Acquiring technical knowledge is simply not enough for a fresh university graduate accountant to become a top professional. Today's accountant needs to be well grounded in a range of skills. Recognising this, the Hong Kong Society of Accountants set up its Qualification Programme (QP) in 1999 with a view to fostering more talent to meet the needs of the twenty-first century business world.
QP is the only official qualifying programme for the accountancy profession in Hong Kong. It consists of four modules-financial reporting, financial management, auditing and information management, and taxation. The training puts strong emphasis on fostering participants' presentation, interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills as well as encouraging them to think independently. The requirements for each module are self-study for about 15 weeks using study materials provided by the Society, the completion of four workshops led by experienced practitioners, module examinations and passing a six-hour open book Final Professional Examination held over two sessions of three hours each. A full-time accountant needs about a year or more to complete the programme.
Josephine Yau, the Society's assistant director for education and training, says the programme syllabus is regularly reviewed before the commencement of each module intake to ensure that what is taught best suits Hong Kong's business environment. In the workshop component, for example, she says that practitioners, through sharing, encourage students to express views on different issues to develop their generic and interaction skills. About 20 participants take part in each workshop.
"As they come from different companies, they have their own ways of addressing problems and their solutions can be varied. Such experience is something they cannot gain from books in a university," Ms Yau points out. Accountancy degree holders are eligible to take QP.
Non-accountancy degree holders and sub-degree holders, however, must attend a conversion programme accredited by the Society or complete a Professional Bridging Examination at the Hong Kong Association of Accounting Technicians (HKAAT) respectively before participating.
Graduates of the programme are entitled to become associate members of the Society after three to five years of practical accountancy experience, and are exempted from the Practising Certificate Examinations needed to become Certified Public Accountants. HKSA members who qualify via the QP and obtain one to two years post-qualifying experience in auditing are eligible to obtain the Practising Certificate and to become Certified Public Accountants.
Ms Yau describes completion of the programme as a passport to an international career. Successful candidates will be eligible to become reciprocal members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. They enjoy similar recognition in countries like Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Zimbabwe provided they pass an aptitude test on local law and tax practice.
To date, HKSA has about 10,000 registered students. The pass rate last year was 96 per cent in the workshop component; 52 to 62 per cent in the module examination component and 70 per cent in the Final Professional Examination. Elizabeth Law, deputy chairman of the Qualification Programme development and promotion committee describes the pass rate as reasonable. She stresses that in a professional exam the Society has to maintain the highest standard to groom forward-thinking world-class accountants.
Ms Law says that the Society's membership is recognised by employers, including listed companies, Big Four international accountancy firms and government organisations. "QP is recognised internationally as a quality exam and it enables greater mobility in a person's career. The training develops students with different kinds of skills that could help them not just in their career development, but also in their personal advancement," she adds.
Ms Law and Ms Yau feel that the outlook for certified public accountants is good as the demand for accountants has been increasing. With gradual recovery in the local economy, China's entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and implementation of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) between Hong Kong and the mainland, many companies have found that they are in need of more qualified accountants to help expand their businesses.
Ms Law says that she has noticed the market is active again. "If you look at the recruitment advertisements these days, you will find there are many vacancies available, reflecting that the job market for accountants is on the rise."
She says that since last year, a better business climate has prompted many corporations to look for suitable accountants to carry out responsibilities like financial management, system restructuring, auditing, taxation, mergers, the setting up of initial public offerings and so on. Moreover, more qualified Hong Kong accountants, with good language skills, wide international vision and recognised professionalism, are also in demand to cope with China's rapid business expansion, she points out.
Key aspects of Qualification Programme
- The only official qualifying programme for the accountancy
profession in Hong Kong
- Covers financial reporting, financial management, auditing
and information management, and taxation
- Strong emphasis on fostering participants' presentation,
interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills
- Allows reciprocal membership to leading overseas chartered