On a rescue mission
Kenneth Chen is partner and head of corporate advisory services at RSM Nelson Wheeler, and a certified practising accountant of CPA Australia. He specialises in corporate insolvency administration and forensic accounting investigations to support litigation and arbitration.
Tell us about your career
I came back to Hong Kong in 1992 from Australia and worked as a junior auditor at a local CPA firm. After about eight months, I realised auditing was not my cup of tea. I moved to the commercial field and spent about four years in the accounting departments of local and international firms with a focus on mainland trade. I joined RSM Nelson Wheeler in 1997.
At the job interview, the interviewers asked if I was a professional accountant - which thankfully I was because I had recently completed my exams at CPA Australia. They also asked if I had experience in insolvency administration. I didn’t - but back then very few people did, since the subject was so new. My experience in commercial accounting exposure to mainland issues attracted RSM Nelson Wheeler.
Why did you become an accountant?
I chose to study accountancy in university because I liked numbers, and I was good at maths in high school. I also felt it would give me an edge, as accounting is one of the basic infrastructures in businesses - like a “master key” that opens many doors.
Is your work different from what is associated with accounting?
As a liquidator, I take control of firms in financial difficulties. I try to rescue them and save jobs, but you don't succeed every time.
When circumstances are not promising, I will have to wind [operations] down in an orderly fashion to minimise social disruption.
An auditor's role focuses on historical information, while I assess a situation and make decisions for future events that may affect many people.
As a forensic accountant, you need to be detail-oriented and have strong investigative intuitiveness, the ability to identify key issues and effective written communication skills. I often work with legal professionals to resolve disputes between shareholders and family members, and help courts understand complex business transactions and analyse the underlying effects to relevant parties.
By not going through the “big four” accounting firms, did it make your career path more challenging?
It helped - especially for a career in corporate advisory. My focus on insolvency administration and forensic accounting means I need good commercial sense. I must review every case in detail and understand the critical factors before making a decision.
Some people think accountancy is boring. What do you say to that?
Absolutely - I sometimes introduce myself to other non-accounting professionals as a boring accountant, and then I go on and talk about my insolvency and forensic work and the decisions that I have made that affected the lives of other people. People appreciate when you have made the right decisions, I find that most satisfying.
Have you ever regretted becoming an accountant?
It was the best decision I ever made.
What is your advice for young people who are considering a career in accountancy?
Develop the right attitude to work hard and learn fast, and rewards will follow. If you are going to pursue a career as an accountant, obtain your professional accounting status and then decide whether to move into the commercial field, public practice in a CPA firm, or something else.
Time is one of the key resources and everyone is competing against it. One logical and simple way to save time is to obtain an internationally recognised professional qualification and CPA Australia is an example that has helped me achieve my career goal. There are many other soft skills that would give young people a leading edge, but obtaining a professional status from an internationally recognised accounting body is the obvious starting point for any accountants pursuing a professional career.
- Full member of CPA Australia since 1998
- Became a member of the Official Receiver's Administrative Panel of Insolvency Partners and Appointment Takers for court winding-up in 2006
- Made partner at RSM Nelson Wheeler CPA and managing director of RSM Nelson Wheeler Corporate Advisory in 2007
- EMBA from Chinese University in 2009