As one of the first batch of young accountants from Hong Kong venturing into the mainland in the mid-1990s, Roy Lo, deputy managing director of Beijing-based ShineWing (HK) CPA, knew at that time the industry's future would be intertwined with the rising power.
“That was before the Hong Kong handover when many professionals emigrated elsewhere. I chose to stay,” says Lo, who is also vice-president, Greater China, for CPA Australia. Joining ShineWing in 2005, Lo leads the company's initial public offering (IPO) business, and is also the human resources (HR) partner responsible for recruiting and retaining staff.
Can you tell us about your company?
ShineWing was founded by Zhang Ke in Beijing in 1981, and is one of the first accounting firms on the mainland. The company set up its office in Hong Kong in 2005, which has since experienced a rapid growth thanks to the flood of Chinese companies listing in the Hong Kong stock market. We have more than 3,000 staff working in 14 offices on the mainland, and about 300 employees in Hong Kong, up from 30 or 40 in 2005.
What did you do before joining ShineWing?
My first job was with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which entailed frequent travel to the mainland. There were only 10 people in the company's Beijing office then. I was amazed by the market's enormous potential. Just compare brands like Li Ning which has 10,000 retail outlets around the country, with, say, 7-Eleven that has 500 stores in Hong Kong, and you will see what I mean.
I left the job after 51⁄2 years and started the second stage of my life. I got married, had kids and enrolled in a master's programme at Polytechnic University. Since my first degree from the University of Hong Kong was in business administration, I thought it would be a good idea to do a master's in accounting.
In the next few years, I worked in the Vocational Training Council (VTC) where I helped design courses in accounting. My job was stable and gave me the time to reflect on what I did and wanted to do. I was certain that I wanted to go back to a CPA firm. I also wanted to contribute to the nurturing of young accounting talent, which was why I became an HR partner at ShineWing.
Why did you leave accounting?
While I benefited a lot from my exposure to the mainland market during the early years in my career, I hardly saw my family and friends. Mind you, long-distance calls weren't as cheap as they now are. Calling from Beijing cost around HK$11.50 a minute back then. The long working hours weren't sustainable either.
There are things that once lost will be lost forever; family, friends and health are some of them. Not even a high-flying career would compensate for the loss of these things.
But I knew I would go back to accounting and be involved in work related to the mainland. So I kept myself up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry and continued to network with accounting professionals.
In 2005, I was given an opportunity to work in ShineWing, and the rest is history.
What challenges do you face at work?
The biggest challenge doesn't lie in the competition for clients, but in the attraction and retention of good staff. Salary matters but we offer a similar level of pay compared with other big CPA firms. So it's important that we think of other ways to keep our employees.
One way is to help them plan their careers in the next five years – for instance, what kind of expertise they want to develop by the end of the period – and provide training to help them achieve the goal. In addition to technical training, we also provide training in soft skills such as leadership capability, an understanding of the culture on the mainland and language skills.
A coaching manager is assigned to each employee in the Hong Kong office. Meeting on a regular basis, the mentor gives pointers to the employee on issues related to work, and helps identify areas that need to be improved. We also try to give our staff a variety of work. It is more costly to have them rotate among different desks than assign them to one type of work, but this way they will have more experiences and stay interested and committed.
What's your role at CPA Australia?
CPA Australia believes that accountants shouldn't be confined to roles in accounting only, and that we should and can become CEOs or COOs of a company. I help promote this thinking among our members. I also help identify opportunities on the mainland, where we have a lot or room to expand. Mainland accountants are like Hong Kong accountants in the 1970s and 1980s - they are skilled number crunchers but need more training on business strategies. It is my hope that we will help them reach the next level, by providing mentoring to them and arranging workshops and sharing sessions.
What's your advice for young people wishing to become an accountant?
Find out where your interest in accounting lies. Mine, for example, is in IPOs. Some of the topics gaining importance in recent years include internal control, risk management and corporate governance. Learn about as many specialities as possible from attending courses and learning on the job. Also find time to think about your career aspirations. Many young accountants are too busy to contemplate their future, or what they want in 10 or 15 years. But it's important that you keep evaluating and planning your career. For example, accountants who didn't see the importance of the mainland 10 or 15 years ago didn't plan for working in the market, and are now in a disadvantaged position.
Commitment to the profession is important too. If you think accounting isn't your cup of tea, it's better to leave the profession sooner than later.
An expanding profession
According to Lo, the accounting profession has rapidly grown in the last five years.
He says that the demand for accountants will continue to rise in the next few years.
Young accountants with knowledge of the mainland will have an edge over job competitors.