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Accounting for happiness

Wong Kim-man, chief financial officer of Hong Kong Electric Investments (HKEI), says flexibility and a willingness to learn are essential ingredients for success as a certified public accountant (CPA). 

Wong has worked as a professional business accountant in Hong Kong and abroad for more than 25 years. He has learned the necessity of providing useful information to management.  

 “CPAs must ensure they stay ahead and be aware of the latest trends, both in business and in accounting,” he says. “Lead time is required to translate these trends into something useful in a business. Hence, it is important to keep track of the changes early enough.” 

Wong says HKEI’s recent spin-off and initial public offering were the most challenging projects he has handled. They required close cooperation between the company’s staff and outside professionals, and they had to be completed quickly. “We are all good accountants, but we had never worked on a spin-off and IPO [before], so we had to learn during the process. It demanded a lot of communication and interpersonal skills, because we had to work closely with investment bankers, lawyers and auditors.”  

He says the process also required good analytical and problem-solving skills. “Despite the extreme pressure, we continued to have a very positive mindset and can-do attitude. With the support of management, we managed to achieve a satisfactory result.” 

Wong stresses that CPAs must provide useful information to management. “They also have to understand the key cost drivers or profit contributors in the business. 

“They should tell the company board or the CEO which products, services, business models or organisation structures that used to make sense are no longer feasible at present. They should also provide constant forecasts and updates to help them keep up with rapid changes in business,” Wong says. 

He also encourages accountants to continuously update their technical skills, including their ability to deal with computer systems and information technology. 

Wong believes that aspiring CPAs are still too much focused on the traditional work of accountants. He advises them not to limit their learning to accounting only. 

 “Many fresh graduates only think about joining a CPA firm to do auditing or taxation. They should look beyond those kinds of work. They need to acquire broad knowledge in various business functions and disciplines. In fact, it will be extremely useful if they can work in business for a period of time, at least during internship.” 

 There are a lot of exciting areas a CPA can explore, such as risk management and internal control, he adds.  

Wong says listed companies should strengthen their risk management and internal control, in view of the rapidly changing business environment. “We shall continue to work on this. We’re also trying to streamline our work process and make them more automated.” 

Wong says his CPA qualification is a big factor in his current success. “First of all, it provided the skills for me to work in this profession. These skills were my entry point. Secondly, the CPA profession enjoys a lot of support from the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs in terms of training and continuing professional development. 

“Various seminars and workshops exposed me to different kinds of skill sets that I may not have been able to acquire in my organisation in the short term,” he adds. 

Wong says his current position is very rewarding. %“One of the good things about working in a utility company is knowing you provide service to everybody in the community that could enable them to, in the case of families, enjoy a good life, and, in the case of businesses, run smoothly and grow. 

“That’s the reason why I feel so good every day.” 

Wong also gets satisfaction from knowing that if he does his job well, he can deliver strong financial results to shareholders, which means they are also happy. 

“When the customers are happy, the shareholders are happy. And my team and I learn something new every day, which makes me very happy,” he says.