HKICPA Career Forum 2015 taught students the road to success isn’t easy, but worth it once they’re there
More than 800 eager students showed up at last Saturday’s Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) Career Forum 2015 to learn about the huge range of opportunities offered by the accounting profession.
The forum, held at Cyberport, was a full-day event featuring eight workshops on various specialisations, a career exhibition where 15 accounting firms and companies shared with students their recruiting requirements and accounting career paths, and a luncheon with CPAs for students to learn more about the life of an accountant from current practitioners.
In addition, more than 100 students applied for the Shadow CPA programme. The 20 shortlisted candidates will get to shadow senior-management-level CPAs at large corporations and experience what their typical work day is like.
The highlight of the day was a panel discussion with top industry figures on “CPAs – the DNA of Leaders”. They provided insights into building a successful career in different areas of accounting, including at CPA firms, commercial companies and within the government.
Moderated by Mabel Chan, chair of the Career Forum advisory panel and vice-president of the HKICPA, the panel discussion included Ada Chung, the government’s registrar of companies; Dennis Ho, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and president of HKICPA; and George Hongchoy, CEO of Link Asset Management.
Ho said that a professional accountant cannot avoid difficulties in their career, but the key is to stay positive. “There will be ups and downs in the economic cycle. You should take full advantage of the opportunities during the sunny days and never give up when the rainy days come.”
The road to becoming a partner is not easy, but is very rewarding, he added. “No pain, no gain. The key to success is to set a high bar for yourself and do things that are beyond the expectations of your supervisors and clients. By leaving a good impression with them, they will offer you more opportunities to showcase what you are capable of and that helps build a successful career.”
Ho has spent his entire career in auditing and thinks that at times it can be genuinely stimulating. He told the forum that auditing has helped him gain a wide variety of experience, as he has learned how different industries operate.
Hongchoy explained that his career is a perfect example of how an accountant can become a business leader. As CEO of a listed company, Hongchoy credits his accounting background for his success.
Unlike Ho, he moved into the banking sector soon after becoming a CPA. However, he said his auditing experience was crucial for his role as a CEO.
“To make a good business decision, one needs to be able to analyse and identify trends in the figures. It is also important for one to be able to present the business to the board and to the public with numbers. My training as an accountant has helped me a lot in these areas.”
As careers develop, dealing with people, not numbers, is the most challenging aspect, Hongchoy said. He recalled his days working in one bank which had tough customers that his colleagues tried to avoid. Instead of running away from them like everyone else, he took a different approach. “If you are able to serve customers that nobody can serve, those will become your loyal customers,” he said.
Hongchoy encouraged young graduates to keep learning and to put in extra time at work. “Don’t think studying is over after you have graduated. You need to continue to learn and to stay updated. I work nearly every day of the year. Work is a part of life for me. If you are able to achieve that, you will not find work to be so stressful.”
Chung explained that the career path she took saw her start as a tax assessor with the Inland Revenue Department before becoming a senior government official. After getting her CPA qualifications, she studied law and worked as a barrister with the government for more than a decade before being appointed to her current position.
Chung’s story demonstrates the diverse career opportunities available to an accountant. “The government offers many opportunities to fresh graduates. We are looking to serve the public in the most cost-effective way and our job is much more than working with numbers,” she told the forum.
Giving encouragement to forum participants, Chung advised them not to back down from challenges and that job satisfaction should be the best motivation.
Thinking beyond numbers
It used to be common for accountants to begin their careers in auditing before moving on to specialised areas such as insolvency or forensic accounting. But this is no longer the case, according to industry insiders at one of the Career Forum’s workshops. Rainier Lam, senior adviser of the business recovery services division at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said more fresh graduates are starting with insolvency and they do not necessarily come from accounting backgrounds.
“Our firm provides the necessary training for you to become a certified public accountant. We have law students, translation students and graduates from pure arts and science subjects applying for jobs with us. The key attributes are having strong interpersonal skills and an inquisitive mind.”
Insolvency work involves tough situations that arise when a company is closing down or in financial difficulty. Accountants have to deal with various stakeholders – shareholders, employees, suppliers and clients – who are likely to be emotional as they face losing their jobs and money.
Lam recalled being surrounded by more than 50 irate clients while handling the insolvency of a large securities company not long after the Asian financial crisis in 1997. “The office entrance was blocked by an angry mob demanding to get their stocks back. Things like this happen when you are working with insolvency. Dealing with human behaviour, not accounting knowledge, is always the toughest.”
Out of all accounting aspects, insolvency is perhaps the most involved with law, Lam said. When a company is in trouble, labour and contract issues are the most common areas of law that an accountant will come across. He said while it’s not necessary for accountants to know a great deal about law, they need to anticipate possible legal issues that may arise and consult the right people.
Katy Wong, a partner at KPMG, pointed out that work in forensics is similar to insolvency in that it requires an inquisitive mind to dig up evidence, and that you need to deal with emotional stakeholders during fraud investigations.
“The challenge for forensic accountants is that people will always try to hide information from you. You need to be proactive in looking at the problem and coming up with a solution.”
Today, most fraud is committed using computers. Forensic accountants rely on software to help them find suspicious emails, unusual transactions and other evidence. Mobile forensics is an emerging trend, as more cases of fraud are committed on devices like phones and tablets.
Wong said more fresh graduates are joining the service and she welcomes young people with a passion for investigation and compliance work.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Setting a high bar.