New regulations put professionals at the forefront of business
In spite of a turbulent decade for the accountancy and auditing professions, the vice-president of the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA) says lessons have been learned and the industry is responding responsibly.
Professor Barry Cooper says accounting scandals involving Enron, which subsequently led to the collapse of accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and the recent global financial crisis, had resulted in new regulations and put the accounting profession at the forefront of business processes.
He says accountants now have a more defined role in setting standards and maintaining good corporate governance. In addition to technical skills, accountants' involvement in a business has become much broader to include strategic decision-making, ethics standards and risk management.
"Accountants need to be aware of new business models and be part of the wider management process. It is no longer only the CEO and senior management team that make strategic decisions; they are involving their accountants to look at the financial risks involved in transactions that could pose a financial risk or a possible threat to reputation."
Cooper says the ACCA welcomes the focus placed on professional values, ethics, and governance. "The ACCA syllabus has ethics at the heart of its qualification, but you cannot teach ethics. You can sensitise students to ethical issues and give them a mould to work with," says Cooper, who is a professor of accounting at Deakin University, Australia.
With Asian economies booming and companies moving to the region, the demand for accountants and the opportunities for accountants to move into senior management positions continue to grow.
Cooper says qualified Asian accountants with overseas experience are in a prime position to provide services to European and United States firms expanding into Asia. "The unique benefits and characteristics of having an Asian background coupled with an understanding of Asian and Western business cultures is a valuable asset to any business that migrates to this part of the world," says Cooper, head of Polytechnic University's accountancy department from 1987 to 1991.
Cooper says Asian accountants should also prepare themselves for the growing global acceptance of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). But the region's accountants still need to be aware of local variations in the IFRS.
This will be particularly important where accountants are involved with cross-border transactions and companies operating in multiple jurisdictions. Third-party disclosure rules used among mainland state-owned enterprises is another area that Hong Kong accountants working for mainland firms could master, Cooper adds.