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Certified success

HKICPA Career Forum benefits hundreds of students

University students attending this year's Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) Career Forum got the chance to hear the success secrets of some of Hong Kong's most senior accounting practitioners.

Moderated by Susanna Chiu, president of the HKICPA and director of Li & Fung Development (China), the forum focused on the correct approach to having a prosperous career in accounting, as shared by: Carlson Tong, chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission and former Asia-Pacific chairman of KPMG; William Lo, executive director of finance at the Airport Authority Hong Kong; and Jennifer Cheung, director of Hong Kong coverage global banking at HSBC.

Tong, who has many years of experience serving as a senior manager in the accounting sector, encouraged students to face the HKICPA's Qualification Programme (QP) with a positive mind. "Imagine you are entering Shaolin Temple to learn kung fu. The more you work, the more you learn. Doctors spend seven years in school and accountants have to go through a similar thing - three years in school and another three years of preparation for QP," he said.

According to Tong, accounting is a meaningful career that can make a difference. "I remember when I was an intern I went to a factory to do an audit. The staff approached me to ask me to persuade the boss to give them a pay rise because they worked really hard. I was deeply touched. I realised that my work is not just about numbers - I am able to impact others," he said.

Tong added that a career in finance takes years of hard work to develop. "If someone told me I would become the chairperson of a Big Four firm when I first started, I would think he was talking crazy, but here I am. Young people should set a goal and work step by step towards it. It is important to build a strong foundation," he said.

Lo, who served for decades in commercial firms, told the forum that accountants play an important part in business management. "As an accountant moves up, he or she will be involved in making business decisions. It is a very challenging job, but it is a lot of fun," he said.

Having the right attitude is the key to success, Tong said. "When being assigned a task, don't aim to just finish it. The right attitude is to try to find out its objective and then think of ways to complete it in the best possible way. You are learning from every assignment. You are not doing the job for your boss or anybody else - you are getting yourself prepared for a long and successful career," he said.

The forum also heard that integrity is very important in accountancy. Tong said an accountant should be able to judge on his or her own what is right and what is wrong. "Don't do anything that is wrong, no matter who asked you to do it," he said.

The speakers also shared tips on how to get jobs at accounting firms. HSBC's Cheung said that passion is the number-one criteria that will win bosses over in accounting job interviews. "All applicants for jobs at Big Four firms are high scorers in examinations. The thing that makes you stand out is your passion. If you are able to show your boss you truly and genuinely enjoy your career, you will be successful," she says.

Lo agreed with Cheung that passion is one of the most important driving forces for excelling in the industry. "If you are not enjoying what you do, you won't feel happy, even if the pay is handsome. The desire to keep improving is important because our world is ever-changing. This presents the industry with different challenges," he said.

Tong advised young people to pay attention to social and economic issues. "Read the newspaper every day. It is common for interviewees to have to discuss social issues at a job interview, so you have to be prepared. I myself spend two hours a day reading the news," he said.

This year's HKICPA Career Forum attracted around 700 students currently in tertiary education. The full-day event on October 6 at Cyberport included seminars and workshops on prospects in the accounting industry, which were hosted by managers from several certified public accounting firms.

The event was sponsored by BDO, Crowe Horwath (HK) CPA, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, EY, Grant Thornton Hong Kong, HLB Hodgson Impey Cheng, KCS Hong Kong, KPMG, PKF, PricewaterhouseCoopers, RSM Nelson Wheeler, Shinewing (HK) CPA, the Hong Kong Treasury, and Tricor Services.