Young graduates are drawn to the world of accounting for a host of reasons, including the consistent demand for new talent, the surge in business activities in Hong Kong and mainland China; and tightened statutory requirements for financial reporting. While the profession is facing a shortage of qualified professionals locally, the prospects in mainland China are becoming more attractive.
The accounting profession will continue to bloom for at least another decade or two, thanks to China's economic expansion, believes Thomas Wong, president of CPA Australia, Hong Kong China division. He says, "It's a promising career choice because of the unlimited opportunities on offer."
According to Mr Wong, many business leaders are armed with accounting backgrounds. "For instance, half of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are accounting professionals who get hold of the financial information of companies and understand what drives profits and losses. They are able to look at businesses from a macro point of view," he explains.
There are various channels for entering the accounting profession. One way is by acquiring membership from a reputable accounting organisation such as CPA Australia, the largest professional body in Australia and the sixth-largest accounting association in the world. With more than 112,000 members worldwide, CPA Australia is recognised by professional organisations around the world, including the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). Of its 9,500 members in the Hong Kong China division, 17 per cent work in public practice, while the rest opt for careers in the commercial and public sectors.
CPA Australia's CPA programme comprehensively covers business, finance and accounting concepts and their applications in the workplace. To complete the programme, participants must pass three compulsory segments — "reporting and professional practice", "corporate governance and accountability" and "business strategy and leadership"; and three elective segments (options include "assurance services and auditing", "financial accounting" and "financial reporting and disclosure").
"While there is keen demand for accounting talent in the Hong Kong market, there are more opportunities for Hong Kong people in China. Reasons for this include the robust IPO (Initial Public Offering) and M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activities in China," Mr Wong says. "Also, with the mainland adopting policies of openness and increasingly embracing integration with the global economy, it needs to move towards international standards," he adds.
Quoting a recent case where a reputable accounting firm spent 1.5 million man-hours involving 100 accountants to complete an IPO project in China, Mr Wong notes that the Greater China stock exchanges (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Taiwan) last year overtook the US (Nasdaq, New York Stock Exchange and Amex) in terms of funds raised through IPOs. Greater China netted US$62 billion compared to the US's US$48 billion.
"Firms are scrambling to expand their staff complements in China to cope with the increased workload," Mr Wong states. "This is good news for jobseekers."
Mr Wong stresses that Hong Kong people have a competitive edge in some respects, such as English language capabilities. "In addition, we are able to assess matters from a more international perspective, which is essential in an global field such as accounting," he says.
He encourages prospective accounting professionals to take advantage of the current situation, emphasising that Hong Kong jobseekers now have a golden opportunity to enter the mainland market. There are also plenty of secondment opportunities to work in China, he says, adding that mainland experience is a credit to accounting professionals' credentials.
There are challenges to bear in mind, though, including the fact that there are differences in culture, mindset and work style between counterparts of the two regions. "Hong Kong people must accept that the mainland has its own system, which is different from that of Hong Kong," Mr Wong cautions.
CPA Australia has increased its mainland presence and now has offices in Beijing and Shanghai; and liaison presence in Guangzhou and Macau. Recently, the organisation hosted the "International Professional Programme" to provide training for 15 outstanding accounting professionals in China. "We hope to help nurture the accounting profession throughout Asia with more education programmes of this nature," Mr Wong concludes.