Career Advice Featured stories and job trends

Setting out for great and diverse adventures in accounting

Just like the diverse range of industries certified public accountants (CPAs) serve, a qualified CPA’s career can take the adventurous in many directions.

Ivy Cheung, vice-president of the HKICPA and a partner at Big Four firm KPMG, says that diversity in career choices is at the core of the contemporary accounting profession.

Using KPMG as an example, Cheung says that graduate recruits are encouraged to develop diverse skill sets in addition to basic technical skills to allow them to pursue varied career paths. For example, a qualified CPA can choose to specialise in a particular discipline, such as tax, auditing, advisory or forensic services. They may also choose to join the corporate world as a chief financial officer, or take on other strategic management roles. 

“Of course, our recruits must complete their professional studies and pass their CPA exams,” Cheung stresses. Equally important for professionals within the sector, she says, is staying up to date on the latest developments, because changes in technology and regulations mean that the accounting profession is constantly evolving. 

Whether interacting with clients, colleagues or other professional experts, accountants will inevitably work with people from diverse professional backgrounds, Cheung notes. She adds that contemporary accounting professionals need strong communication and negotiation skills, clear decision-making abilities, and a strategic mindset.

It is also important for accountants to maintain perspective by keeping up to date with industry trends and understanding how accounting plays a key role for organisations, clients and the wider community. 

Graduates that join KPMG are urged to define a clear and transparent career path, Cheung says. At every stage, young accountants receive valuable support from experienced CPAs and mentors. They also receive financial support, such as the reimbursement of study and exam fees, and paid leave to study and prepare for exams. 

Those new to the company participate in a training programme, which ensures all recruits – including those from non-accounting backgrounds – are equipped with the necessary technical skills.

“We have a very structured training programme,” Cheung says. “We spend a lot of time on training not only technical, leadership and business skills, but also soft skills, which are vital as accountants move up the leadership ladder.” 

Cheung says employees usually spend the first two years as an accountant, the next three as an assistant manager, and another three as a manager. They then move on to become a senior manager, with the goal of becoming a partner after 12 years. Under certain circumstances, the career path may be fast-tracked. 

“At every career stage, the accounting profession involves a variety of tasks, and because accountants are often involved in several aspects of a company’s operations, there are always new things to learn,” Cheung says. 

KPMG, like other Big Four firms, places strong emphasis on work-life balance. This ensures that employees are looked after in what is widely acknowledged as a demanding profession that meets high expectations from clients, regulators and the public.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Setting out for great and diverse adventures in accounting.