Treasury professionals ensure the economic health of their employers
The fast-changing financial world ensures a challenging and fulfilling career.
Professionals who work in the treasury sector, whether for the government or mainstream financial organisations, are essential for their employers' economic success.
Charlix Wong, deputy director of accounting services at the Treasury, says joining the government department is the most direct way for accountants to serve the community and contribute to society. "The financial information we produce, the financial analyses and professional advice we provide, is often instrumental to strategic planning and policy formulation in the civil service."
Wong says the Treasury processes over HK$400 billion in payments each year and a similar amount of revenue in payments to the government. "We make salary and other benefit payments to about 160,000 civil servants, as well as pensions for 120, 000 retired civil servants," he says.
In discharging these functions, the Treasury maintains a centralised financial management information system and a centralised payroll and pension system for more than 10,000 users in various bureaus and departments. "We also manage investment portfolios valued at around HK$90 billion for eight trust funds and provide financial management support services to some 80 government bureaus and departments," Wong says.
He says treasury grade officers also work in various bureaus and departments to provide a wide range of financial and accounting services, covering budgeting, resource management, management accounting, and internal audit. They may also provide more specialised accounting services, such as forensic accounting for law enforcement departments, financial investigations into insolvency cases, and fund management and IT system development.
Wong says experienced accountants also work in various regulatory, financial monitoring and policy formulation activities that are unique to the public sector.
Treasury grades in the government are recognised at two levels: treasury accountants grade and the accounting officers grade. To become a treasury accountant, individuals must complete the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification programme of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), or equivalent, with a minimum of one year's relevant post-qualification experience. Treasury accountants may be promoted to senior treasury accountants, chief treasury accountants or even higher to the directorate ranks.
Similar to the private sector, Wong says that with the fast-changing business environment, new technology, greater demand for transparency and accountability, and rising community expectations, the jobs and responsibilities of accountants in the government are becoming more diverse and challenging. At the same time, he says, the work is very fulfilling.
"To meet these challenges, we need to be professionally competent, embrace new ideas and keep our knowledge and skills up to date," he says.
In the mainstream financial sector, Paulus Mok, managing director, head of global markets, and Greater China and country treasurer at Citibank, says a key driver for the sector is the ongoing liberalisation of the renminbi. He says the scrapping of the daily conversion limit of 20,000 yuan for Hong Kong residents and the launch of the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect scheme are two landmark reforms in the process.
"Keeping up with the fast pace of liberalisation and deregulation of the renminbi is certainly the number one challenge we face. The rapid changes taking place around the renminbi is like a baby growing up too fast, drinking milk and gaining 20 kilos per day," says Mok, whose primary responsibilities include managing cells of trading desks. Clients include government departments, corporates, institutional and public sector investors.
He adds that mainland companies expanding their activities offshore and client synergy between Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland are also driving financing and settlement treasury related activities.
"These three locations are highly interdependent and the fastest growing markets in Asia, if not the world," says Mok, who has held several senior positions at Citibank, including postings in Canada, Korea, the mainland and Hong Kong.
While Citibank needs senior experienced treasury professionals, Mok says the bank also needs a steady flow of new talent joining the ranks. "We work in a people-driven business. By bringing in new blood, we are able to move more experienced people into the hot growth spots," he says. He points out that Citibank professionals work in client-focused teams of talented, entrepreneurial-minded individuals.
Meanwhile, Tommy Ong, executive director and head of wealth management solutions, treasury and markets at DBS Bank (Hong Kong), is another banking professional who says fast-paced changes and client demands provide professionals with both challenges and career rewards. For example, commodity and FX markets tend to change rapidly in terms of structure, trends, underlying instruments and risk characteristics.
"Most of the time, prices in these markets move closely with economic fundamentals and political changes, and sometimes even ahead of economic trends," Ong says.
For those who enjoy a challenge, job satisfaction comes from the ability to correctly predict the price actions of different financial instruments or investment positions, which enables them to provide clients with valuable investment advice.
And for those with an outgoing personality, Ong suggests a job in financial sales is also demanding and rewarding. "The ever-changing nature of the markets means there are always solutions needed to satisfy clients' demands."
These include familiarity with different industries and the ability to offer different hedging or investment needs. "Sales people not only need in-depth knowledge about the banking industry, they also need a lot of in-depth knowledge about different industry sectors," Ong says.
Demand is currently high at DBS for senior and chief traders in commodities, especially in renminbi-related instruments. Senior people are also needed to head areas including spot and forward rates in derivatives. This can be further broken down to specialised areas such as corporate (hedging) or wealth management (investment).
Senior people with industry knowledge and expertise are also needed to work in different derivatives asset classes, including FX, interest rates, commodities, credit and even in property and insurance.