Career Path

Triumph by passion for numbers

by Reshma Kalwani

Financial Control
Cathy Choi
Financial Controller
Emperor Watch & Jewellery Group

The dictionary defines versatile as "competent in many things; able to turn from one subject to another and many-sided". This is an apt description of Cathy Choi, the Financial Controller for the Emperor Watch & Jewellery Group, a renowned group engaged in the retail of brand name watches and fine jewelry in both Hong Kong and China. Finishing Form 5 with a distinction in mathematics, she stood at a crossroads being equally interested in engineering, science and commerce. But, together with most of her classmates, she decided to follow the latest buzz and turned to commercal studies.

Prior to joining the Emperor Watch & Jewellery Group as Finance Manager in May 1999, Ms Choi had a record of proficiency in practicing as an accountant and finance manager in several large Hong Kong and internationally listed organizations. Ms Choi was promoted to the position of Financial Controller of the Emperor Watch & Jewellery Group in March 2000, and now is in charge of the Group's finance and accounts departments for both the Hong Kong and China operations.

Integrity and dedication

Achieving the position of financial controller is a result of many years' struggle. "In the old days at work, I had a tough grind of overtimes with an unbelievable record of only 20 days off per year which included Sundays. I had a rough time and boundless work, but I shielded myself with my commitment to and passion for my job," Ms Choi reminisces. Since finance and accounts have a lot to do with calculations, a lot of patience is required as well as alertness to avoid blunders.

She advises: "Be dedicated to your job, love it and work hard with passion and it will definitely bring rewards. Constantly strive with a steady state of mind to fulfill your role of being a powerful part of your company. Integrity will take one far."

"Be dedicated to your job, love it and work hard with passion and it definitely will bring rewards. Constantly strive with a steady state of mind to fulfill your role of being a powerful part of your company. Integrity will take one far"

Making the grade

To qualify as an accountant, one needs to take the UK's Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) professional examination, which consists of 14 papers; or the Hong Kong Society of Accountants (HKSA) examination. According to Hong Kong standards, both are up to the mark. Then one can opt to branch out in two major fields, auditing or finance & accounts.

Subsequently, three to five years of professional training is required, depending on one's academic background, to gain the practical experience needed. This period is the most critical time for any employee since, depending on their performance, they can be promoted but also rejected. From there onwards begins the rise to the top as long as one can endure the hard work.

"Qualifying for and registering with accounting bodies like the ACCA of the UK can add value to your job title," explains Ms Choi, who is a member. She sets an example by currently working hard to gain an Executive MBA from the City University of Hong Kong.

Undertaking diverse tasks

On obtaining her ACCA accreditation, Ms Choi started her career with an international accounting firm in Hong Kong where she gained accounting and auditing experience in a wide range of industries and corporations. "The more practical experience you have, the more it shows that you must be good at [your job].

"In this profession, your job specification can include overseeing your company's finance and accounting matters, monitoring the treasury, looking through taxation issues, managing the confidential payroll along with a little bit of administration. You have to be up to date with IT desktop skills. Your involvement with the company is diverse and hence you are required to persevere in whatever tasks you are assigned to do," sums up Ms Choi.

Current concerns

With the problem of mounting corruption as well as greed, professional ethics are giving way to malpractice. The issue of auditor independence and inadequate regulations may have been the main contributing factors to the recent accounting scandals and they will necessitate stricter monitoring practices in auditing, financial reporting and corporate governance.

According to Ms Choi, in the near future, the major cause for concern will be the change in accounting standards in the United States and the United Kingdom along with the reinforcement of corporate governance.

China Opportunities

With China's increasing presence on the world stage, Hong Kong accountants will have to better equip and "globalize" themselves. As a result of China's accession to the WTO, more and more international companies will go to China and expand their operations there, creating vast employment opportunities.

Since the accounting system in China is quite different from the one practiced in Hong Kong, Ms Choi advises interested candidates to spend some time and effort on understanding these differences prior to taking up their work in China, as the work will be full of challenges. She says: "Nevertheless, Hong Kong's international exposure in the business and accounting world should work in our favor."

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 20 September 2002, p. 28
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