Industry positioned to rebound in 36 months

by Mary Luk

Paul Chan, president, Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants

As a means to recruit the best talent, leading accounting firms are offering new recruits starting monthly salaries of up to HK$10,600 with promise of increments upon completion of training

Hong Kong's recent economic recovery is bound to create more job opportunities for accountants in the next three years. The rapid commercial development on the mainland, and Hong Kong's status as the preferred financial centre for new share placements and corporate listings, have made the need for cross-border accountancy services greater than ever, notes Paul Chan, president of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA).

Ties between the two regions have been further consolidated by HKICPA's latest offering of its first Qualification Programme in the Mainland through the Beijing National Accounting Institute. Starting in February this year. Mainland accounting postgraduates can now apply to join the programme. With new knowledge and skills, mainlanders will have the opportunity to become internationally recognised certified public accountants. Hong Kong postgraduate accountants based in Beijing will also benefit from this new arrangement.

The qualification programme consists of four modules: financial reporting, financial management, auditing and information management, and taxation. For each module, a candidate is required to pass an open book examination and complete four interactive workshops. He or she will also need to take a final professional examination and possess between three to five years' practical experience before becoming an HKICPA member. This CPA qualification is accorded recognition on five continents including some of world's leading professional accountancy bodies in Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

China recently announced that the country has agreed to adopt new accounting standards, bringing them in line with international rules, a move that will boost foreign investors' confidence in the quality of financial information from the fast-growing economy. This will certainly create more opportunities for Hong Kong accounting practitioners.

Senior accountants on the move

The latest CPA survey shows that 51 per cent of its members travel far and wide to work, with some 49 per cent commuting regularly to the mainland. Nearly a quarter of this number cross the border on a weekly basis, half do so each month, while four in five travel to the mainland at least twice a year. The study also found that 47 per cent of interviewees have resided and worked outside Hong Kong, of whom 31 per cent have lived and worked in China.

To meet the growing demand for new talents, says Mr Chan, many accounting firms have launched a number of campus recruitment drives. Each fresh accounting graduate was offered between two and three jobs. Leading accounting firms, such as the Big Four, offered new recruits starting monthly salaries of up to HK$10,600 with the promise of increments upon completion of their training. Meanwhile smaller firms were also offering starting monthly salary of between HK$8,500 and HK$9,000.

However, these graduates are working with mounting pressure as they face ever tighter deadlines and more examinations before they can become certified public accountants. Those starting their careers on the mainland will normally have to visit more remote areas for work where the working environment could be less comfortable.

The eight local tertiary institutions produce an average of 1,200 graduates each year. While many overseas graduates return and seek employment within the territory, graduates from other disciplines may also join conversion programmes before studying for the CPA Qualification Programme. As a result, the Qualification Programme which sets to test and horns the knowledge and skills of new CPAs is getting more enrollments each year at a phenomenal rate.

Diverse accountancy skills

The HKICPA currently has about 25,000 members, with 28 per cent working in public practice, conducting audits and helping companies in public listing. Around 47 per cent are employed in industries and commerce, with increasing involvement in risks, financial and treasury management and decision-making. About seven per cent work in the public sector, with the remainder either holding jobs in other businesses or in retirement.

Mr Chan points out that there is a shortage of accountants with about three to five years' experience who can work independently and have a sound knowledge of corporate governance. This may partly due to the general slow down of many accounting firms' operations and suspension of recruitment drives for new blood a few years ago when Hong Kong was plagued by the Sars virus on top of the Asian financial crisis.

Meanwhile, an influx of foreign investment into China and the mushrooming of state enterprises also attracted many high-calibre local accountants to work there, a phenomenon that further fueled the qualified staff shortage.

"We are the leading player in providing financial services, not just in hardware, but in software too. We enjoy high international market credibility, a status that took us years to build. This is an enviable situation, which we will take all measures to maintain," Mr Chan concludes.

The latest trends

  • Recent economic recovery will create job opportunities for accountants in 36 months
  • HKICPA 's first Qualification Programme in the Mainland offers accounting professionals over the border internationally recognised status
  • As Hong Kong poises to take full advantage of the Asian economic recovery, the mainland is also beckoning to talented professionals abroad

Taken from Career Times 10 March 2006
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