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Protecting the bottom line

Published on Thursday, 06 May 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung

For the ambitious to rise to the top of the finance career ladder, the role of finance manager - who plays a pivotal part in maintaining a company's financial well-being - is an essential stepping stone.

Finance managers are employed in all sectors of commerce, in small and medium enterprises, and multinational corporations. They manage and improve an organisation's finances.

"Finance managers provide a company's senior management with a clear and accurate picture of the financial status and outlook, without which it would be very difficult to make prudent business and management decisions," says Reina Cheng, manager of commerce and industry recruitment at Ambition.

To achieve this, finance managers practise management accounting. In contrast to financial accounting - which is chiefly concerned with the creation of financial statements for outside parties - management accounting is designed to provide accounting information to enable a company's managers to make informed business decisions. This includes preparing budgets to help companies focus on achieving growth, and making forecasts about a company's future financing needs and drafting plans to meet those needs. They also manage the month-end closing process, providing senior management with a breakdown of a company's financial status at the end of each month.

Finally, finance managers must ensure compliance with accounting standards and regulations, in addition to upholding corporate governance rules to ensure managers are given the right information to make decisions.

In Hong Kong, finance managers typically start their careers in one of the "Big Four", or other accounting firms, or as an accountant or financial analyst in a commercial organisation. After at least three years in an accounting firm, and another four years in the commercial sector, they may be promoted to finance managers, with a salary between HK$35,000 and HK$55,000 a month. They can then become a company's financial controller, overseeing all accounting and financial reporting, and may be promoted to chief financial officer for those with at least 10 years' experience.


Numerous ways to qualify, here and abroad

  • The British-based Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, which has a branch in Hong Kong, admits members who have three years of practicing experience, and those who have passed the institute's 15 qualifying exams.
  • It has partnered with a number of organisations in Hong Kong to provide courses, including the Chinese University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the Hong Kong Management Association.
  • The United States-based Institute of Management Accountants also runs a certified management accountant certification programme. The institute has a chapter on the mainland, offering courses in Beijing and Shanghai.
  • Many finance managers also hold certified public accountant licenses, awarded by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Analytical mind a must

  • Finance managers can spend hours each day poring over analysis of business metrics, looking at all aspects from product and client profitability, to modelling the effect of changes in product price on the company's bottom line. So they need to like crunching numbers and be analytically-minded.
  • They also need to have good communications skills and be commercially savvy, as they are expected to deal with colleagues from diverse departments in the business to obtain the data they need for financial analysis, and to report their findings to senior management

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