Stiff training forges skills
Executive Director for Qualification and Education, HKICPA
As the only statutory body that registers and licenses accountants in the city, the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) takes the training of prospective accounting professionals very seriously. The institute regards the training of young accountants as a public interest and, therefore, as one of its biggest responsibilities.
In 1999, the HKICPA launched the CPA Qualification Programme (QP) to provide world-class training to aspiring professional accountants.
Jonathan Ng, executive director for qualification and education at the HKICPA, explains that there are different pathways to the QP. "We aim to provide all aspiring students with the opportunity to be CPAs, no matter what background they are from," he says.
The most usual route is through the direct pathway, which is for students who have studied an HKICPA-accredited accountancy programme at any Hong Kong tertiary educational institution. About 80 per cent of QP students take this route.
"We accredit the programmes to make sure that the coverage matches our prerequisites and core subjects prior to taking the QP. The QP actually builds on the knowledge that the students have acquired in their university. It does not repeat the stuff that they've already learned," Ng says.
Students are expected to have learned fundamental accounting and all the basic business knowledge in university when they take the QP. As it is taught at master's level, QP focuses more on the application of knowledge than the knowledge itself, Ng adds.
Students from non-accounting backgrounds can also join the QP by taking an accredited conversion programme offered by some tertiary institutions or commercial organisations. Those at associate or sub-degree level can take an accredited top-up degree to join the QP.
The Hong Kong Institute of Accredited Accounting Technicians (HKIAAT), an HKICPA subsidiary, offers another distinctive pathway. AATs who can finish 12 HKIAAT exam papers are deemed eligible to enrol in the programme.
During QP, the emphasis is on the application side. The programme comprises four modules: financial reporting, corporate financing, business assurance, and taxation.
"We believe that at this stage, a CPA should be a generalist rather than a specialist. In other words, we want him or her to have a broad range of knowledge and skills. These four subjects are knowledge or competencies employers expect students to have," Ng says.
The programme also stresses professional values. "These days, it is very important that professional accountants hold themselves high, that they are seen as ethical people because it is only through that can we build trust from the public," Ng says.
After qualification, many CPAs move into specialised areas. The HKICPA also provides a framework so members can tell the public they have special skill sets and competencies.
"Through training and examinations, we allow members to carry the Specialist Qualification (SQ) title. They can also get a Specialist Designation (SD) title if they can prove they really are specialists. We hope that through these, we can help members boost their profile and have more employment opportunities," Ng says.
The HKICPA's other important mandate is continuing professional development (CPD). When renewing their annual membership, members are asked to declare the CPD activities they have undertaken during the year to ensure they maintain their competencies. They must have at least 120 hours of relevant CPD activities in a rolling three-year period.
"Half that must be verifiable. So they should have at least 20 hours of verifiable CPD activities in a year. So long as they can explain that their CPD activities are relevant, we will accept their declaration," Ng says.