Hong Kong CPAs with financial controller experience can expect to be in demand. Chris Choi, an Institute member, is part of an emerging “flying squad” of financial controllers who parachute into new or distressed companies at the request of private equity firms, risk consultancies and others in need of sound advice.
Choi, who formerly worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong as a senior associate, credits his CPA qualification and the “all-round and intensive training” at the Big Four firm for enabling him to excel in the post. “A financial controller is swamped with data, both from the market and the internal environment,” he says, adding that they must conceive and design data management plans.
“Traditional finance professionals spend most of their time analysing historical data and are focused on external parties like tax and regulatory bodies,” he explains. “A CPA, however, should add value by conducting forward-looking analysis, being involved in the strategic planning, supporting commercial deals and understanding internal and external risks.”
Choi recently held a position as a financial controller in a listed company, overseeing corporate finance functions. He believes more financial controllers should assume such strategic roles. “By connecting macroeconomics, industry insight and project dynamics, a financial controller is capable of discovering a breakthrough point even when the management team has no clear direction for future development.”
This involvement in delivering practical insights to a company’s management is what he sees as the value of his role. “It takes a restructuring of the finance function and skill sets,” Choi explains, adding that the financial controller no longer has an internally focused job description. “My advice is to take action by stepping out of your comfort zone,” he says.
Private equity, with its fast pace and complex deal structuring, is an ideal proving ground for financial controllers, Choi says. “[You] should be comfortable with multitasking and making things happen in an orderly manner within an established timeframe,” he says.
In his most recent role, he was able to focus on deal origination and structuring, strategy formulation, feasibility studies, due diligence, financial and valuation modelling, transaction negotiations, asset management and deal exit.
The demand for quality financial controllers is expected beyond Hong Kong’s boundaries. Thomas Tse, financial controller of MMG, who has also worked in Qing¬dao, says there is a huge need for such professionals in the Mainland. “Fluent communication in English, Cantonese and Mandarin is important in the current environment in which many Chinese companies are going international.”
Rupert Purse, a risk consultant and mergers and acquisitions adviser and a Hong Kong Institute of CPAs member agrees, saying the demand for such professionals extends even beyond China. He has arranged for Institute members to bolster financial management teams in the Middle East, for example, on behalf of private equity clients.
For their part, Hong Kong’s financial controllers welcome their new popularity.
“We’ve been underrated for so long,” says an Institute member who works as a financial controller in the automotive distribution sector. “Many of us perform the same roles as an accounting manager – but we’re actually much more than that.”
Source: : HKICPA's APlus Magazine – October 2013
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