Staying ahead of the game is crucial
"The business environment is changing very rapidly, and that is not just confined to accounting standards," says Lawrence Fok, deputy president, Greater China, of CPA Australia. "Accounting professionals have to be fully up-to-date in corporate governance, internal controls, transfer pricing and financial instruments, while having the ability to assess the advantages and disadvantages of implementing different business strategies."
It is essential, he notes, to see the bigger picture and have the skills to interpret key implications. Areas of specialisation will always exist, but nowadays clients expect professional accountants not just to "check the numbers", but to be all-round business advisers.
"In my role as the senior vice-president - finance for Towngas China, I am responsible for more than 60 locations," he says. "I urge young accountants to spend time to understand and appreciate the mainland market and the local customs because there are diverse cultures in different parts of the country.
"In fact, I took my young family to the Shanghai World Expo and to Beijing recently to widen their horizons, and I also plan to take them to the second-tier cities in China."
With a membership base of more than 129,000 professionals in more than 110 countries, CPA Australia makes an effort to maintain the relevance of its CPA Program. This integrates education with practical experience and ensures that members will understand the dynamic issues facing organisations today, while preparing them for tomorrow's global marketplace.
"As Australian CPAs, we have positioned ourselves to add value to the organisation by playing a strategic leadership role," Fok says. "We consider the need for soft skills and creativity, as well as technical knowledge. These are essential for business professionals and CPA Australia provides up-to-date relevant training courses for our members."
May Wong, CPA Australia's senior member, knowledge and events manager, says arranging courses for their continuing professional development (CPD) programme is a matter of understanding the accountant's evolving role. Members have to be well-versed in any regulatory changes, actual or pending. They must also be able to provide strategic advice on corporate decisions and put their point across effectively.
"Our CPD programmes are training people to contribute more to their organisations," Wong says. "We want them to be visionary, ready to react to change, and able to discuss big ideas."
She cites a series of six three-hour workshops on initial public offerings and a similar course on derivatives in the context of corporate finance launched this year. CPA Australia members act as teachers and are ideally placed to pass on practical experience and draw on recent examples.
"It is one thing to build strategic and technical knowledge, but we realise you also need to foster a personal network," Fok says. "We also have a large number of networking events and community activities so members can meet each other and get to know people across a wide range of industries."
Fok is in no doubt about the impact CPA Australia has had on his own career. "At the start, CPA Australia helped me to qualify as an accountant and, later, with CPD and networking opportunities," he says. "That may be an intangible, but it has been very valuable for me."