Ask most people what their vision of an accountant is and they picture unassuming bean-counters in grey cardigans attacking calculator pads with the voracity that is usually reserved for winning a gold medal at the Olympics. However, there is a new breed of accountant hitting the employment market. One that is dynamic and forceful, and ready to take Hong Kong's companies to the next level: the management accountant.
According to Peter Choy, president of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants Hong Kong (CIMA) and a director at Fugro Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd, the difference between a management accountant and a financial accountant is simple. "A financial accountant looks at figures to verify if company results are true, whereas a management accountant looks forward and ensures a company runs in a financially-healthy fashion."
In layman's terms, a management accountant is responsible for delivering recommendations for company strategy based on several factors. He must be equipped to analyse company operating costs but must also have a firm understanding of the external environment in which it exists: the dynamics of how economies work and grow, how the mechanisms of the market system work and the driving forces behind globalisation. The role consists of considerably more than busting executive expense scams and processing petty cash claims.
"The supply of management accountants is limited. This demand provides an excellent opportunity for people who want to further their careers"
The economic downturn the world is experiencing means that never before has business strategy been so important. As such, the demand for management accountants is high, especially in Hong Kong and mainland China. Mr Choy expands, "In addition, the last few years have seen far too much emphasis on auditors and we now have a surplus; however, the supply of management accountants is limited. This demand provides an excellent opportunity for people who want to further their careers."
So how does one go about becoming a qualified management accountant? The best and easiest way is to study with CIMA, who provide comprehensive courses worldwide. Basic entry requirements are simple: two 'A' levels and three 'O' levels, including English and mathematics, or a recognised degree or diploma. The course then guides students through everything they need to know, including practical on-the-job experience that will be implemented from day one of their very first position. Mr Choy concurs, "Today, I still use the skills I learned during my studies with CIMA."
Mr Choy is a far cry from the stereotypical accountant. He is lively, humorous and dynamic and insists that this is all part of the job. "Management accountants must be able to make decisions, manage people effectively and possess good communication skills and strong analytical abilities. This is no longer just a job for people who are good at maths."
So why did Mr Choy choose this path? "Having completed my 'A' levels, I went to Hong Kong Polytechnic to study accountancy and, while I was there, my professor asked me what I wanted to be in ten years' time: an auditor or a CFO. The choice was easy, really." Based on this decision, he completed the CIMA course and then took the position of assistant accountant with US manufacturing firm GTE (Sylvania) Far East Ltd. "I must have done well," he laughs, "Because they gave me a pay rise within two months."
He completed three years' practical experience with the firm and achieved Associate of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (ACMA) status. Since then, he has used his experience in several diverse roles, including manager, cost accounting with Electronic Industry (Hong Kong) Ltd, assistant bursar at the University of East Asia and board financial controller of the Yan Chai Group of Charities, among others. He has been a director of Fugro since 1990 and president of CIMA since 2000.
"Management accounting is a very exciting role," Mr Choy enthuses. "I find it very rewarding and would recommend it to anyone as a fast track to success."
"I have a mission to promote CIMA and the role of the management accountant in China," says Mr Choy. "As the market opens up, we are seeing an increase in the number of international companies with a presence on the mainland. They recognise the need for strong management and, as such, we are starting to see an increase in management accountancy teams too." These teams are primarily made up of expatriate recruits who have solid experience and can expect similar salaries to those in Hong Kong. However, an increasing number of management accountants are coming up through the ranks from courses conducted on the mainland itself.