Blockbuster Hollywood films such as Tom Cruise's The Firm, which put the legal profession in the spotlight, could highlight the dynamics and diversity the accounting industry has to offer, according to Theresa Chan, president of CPA Australia, Greater China.
"Images of accountancy being a dreary, number-crunching profession are a thing of the past. But there are still many great aspects of being an accountant that are not widely appreciated or understood that could be the focus of a film," Chan says.
She says working as an accountant is challenging and an exciting profession. "Accountants are no longer just bookkeepers. In many ways, they are the storytellers who bring a company's activities to life through the numbers they turn into a business language that can be read by managers, investors and analysts," says Chan, who is also a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in international assignment services.
Chan says obtaining the CPA Australia qualification is just the first step to an exciting future that can include branching into areas that provide challenges and advancement. "CPAs are needed in all walks of life, from start-up business, non-government and charity organisations to restructuring business when they find themselves in difficulty - you can't avoid us," Chan says.
Her father had wanted her to become an accountant to handle the family business accounts, but it was only when Chan moved to Australia, where she was influenced by a relative working as an accountant, that she decided to follow the same career path.
She says in addition to the financial side of doing business, accountants also have a role to play in non-financial disclosure areas such as corporate social responsibility.
"CPA Australia places strong emphasis on ethics and responsible decision making, which are important qualities in any business situation," says Chan, who believes CPA Australia members are equipped to work across an array of industries where their skills can make a positive difference.
She says that in the business sector, particularly among banks and financial services companies, close attention to ethics has never been more important. Ethics and corporate governance topics form an integral part of the CPA Program of CPA Australia. "The areas that deal with ethics, risk management, corporate governance and global strategic leadership focus on real-life situations and tackle real issues," Chan says.
She says the CPA Program represents a defined body of knowledge, which is well known and respected by employers. "For example, a potential employer would know that in addition to understanding tax and accounting, an Australian CPA would have a basic understanding about economics and marketing. Through their work, they interact with other accountants, senior managers, sales and marketing, and human resources departments, so they also develop soft skills such as learning to present, negotiate and discuss topics," says Chan, who graduated with an honours degree in accounting from Monash University in Melbourne.
Chan believes there is an element of mystery attached to a CPA Australia qualification. "You never know how far the qualification will take you because its flexibility goes hand-in-hand with entrepreneurial spirit," she says.
About a third of CPA Australia's Greater China members either work for or own small- or medium-sized enterprises.
"There are plenty of examples of CPA Australia members working outside accounting and auditing. Many progress to become chief financial officers, managing directors and CEOs who expand businesses," Chan says.
Through her work, Chan's own experiences include a visit to the inauguration of a United States theme park, the opening of the Tseung Kwan O landfill site and eating exotic soup on the mainland.
To enable people from other professions and different educational backgrounds to earn a professional accounting qualification, CPA Australia has begun offering a foundation programme that leads to the same entry level that accounting graduates have when they join the professional programme.
"Candidates are still required to have a degree to advance to the CPA status, and undergo the rigorous exam processes. However, we have widened the pathway for those with the desire, level of competence and the right approach to ethics and integrity to study for an Australian CPA qualification," Chan says.
Non-accounting candidates are required to complete eight foundation segments that provide them with a stable base of knowledge of accounting principles and practices before they enrol in the six-segment professional level. Depending on previous education and qualifications, candidates may be exempted from some segments in the foundation level.
Chan says that as part of a global organisation with more than 129,000 members worldwide, CPA Australia, Greater China has a strong brand recognition that provides effective networking for members. Members are also supported with a broad offering of continuous professional development programmes, necessary to maintain knowledge and skills levels. As part of their membership criteria, they are required to fulfil 120 hours of recognised continuous professional development over a three-year period.
She says a CPA Australia qualification is a flexible tool that combines technical accounting skills with broad business, leadership and interpersonal skills. For those wishing to become an Australian CPA, Chan advises they need to be determined.