Professional accountancy qualifications not only provide a window on business practices, they can also act as a valuable stepping stone to diverse career choices.
Dr Lee Yee-chong, organising chairman of the World Congress of Accountants (WCOA), believes studying for an accountancy qualification should not necessarily be viewed as a route to a single career choice, but as a competency and a means of exploring other career opportunities.
"An accountancy qualification can be considered an enabling tool that helps expand the career possibilities across the finance sector to manufacturing and services," says Lee, a qualified accountant and senior manager with chemical company CCM in Malaysia.
"This applies to young people entering the profession and to those rethinking their career opportunities. It is natural to assume that few people will spend their entire working life in one career. This is an aspect of studying for an accountancy qualification we are keen to promote.
"Understanding the numbers is one of the main ways we assess the value and performance of a business," he says. "Understanding the numbers is also a good way of evaluating the structure and strategies of a company and a way accountants can prepare to take on management and leadership roles."
He says that equipped with a recognised accountancy qualification, individuals are in a good position to help their companies progress. "These skills are particularly important at a time when employers need to be confident they are taking on competent employees that know how to conduct themselves professionally and ethically in the workplace," Lee says.
He believes caution, conservatism and integrity - values incorporated in programmes offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), a global body for professional accountants - are important competencies for building a successful career.
"Developing prudent financial skills and integrity competencies in a complex business environment can be difficult to balance, but they need to be balanced to see the bigger business picture," Lee says. "At the same time, young people joining the accountancy profession need to take a long-term view towards building a career. Young accountants might be tempted to compare themselves with investment bankers and other professions that pay large salaries. Nevertheless, there are plenty of rewards and satisfaction to be gained by building up experience and knowledge over time."
To help individuals achieve their career goals, ACCA offers continuing professional development programmes and a flexible suite of entry-level points designed to take into account experience and existing qualifications. The syllabus spans the key elements of financial and management accounting, including modules on economic, legal and regulatory factors.
The ACCA regularly organises seminars that look at the macro trends of the accounting, finance and business professions.
Held every four years, the WCOA, which will take place in Malaysia in November, gives accounting professionals an international forum to debate the issues affecting their industry.