The ultimate compliment for a professional in any field is to be considered an expert by clients, peers and competitors alike. However, several key factors help accelerate the process of gaining expert knowledge and skills in a particular domain. These include primarily a supportive professional environment which allows regular individual reflection on both professional and personal direction.
Raymond Chan, assurance partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was convinced he had found the perfect firm for his aptitude to flourish when he was still an undergraduate at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. "I was in my final year's study for a finance degree, when a team from PwC came along to conduct informal discussions with prospective graduates. I was immediately impressed with the young and energetic image the team projected," he recalls. This proved a major pulling point for Mr Chan who remains open-minded and eager to embrace lifelong learning to this date.
Some 14 years later, expert status has been bestowed on him in the industry, not only for his technical knowledge in the audit field, but also for his wealth of professional experience which has involved audit work in China, Vietnam and as far afield as North Carolina in the US.
"I left university with some basic accounting knowledge although I hadn't studied it in depth," reveals Mr Chan. However, he realised that as an auditor with PwC, he would have the opportunity to meet people from many walks of life and to work with senior managers and company CFOs from renowned firms at an early stage.
He was also aware of the range of skills auditors at PwC must possess to succeed. This stretches beyond deciphering digits and decimals. Mr Chan's team is heavily reliant on soft skills because of the persuasive element involved when trying to help clients visualise situations from an audit perspective. Brainstorming sessions are a regular group feature when team members formulate new ideas to better serve clients. Mr Chan stresses, "To ensure ideas are articulated accurately and professionally, effective presentation and negotiation skills, plus a high level of proficiency in English and Mandarin are essential."
Mr Chan's early professional experience involved an array of mainland China assignments. Today he still feels indebted to PwC for such invaluable exposure and professional opportunities. "My time in China was a learning curve for me and for the China market as a whole," he explains.
During the transition process, mainland companies benefited tremendously from the expertise and experience of international accounting firms like PwC.
As a result, he is happy to see how many Chinese companies nowadays boast the financial strength and corporate acumen to venture forth and acquire assets all over the world —a far cry from 15 years ago when only foreign companies had the capital means and invested in China as an emerging market.
"I foresee another 20 or 30 years of emerging market progress in the region," Mr Chan notes. With industrial progress and a more unified degree of corporate standardisation, there will be a resultant increase in demand for qualified accounting professionals not only to balance the books and offer business advice, but also to guarantee what Mr Chan describes as the "additional comfort" assurance brings to an enterprise.
Faced with keener competition for talent in the accounting and audit industry, professional firms are actively encouraging non-accounting graduates to apply for positions. "Some of my colleagues are engineering or chemistry graduates and they offer a different perspective which makes the overall team more fruitful," Mr Chan adds.
His advice to people considering entering the field is twofold. "Firstly, you should never allow yourself to become swamped in paperwork and lose your focus and sight of the complete picture," Mr Chan emphasises. "Work can be tough, but you should step back and reflect on whether ploughing through mountains of paperwork will lead you to where you want to go."
Meanwhile, he feels many people in Hong Kong have not realised the importance of time management. At seven o'clock in the evening, unless he has pressing business with clients in other time zones, he switches off his computer and leaves the office. "Be happy" is his simple maxim —a n essential component of personal and professional success.