Sum of a great career
A qualified accountant’s skills offer many different routes to success.
The job nature of a certified public accountant (CPA) has changed a lot since the tick-and-bash days of manual recording. “Nowadays, young accountants find it natural to audit through a computer, but this was done by a specialist when I was just starting my career,” says Susanna Chiu, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), which is marking its 40th anniversary this year.
Aside from the drastic changes in the manner that records are kept, accountants’ skill sets and the demands of businesses on their expertise have become more diversified, Chiu adds.
“The current approach is geared towards more controls and compliance-type, risk-based auditing. These are much more interesting areas because accountants are able to look for the story behind the figures. What do the figures tell you about the business, its performance and the risks it faces?” she says.
The HKICPA Career Forum 2013 seeks to familiarise aspiring accountants with the ever-widening spectrum of opportunities and challenges that await them.
“The accounting profession is not limited any more to just auditing, tax and insolvency. We have new areas of expertise like IT systems audit, risk management, forensic accounting and business valuation,” says Chiu, who holds an Executive MBA degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and is also a director of Li & Fung Development (China).
“Previously, people with MBAs or who studied finance occupied CFO and CEO positions. But many organisations are now filling these roles with qualified CPAs. That’s the trend not just in Hong Kong but also in the US and Europe,” she adds.
Chiu wants participants at the day-long forum to keep in mind that they have to work very hard in the first few years in order to build a solid foundation.
“Long working hours is an unavoidable fact in the life of accountants, especially during peak seasons,” Chiu says. “Get quickly qualified and your hours can be better arranged. But do expect to log in long working hours, especially in the first three years of your career.”
Chiu also urges forum participants not to limit their internship or work aspirations to accounting firms that cannot be expected to steadily increase their intake. More young workers should be ready to spend the early years of training and career development in a corporate setting.
“This is the new training ground for students. They can still qualify in a commercial firm, but they will need the strong support from their supervisor. Commercial companies are unlike professional accounting firms, where young accountants can rely on an organised training programme and accelerated career path. Most commercial firms still need to structure the career path and three-year training of their trainees,” says Chiu, adding that the HKICPA has been actively supporting commercial firms in this regard.
She also reminds them that perseverance is essential, especially during the training phase, when a lot of work may be repetitive and uninteresting. “Some of the tasks will be very mundane, but you have to put your back into it and pull through,” says Chiu.
She also advises them to be inquisitive. “How many chances do you have as a fresh graduate to go into a big corporation and access their books and information that are not normally available to anybody? When you finish an audit, you actually increase your understanding of a particular business and build up your general knowledge.”
Chiu reassures forum attendees that while the profession may not make them very rich, they will definitely have a secure income stream.
“More than the money, an accountant’s biggest reward is the exposure to the world and the feeling of actually being at the core of a business. You are acquiring a global language that you can use anywhere in the world,” Chiu says.
She says young accountants will be able to use the skill set they learn to build a secure career.
“This skill set can benefit any business, be it a commercial firm, non-governmental organisation, or even their own start-up business. It opens doors to opportunities. CPA training is not just for skills, it is a training for life.”
WHEN AND WHERE
Date October 6, 2013 (Sunday)
Venue Cyberport Conference and Exhibition Centre, Pok Fu Lam