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Finding the right potential fit for a career
Published on Friday, 14 Oct 2011
Revenue Tower in Wan Chai, home of the Inland Revenue, is just one of the places that a CPA qualified accountant can find work in Hong Kong.
Photo: Garrige Ho

Once accredited, certified public accountants (CPAs) have a universe of opportunities ahead of them. Nevertheless, four organisation types continue to attract the bulk of candidates - Big Four accounting firms as well as smaller, so-called Small and Medium Practices (SMPs), commercial companies, and government departments. The Classified Post contacted a representative from each of these entities to discuss the opportunities, responsibilities and benefits that a potential employee might encounter.

BIG FOUR FIRMS

July Kong, director, human resources, Deloitte China

Deloitte is a large brand under which tens of thousands of dedicated professionals in independent firms throughout the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, and tax services to selected clients.

Kong says that CPAs looking to move into firms like hers can expect to gain experience in any of these multidisciplinary services and, subject to the work experience of the individual, can join the organisation at entry, senior, managerial, directorial, or even partner level.

For graduates and individuals who have just attained their Qualification Programme (QP) certificates, Deloitte offers comprehensive, structured learning schemes that guide and support their staff's continued education and training in both technical and soft skills, Kong explains.

"We prepare our employees to be leaders within and outside the firm through on-the-job coaching and training," she says. "Our training arm focuses on developing the competencies necessary to become effective and client-oriented professionals and business advisers."

Some of the possible unique experiences and approaches on hand include a diverse client portfolio that offers staff exposure to different industries, a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to serving clients across a wide range of job areas and also the opportunity to work from home or overseas, if desired.

"Eligible employees can even undertake a placement from four to 24 months in one of our worldwide offices to broaden their career horizons and develop global and international skills," Kong adds. 

SMP FIRMS  

Gary Poon, principal, Poon & Co

Poon has been around the block, earning himself an undeniable place in the accounting world, with experience in bigger firms as well as SMPs, the likes of which he now runs.

Commenting on the differences between an SMP and a Big Four firm, Poon states that the tasks are similar but that "in an SMP, employees are empowered to perform more senior or managerial duties earlier in their careers, while [tasks at] bigger firms remain more structured."

Poon adds: "Development of multidisciplinary skill sets is another distinctive characteristic of SMP experience, with members often being employed on cases that require a diversity of knowledge."

Another key difference, he notes, is that at an SMP, employees are given more opportunities to interact with senior management on the client side.

Meanwhile, according to Poon, advancement opportunities are also more favourable at an SMP, as are working hours, which are much shorter, thus allowing for better work-life balance.

"The bigger firms do offer fairly long leave-periods before examinations, but, in general, the working hours are much longer," says Poon. "I would therefore suggest that the chances of success are greater for a student who has his or her study-time [divided over a long period] rather than limited to a [narrow] period just prior to exams." 

IN-HOUSE (COMMERCIAL) 

Kian Wan, director, business services division, Tricor

As director of the business services division of investment services firm Tricor, Wan is well aware of the ins and outs of the accounting profession.

In a firm as large as his, he says, the opportunities for both fresh graduates and CPAs are extensive.

"Our employees gain hands-on exposure in accounting and financial reporting, treasury management, payroll administration, internal controls, business advisory, trade services, and systems solutions," Wan says.

Common duties, he notes, include the handling of accounts, the month-end closing of books, payroll processing, cash and payment administration, as well as daily interactions with clients, banks, auditors and tax representatives.

Among this broad variety of functions, however, auditing is likely the most important at a company like Tricor, explains Wan. "In-house accountants play an active role during company audits by providing assistance to auditors, ensuring that a smooth audit can be performed," he says.

In terms of workload, in-house company accountants tend to bear the brunt of it, particularly during monthly or year-end closing reporting periods. Accordingly, time-management, explains Kan, is "an important skill and a core part of training."

On the plus side, in-house company accountants often find themselves in good standing for senior management roles, suggests Kan.

"We handle many clients from many different industries. This exposure can help young accountants build up a strong foundation, which they can then use to move into other areas or senior management positions." 

IN-HOUSE (GOVERNMENT)  

Spokeswoman, Inland Revenue Department (IRD)

With its many departments and bureaus, government service offers numerous opportunities for accountants.

One department that attracts a fair number of candidates is the IRD, which works to ensure compliance with the city's tax ordinances.

Newly qualified CPAs typically join the IRD at the 'tax-assessor' level, where they are assembled into teams to review desktop cases and also conduct on-site audits, during which they are known to liaise quite closely with Big Four firms.

Those with a tertiary education and qualification programme certificate are welcome to join at this level as well, but normally need to take the additional step of showing that they are pursuing a CPA qualification.

According to a spokeswoman from the IRD, the application process involves a written test followed by an interview.

The spokeswoman suggests that, to prepare for this, candidates should source information about the department from local universities, as well as reading the IRD website.

Once hired, the department assigns assistant assessors to actual cases while they are receiving on-the-job training.

In terms of promotion, those starting as assistant tax assessors eventually find themselves moving up to 'tax assessor level', followed by 'senior tax assessor' level.

Those who perform exceptionally well, explains the spokeswoman, can eventually be promoted to commissioner of the department.

Regarding exposure, assessors can expect to gain experience from a broad range of companies through their various assignments, she adds. "There are definitely numerous opportunities for variety," says the spokeswoman.

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