the HKICPA offers Specialist Qualifications (SQ) and Specialist Designations (SD) in insolvency, which are run annually, and which are open to CPAs with insolvency experience. Members without sufficient experience can access the course by taking two preparatory courses. The nine-month part-time course offers 58 hours of face-to-face teaching, inclusive of lectures, workshops and tutorials. Top consultancy experts and practitioners teach the courses, which lead to the SQ or SD awards, the institute's first specialist professional qualifications.
SQ holders can study for a specialist designation (SD) in insolvency. This well-regarded and demanding course provides employers with a differentiator between SD and non-SD holders, says Wilde, and most importantly, it offers a career advantage for aspiring insolvency practitioners.
The institute is now also preparing specialist part-time qualifications in taxation, planned for launch in 2012. The nine-month course will involve more than 70 hours of teaching and a curriculum that includes advanced Hong Kong taxation, and the fundamentals of China and international taxation.