Specialised skills add up
Many don't realise that the industry has undergone fundamental changes, and accountants have become strategic business partners, not only taking account of what has happened and how much has been spent, but also forecasting and contributing to the companies' future performance.
"We call accounting the `common business language'. The skills set you have obtained helps general management to be more effective and make [the right] business decisions," says Brenda Lam, head of learning development at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Hong Kong.
"Many chief executives and company directors have an accounting background," she says, pointing out that there are several ways to get to such a distinguished position.
"Some specialise, such as in audit or tax, and then go into the commercial sector. Some go into the commercial sector and then specialise. Mobility is very important if one wants to develop a rewarding career internationally," Lam says.
For young graduates, whether they major in accounting or other subjects, it is important to have a basic concept of the roles accountants can play in today's business.
Lam says they should acquire all-round skills before they start specialising in any discipline. They also need to get professional qualifications. "ACCA opens up a wealth of opportunities and hence enhances their employability," says Lam.
The ACCA examinations contain 14 papers at two levels - fundamental and professional - which are equivalent to bachelor's and master's degrees. However, those who major in accounting can get up to nine exemptions and only have to pass five papers.
Through the ACCA Conditional Exemption Programme, this can be granted after the second year, which allows the best students to pass the ACCA papers by the time they graduate. Three years' practical experience is needed with performance objective requirements - some are "essentials" and some optional. An ethics module has been added to ensure professional values. Young graduates should polish their communication and leadership skills.
"Time management is vital as hours are long. Commitment is necessary; you need to put in the hours. But many members say when they look back that it is very rewarding," says Lam. "This is a very secure profession, whether the economy is doing well or not. You have all kinds of opportunities during the whole economic cycle."
The hottest disciplines are mergers and acquisitions (M&A), risk management, internal controls and tax planning. Be open to opportunities and take the chance and work in China, Lam says.