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Numbers add up for CPAs

Published on Saturday, 01 Nov 2014
Dennis Ho

HKICPA vice-president Dennis Ho says accountants have challenging but rewarding careers.

Career Forum attendees got to hear the recipe for a successful accounting career from Dennis Ho, vice-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, during his Leadership Forum talk.  

Ho pointed out it is not necessary to have an accounting degree as the industry recruits talent from diverse backgrounds. “Take myself for example – I was a biology student,” he said. “You do not have to feel left out because you have no accounting knowledge. We are looking to recruit people with common sense and strong communication skills. There are many courses that can help you acquire accounting knowledge.” 

Ho added that while accountants work a lot with numbers, they are more concerned with finding the meaning behind the numbers.  

The profession is demanding, but rewarding, Ho said. He encouraged young graduates to overcome the hardship for a brighter future. “There is no free lunch. Accountants need to put in extra time to work and to learn. I felt like an eight-year veteran after only five years because there is so much to learn in accounting.” 

A career in a Big Four accounting firm is the dream of many young graduates because it follows a structured career path. Newcomers spend their first two years building the foundations of how to be an accountant. 

They usually begin by doing audit work. After that, they are promoted to a senior associate and will be responsible for a small team. With five to six years’ experience, they are promoted to manager grade to work on bigger projects and lead a larger group of colleagues. 

To be a partner, which is a senior management position in the firm, at least 12 years of experience is required. 

To win a job at a Big Four firm, Ho’s advice is to be confident. “Don’t try to memorise model answers and recite them to the interviewer. If you do not know the answer to a question, don’t panic. Try to work another way around it. For example, you can ask the interviewer the meaning behind the question. This demonstrates your ability to react under pressure,” he said. 

Ho added that wearing the right outfit could help candidates stand out. He explained that since most candidates wear black suits, it is not easy for interviewers to identify them. If a candidate wears a blue or grey suit, it immediately makes him or her more recognisable. 

Ho credited his own success to setting high standards for himself. “When I was assigned a task, I tried to exceed the expectations of the supervisor. It gave them a good impression and they will consider you if opportunities come up. This is how you work your way up the career ladder,” he said. 

He encouraged young graduates to treat every tough situation as a learning experience.  Using himself as an example, he recalled that in his early days as an accountant, he had to find time for work and family life, as well as study for the Qualification Programme (QP) needed to become a CPA. “It was really tough, but I knew I was doing it for a better future. My advice to students is to plan ahead so they don’t get into trouble with time management.” 

Ho said the knowledge gained from the QP is also applicable in the commercial sector. “I think the QP provides all-round training. The workshops are really helpful for one’s career development because it allows one to apply the knowledge that they have used in class,” he said. 

Compared to 20 years ago, local accountants are spending less time on the mainland and are paying more visits to Europe and the US, he added. “Going on overseas business trips is part of an accountant’s job. Serving international clients gives accountants the opportunity to broaden their horizons. As one moves up, less time will be spent on doing auditing work, and more on attending meetings with clients.”

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