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Building on vital lessons

Variety proves the spice of life for SFC regulator

Carlson Tong
Chairman, Securities and Futures Commission (SFC)

Variety is what Carlson Tong enjoys most in his job. "You really don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next. It's that variety that obviously makes my life very colourful," says the chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).

Tong recently attended an annual conference in Luxembourg where he met fellow regulators from across the world. However, he is happier now that he doesn't have to travel very often. Prior to his 2011 retirement as KPMG Asia-Pacific chairman, Tong travelled frequently and extensively.

He now finds fulfilment in upholding the values he developed during his training as a professional accountant. "I'm doing things that contribute to making Hong Kong a global financial market. The key focus is the protection of investors while not overlooking market development. Obviously, the protection of investors always comes first," he says.

Despite constant difficult challenges, Tong believes that his many years of auditing experience prepared him for his current role. "In auditing, you have to be tough and stand firm on your principles. Integrity is a key ingredient accountants must uphold from the moment they start in the profession," he says.

If he were young again, Tong would travel to the mainland more often to improve his Putonghua and learn about the way things are done there. "Like it or not, we are now competing with mainland accountants. Even local universities now have a lot of mainland students who are fluent in Putonghua and English and communicate well in both languages," he says.

Lo prefers to stay hungry, stay foolish

William Lo
Executive Director for Finance, Airport Authority Hong Kong

William Lo, executive director for finance at the Airport Authority Hong Kong, describes his typical day at the office as spending 50 per cent on decision-making and problem-solving, 40 per cent on planning and monitoring, and 10 per cent on internal administration, coaching, development, networking and other functions.

Lo says he has always wanted to be an accountant, like his father. Prior to joining the Airport Authority in 2010, he had worked for three different listed companies in the city. His colourful career has seen him get involved in property development and investment, hotels, fast-moving consumer goods, information technology and gaming. He has handled activities such as fundraising, IPOs, share placements, bond issuance, and mergers and acquisitions. He has also gone overseas, negotiated deals, acquired companies and worked with strategic investors.

Seeing the business grow and customers' well-being improved are Lo's greatest job satisfactions. He believes that his road to success has been mostly ups than downs because of his motto: One step at a time, make every step a worthy one; one lesson a day, make sure I earn my day. "I have to learn something new every day. I try to turn every setback into an opportunity by learning something from it," he says.

Lo advises prospective accountants, first of all, to finish their exams. "There's no bargain. They must attain all the qualifications, the minimum work experience, and so on."

He also encourages them to work hard, and to develop both their emotional quotient (EQ) and adversity quotient (AQ).

"If I may borrow from Steve Jobs: 'Stay hungry, stay foolish.' Never be contented in terms of knowledge and achievement."

Decide what you want to do and work hard to do it

Jennifer Cheung
Director for Banking, Hong Kong, Global Banking and Markets, HSBC

Jennifer Cheung, director for banking, Hong Kong, global banking and markets at HSBC, wanted to try something different when she moved to the banking industry after eight years as an audit professional.

"Obviously, there's a variety of things that audit practice does offer, but there are certain other aspects that were not necessarily offered me in practice, so I wanted to venture out and see what is out there," she says.

While employed at a Big Four accountancy firm, Cheung worked in the financial services group focusing on banking, so her transfer to HSBC was a sort of natural shift. But deciding what role she actually wanted turned out to be the most challenging part of her career transition.

Today, as a frontline corporate and investment coverage banker, Cheung looks after financing and other banking needs of blue-chip Hong Kong-listed companies. She has discovered that many of the skills and knowledge which she gained as an accounting audit professional are actually applicable to her current role.

"Obviously, the mindset is slightly different because I'm trying to originate transactions, but to some degree, client interaction in an audit role is similar to what I do at present, which is to identify customers' needs and deliver high-value solutions. A lot of the skill set I learned before is also flexible and interchangeable," she says.

Cheung believes that her being open-minded and receptive enabled her to make a successful transition.

"To succeed, you need to be clear about what you want and commit to put in the hard work. Those are fundamental ingredients of success," she says.

Kong believes staying sharp is key to success

Johnson Kong
Chief Executive, BDO Limited

The work of professional accountants is no longer limited to dealing with figures and routine tasks, but is getting more and more consultant- and advisory-oriented, says Johnson Kong, chief executive of BDO Limited.

Kong has over 30 years of professional accounting experience specialising in forensics, litigation support, restructuring and insolvency work. He believes that although professional accounting knowledge and technical skills remain important, soft attributes are now more crucial to career development.

"I'm talking about strong interpersonal communication skills. Regarding language capability, in particular, he or she should be good at written and verbal English, Cantonese and Putonghua. These are very important, considering how the economies of Hong Kong and the mainland are so entwined."

Kong describes the work in BDO as highly dynamic. Staff get plenty of opportunities to interact with different people from industries in Hong Kong, the mainland and overseas.

"Instead of being tied to one or two industries, our employees are exposed to a large number of clients and industries in a short period. This is particularly appealing to our young colleagues because it enables them to learn various skills and to travel outside Hong Kong," he says.

Kong expects a good accountant to be sharp. "It's really about business acumen or the essential knack of making quality professional judgments," he adds.

Area of interest can influence career path

Tony Wong
Chief Assessor for Appeals, Inland Revenue Department

The career development of a CPA working in the government sector varies, according to the personal goals of the individual.

Tony Wong, chief assessor for appeals at the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), stresses that public accountants provide a broad range of services mainly related to accounting, auditing and taxation, so it is important for an individual to choose the position where his interests lie.

After graduating, Wong joined one of the Big Eight firms at the time, but left after one year to accept better remuneration as an assistant assessor at the IRD.

CPAs in government service are expected to demonstrate high levels of accountability and self-control, and to follow numerous guidelines, both departmental and for the civil service as a whole, Wong says. "People nowadays have much higher expectations of the ethics of a civil servant. So public accountants must always consider the impact of their actions and decisions," he says.

Wong seeks certified public accountants with sound technical knowledge, bilingual language skills and multidisciplinary know-how, as well as mobility and a global perspective.

"New graduates may find a big difference between classroom knowledge and real practice. Soft skills can sometimes be more important than technical knowledge," he says.