High-flying CPAs discuss hot topics at HKICPA Career Forum. Reports by Wong Yat-hei.
More than 700 students attended the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) Career Forum 2014 in Cyberport last Saturday. The forum included workshops hosted by veteran accountants and saw various CPA firms and business corporations hold career exhibitions to inform young people of opportunities in the profession.
The highlight of the day was the career forum featuring four high-flying accounting executives, who shared their insights on the industry and answered students' most pressing questions about the accounting profession.
To ascertain the most important questions, students were asked to fill out a questionnaire on what aspects of the profession they wanted to find out about. The top three questions were: why do most accounting graduates work in an audit team early on in their careers; what future trends are expected regarding Hong Kong accountants working on the mainland and in other parts of the world; and how can accountants use their knowledge to work in the commercial sector outside of CPA firms.
Forum speakers Mabel Chan, founder of Mabel Chan & Co.; Clement Chan, managing director of BDO and president of the HKICPA; Charlix Wong, deputy director of accounting services at the Treasury; and Wong Kim-man, chief financial officer at HK Electric Investments, gave their views on the three issues.
On why so many accountants begin their careers in CPA firms working on audit, Clement Chan said it is a great way to gain experience. "The audit team gives true and fair opinions on the financial statement of businesses. Auditors have the chance to meet with clients from diverse backgrounds, and will be better prepared for career advancement."
Mabel Chan said the study leave provided by CPA firms is an advantage for young accountants looking to get their professional qualifications.
Charlix Wong said the government provides another option for auditors. "The Treasury and various government departments are in demand for accountants to perform internal audits. Every year, we have openings for 30-plus treasury accountants and more than 20 accounting officers," he said.
Answering the students' second question, Clement Chan explained that regional boundaries have become blurred in today's global economy and that Hong Kong accountants had many international options. "The CPA professional qualification is recognised by all major economies in the world - such as Australia, Canada, Britain and the US - giving local accountants the mobility to work in other places," he said.
On local accountants' prospects in the mainland, he said that up to 50 per cent of the listed companies in Hong Kong are based in the mainland, presenting many opportunities for Hong Kong accountants.
"At the moment, the HKSAR government and mainland government are working on the details of policies regarding local accountants working on the mainland. The HKICPA is closely monitoring the situation and I believe there are no worries that the central government will adopt a closed-door policy towards local accountants," he said.
Charlix Wong said the mainland government is fostering closer ties between the Hong Kong and mainland accounting sectors. "The Ministry of Finance on the mainland is eager to learn about the accounting practices in Hong Kong as they attempt to upgrade their accounting practice to international standards."
It is common for accountants to move on to the commercial sector after gaining experience in a CPA firm. Wong Kim-man explained the major differences between CPA and commercial firms. "The CPA firm is a service provider and its accountants are business advisers. In the commercial sector, the mindset is different. The accountant's role is that of (or advising) a decision maker. He or she has to think like a business manager, to look for the biggest return for shareholders."
Serving as an accountant in the government requires another mindset. Charlix Wong said government accountants do not look to maximise profits like the commercial sector. "The focus is on social objectives, to present to the government the financial implication of various polices and whether they are sustainable and fair," he said.
Clement Chan said Hong Kong accountants are well-regarded worldwide for their integrity, and the profession here has worked very hard to build this reputation. "Hong Kong is tiny, yet our accountants hold prominent positions in various international bodies for accountants. This is a testament to how much the accounting profession has achieved."