With a positive mindset and strong people skills, Ivan Au, a partner of assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Hong Kong, has crafted an admirable career in accounting thus far.
After completing his bachelor's and master's studies in Sydney, Australia, and a stint in teaching, Au returned to Hong Kong where he joined PwC. He has more than 12 years of experience in assurance engagement - services that enhance users' confidence in evaluating subjects such as a company's financial information - and has cultivated a string of clients in industries from property and clothing to electronics and groceries.
A member of CPA Australia, Au is a recipient of the CPA Program's High Achiever's Award for scoring a high distinction in all his professional examinations. He is also a committee member of the corporate sector committee of CPA Australia - Greater China - and treasurer of the Young Entrepreneur Council of Kowloon Chamber of Commerce.
Why did you study accounting?
I majored in marketing initially. I like interacting with people and thought marketing would fit me well. I didn't think of studying accounting, which seemed at the time to be associated with number crunching work without involving working with others. But these turned out to be misconceptions.
I learnt more about accounting from a foundation course I was required to take. Many people said it was challenging, but I thought it was very logical and made a lot sense to me. At the same time, I came to know senior students who were applying for jobs in accounting and who shared with me their views of the work of an accountant. I also decided to major both in marketing and accounting. As I became more familiar with the subject, I realised a job in accounting entails a lot of interaction with others, and that the discipline itself is very important to any business.
You did a master's in accounting. What did you do afterwards?
I taught first year accounting students for a while in Sydney, which was an invaluable experience. I had to understand the topics very thoroughly in order to teach well. This helped me build a solid foundation of knowledge of accounting. I then decided to come back to Hong Kong, where there were many business opportunities.
What does your daily work involve?
My job enails working with clients and colleagues. I also work with experts at PwC regularly, such as when I need to evaluate derivatives or deal with complicated tax arrangements.
I handle a range of products and industries - including retail and merchandising, manufacturing and property development - that are marked by different characteristics. In terms of asset and liability, for instance, retail firms typically have a large amount of stock, while manufacturing companies have stock, as well as raw materials and work in progress. Property development companies have neither.
What is assurance?
Some companies invite independent accountants to verify their financial information, and this comes in many forms. We audit financial statements that listed companies would like to include in their annual reports, or help firms about to launch an IPO [initial public offering] verify their financial information. We also review financial estimations made by businesses and see if the underlying assumptions are reasonable.
What are the challenges you face?
In accounting and other professions, you are counted upon for your knowledge and advice, and your contribution matters to your clients a lot. This, together with having to work under tight deadlines, means work can be stressful at times.
What is the best part of your work?
It is the people aspect that I like most. I enjoy working in teams and building morale among my colleagues and staff. I also like the highly analytical nature of my job. Working with clients allows me to develop an understanding of their businesses, the challenges they face and how they solve the problems. It is important that I keep abreast of the latest developments in different industries. Above all, I feel satisfied with being able to serve the needs of my clients.
What are the secrets to managing people successfully?
Every individual is unique. You need to be flexible enough to work with people with different styles. One way to improve your ability in this respect is to move out of your comfort zone and meet as many people as you can. I have benefited from the networking opportunities provided by CPA Australia since 1999. The relationships cultivated when I was young have been useful to my work. When you are chatting with someone, find out what they do and their challenges at work in order to understand different industries.
Try also to step in others' shoes. Then you can understand why someone has done something and decide how you want to deal with the person or the situation. Finding out the strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with is useful too, as you can then think of ways to maximise their strengths.
What's your advice for young people?
Build a solid foundation of technical knowledge early in your career. Then you can deal with the managerial and other responsibilities as you progress in your career. Leverage the resources provided by CPA Australia, such as by enrolling in classes to enhance your professional knowledge and skills. Also tap into the networking opportunities the organisation offers. Start doing it when you are young.
- Au started as an associate at PwC
- He became a senior associate after two years
- He was promoted to the role of manager in 2003 and was seconded to London for two years the following year
- In 2006, Au became a senior manager
- He was made a partner last year