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HK accountants can capitalise on their changing role in Greater China.

The job nature of certified public accountants (CPAs) is constantly evolving to meet the sustained strong demand for the profession, according to Clement Chan, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA).

“There are growing expectations on people with financial backgrounds to ensure the organisations they work in are maintaining a high level of integrity, transparency and social responsibility,” says Chan, who is also a managing director at accounting services firm BDO. “As a result, auditing, accounting and ethical standards have been evolving according to the changing expectations and benchmarks that society is placing on the profession.”

One of the main aims of the HKICPA Career Forum 2014 is to share how CPA qualification can provide the stepping stone for a successful career in this evolving environment.

Chan, who attained his CPA qualification in 1984, witnessed the movement of large numbers of accountants from Hong Kong to the mainland in the late 1990s. Recently, the trend has been reversed as China’s economic clout has grown and localisation has gained ground.

“By and large, one of the challenges for Hong Kong accountants is how to continue finding our changing role within the Greater China region, and how to equip ourselves for the changing market landscape. That is a challenge, but also a major opportunity,” he says.

The HKICPA  is the only statutory licensing body of accountants in Hong Kong responsible for the professional training, development and regulation of the accountancy profession. The direct way to join the Institute is via the qualification programme (QP), but some new graduates might not yet realise the full value of membership, Chan says.

“The QP will enable them to practise as professional accountants, not just in Hong Kong, but also internationally. If a member decides to migrate to one of the countries within the Global Accounting Alliance, they won’t have to resit the qualification exam, they can gain direct entry into the accounting profession in those countries.”

The Institute’s other members have gained entry by virtue of membership in GAA member organisations, including Britain, South Africa, Canada and Australia, and other countries. “Through reciprocal arrangements, [GAA] accountants have gained admission into our membership directly through their mother accounting organisation.” 

Other organisations have partial recognition arrangements with the Institute. “Although members of those organisations cannot enter the HKICPA straight away, we give them certain privileges, such as exemptions on some of the exam subjects, to make it easier to qualify as a member.” 

Apart from activities related to continuing professional education, HKICPA keeps its 37,000-strong membership alert and up to date on market developments. “We are constantly looking out for new opportunities for our profession,” Chan says. “If we see additional things that we can do to equip our members better, we spare no effort in doing that.” 

Recent HKICPA initiatives include standalone course modules, including one on financial controllership. “After qualification, a lot of our members shift from professional CPA firms to commercial industries, so we developed this course to provide them with the skill set required to become in-house CFOs and finance directors,” Chan says. 

A programme on advanced tax focusing on international taxation and China taxation has also been completed recently.

In addition to professional activities, the Institute organises specialist interest groups and social activities where members can tap into a diverse network of peers from different working environments and industries. “Exchanging experiences with their peers will hopefully enrich their vision and help in their long-term career development,” Chan says.