Adding up to a solid future
Job success built on strong support
Audit Partner, Deloitte China
Getting ahead in any profession requires passion and commitment, and establishing a career at a Big Four accounting firm is no exception.
Philip Tsai, audit partner at Deloitte China, says that while new recruits need to work and study hard for their professional qualification, they will not face challenges alone.
"From new recruits to partners, employees are well supported each step of the way both professionally and personally," says Tsai, who has participated in previous Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) career forums. "In our business we never work alone, so teamwork and interpersonal skills are very important."
Similar to other Big Four firms, Deloitte assigns a counsellor to new recruits who monitors progress and helps indentify suitable professional and soft-skills training programmes. New recruits also receive comprehensive training to prepare them to become certified public accountants.
Tsai says that during their first year with the firm, young professionals can expect to spend between 120 and 160 hours on classroom training in addition to on-the-job-training. "This is the time when new recruits start to find out how business really works and the different environments our clients operate in," he says.
When recruiting, Tsai says his firm looks for candidates who display a diverse range of skills and future potential. He recommends students take advantage of campus activities and functions that allow them to network and learn about the business world. Students should also make every effort to join exchange programmes and secure internships.
Smaller firms offer big opportunities
Founder, Mabel Chan & Co. CPA
While many accounting students have their early career objectives set on joining large accounting firms, small and medium practices (SMPs) also offer a diverse range of opportunities.
"Because of the required rotation assignments of an SMP, young accountants often quickly acquire knowledge and skills across a wide spectrum of accounting and business functions," says Mabel Chan, founder, Mabel Chan & Co. CPA.
Explaining her rationale, Chan says new recruits in a large firm are often required to select a specific area of work in, say, tax, auditing or other fields to focus on. However, in an SMP, they are more likely to be involved with the different aspects of the profession's work.
"Accountants working in SMPs can generally expect to interact with the senior management of their clients a lot sooner than their peers working for Big Four firms," Chan says. Strong teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills are therefore highly regarded.
She says long-term career prospects for those who join SMPs also appear promising. "Hong Kong is still growing as a hub for outbound mainland companies, and this continues to create a demand for SMP services," she says.
At the same time, more companies are moving into the region. "The opportunities for SMP accountants to work on regional and international assignments are growing all the time."
Similar to large accountancy firms, SMPs place a premium on employee training and talent development.
To support training needs and assist SMP members, the HKICPA organises seminars, workshops and training for professional development.
Warding off health care inefficiencies
CFO, Hospital Authority
Efficiently allocating resources is one of the key objectives for Nancy Tse, chief financial officer of the Hospital Authority, where financial and accounting decisions have a direct impact on the Hong Kong community.
"While I don't directly treat patients, there is a certain sense of accomplishment in helping the authority's health-care professionals achieve their objectives," Tse says.
Tse qualified as a certified public accountant (CPA) while working with a Big Four firm. She says that like any well-run business, non-profit and public bodies, such as the Hospital Authority, rely on internationally recognised best accounting practices and sound financial-management processes.
Unlike the private sector, where return on investment and cost cuts are driving factors, accounting professionals at the Hospital Authority need to focus closely on the needs of different stakeholders and on value-added efficiency.
"As a CPA I believe it helps that I understand how various aspects of businesses work together," Tse says. She adds that the public-health-care profession is a specialised area and finance professionals require expertise and an understanding of the sector.
She says that with more than 60,000 employees, the Hospital Authority operates a multi-functional finance function within the wider field of health care. Accountants need to be familiar with public-sector finance requirements, financial planning and financial systems technology. Tse says in addition to accounting and finance management skills, her team members must also liaise with stakeholders and simplify complex information.
Guidance helps pave the way to success
Principal, Poon & Co.
For aspiring accountants, the experience of making the transition from university to their first job can at times seem both exciting and chaotic. Fortunately, help is at hand to smooth the journey.
Gary Poon, council member of the HKICPA, says that as part of their training programmes, new accounting professionals will work under the guidance of an experienced accountant.
"Under their guidance, trainees receive the appropriate type and level of practical experience and can talk about relevant concerns they may have," says Poon, who is also principal of Poon & Co.
To ensure trainees establish ownership of projects and assignments they are given, Poon suggests using critical thinking and research. Trainees should also take advantage of soft-skills training to develop communication skills with colleagues, superiors and clients.
In addition to on-the-job training provided by employers, Poon says the HKICPA offers a range of online information. "Members and students have free access to technical tools, research papers, and submissions to government and overseas professional bodies, in addition to professional standards promulgated by the HKICPA. These are all good reference materials to those who are in the accounting professions," he says.
Poon adds that industry-specific and cross-professional events organised by the HKICPA provide other channels for learning. He says one of the best ways to prepare for an accountancy career is to gain practical experience from internships.
He is also keen to stress that the accounting profession is not all work and no play, saying HKICPA member committees organise sports and recreational events. "There are plenty of sports and fun events for our members to enjoy," he says.