Being Sharp and organised is essential for successful accountants, and according to Richard Ho, deputy president, CPA Australia Hong Kong China Division, today even non-accounting graduates have the opportunity to join the profession and help expanding audit firms capitalise on continuous economic growth.
CPA Australia is the largest professional accounting body in Australia, and the sixth largest in the world. The Hong Kong China Division was established in 1985, and now has more than 10,000 members. "Our role is to support members, who live and work in Hong Kong and China, via a range of education, training and technical support," Mr Ho says.
Though other accountancy bodies exist, Mr Ho says CPA Australia differs primarily in its stringent membership standards and innovative approach. "In 1966, CPA Australia adopted a graduate entry policy to our professional exam. A forerunner in this area, our exam is modern and flexible, with basic core subjects and nine electives for candidates to study," he explains. The electives include financial planning, which is incredibly popular nowadays, and soon to be added will be international business.
The exam is open-book, designed to be similar to a real life environment. "This is better than traditional exams that are based on memorising facts," says Mr Ho. "The effective way to train accountants goes beyond teaching technical knowledge. Also necessary are all-round professional accounting skills, an analytical talent and the ability to apply conceptual knowledge to real life situations," he adds.
Some graduates from mainland China may encounter difficulties with this exam style because it differs tremendously to rote learning. However, Mr Ho says that once they become familiar with the system, they reap the benefits of such an analytical approach. Hong Kong graduates are more comfortable with the system, with a willingness to act independently. In addition, their English proficiency is usually superior to that of their mainland counterparts.
After passing the exam, accountants can benefit from CPA Australia member services, including continuous professional development. Each member is required to take courses totalling 120 hours every three years. The institution also organises "Meet the Masters" careers forums, during which keynote speakers and several panel speakers in the profession share experience and ideas. This provides an excellent networking opportunity especially for the young members.
"We also organise a lot of outreach programmes to employers," says Mr Ho. "We have an employers' club of 40 reputable organisations and accounting firms which targets 10,000 members at differing levels of seniority, supporting their search for suitable employees." Indeed, for the past four years, CPA Australia has held an annual Careers Market Day. The event attracted 1,200 registered participants last year.
Mr Ho advises new graduates to sit, think and figure out which aspect of accountancy best suits their personalities. People who are active, outgoing and talkative may enjoy auditing, especially in the first few years, as they are required to visit different premises in various locations and work with different teams. Others may opt for taxation or forensic accounting which is a growing branch of accountancy covering money laundering, corporate fraud and disputes between shareholders.
Over the years, Mr Ho has noticed the trend of graduates without accountancy degrees entering the field and taking conversion programmes. The lengths of such programmes vary, requiring less time for graduates from business-related disciplines.
China currently drives regional growth in accountancy. In response to this, CPA Australia has opened offices in Beijing and Shanghai, and liaison offices in Guangzhou and Macau. Membership is growing as many students hailing from the mainland now study in Australia and then return to China to work.
Mr Ho says Hong Kong accountancy firms are increasingly dealing with companies in China because many companies come to Hong Kong to raise funds. Also, several companies have foreign investments in China and as such require knowledgeable experienced accountants who are well versed in international accounting standards and able to communicate in English.
Looking ahead, Mr Ho anticipates this will be another boom year for the regional economy, with firms increasingly requiring accountancy services. However, even if the economy falters, he says demand will not diminish, "Accountants are essential in every industry — every company requires them. So the need for accountants is ubiquitous," he concludes.