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Accountants need people skills to thrive
Ana Wang
update on Saturday, October 23, 2010

When it comes to qualifying as a certified public accountant (CPA), many automatically think about crunching numbers, mind-boggling formulas and even more numbers. But, according to veteran accountants, it takes more than a mathematician to crack this field. A logical mind and an excellent way with people are also key ingredients.

"A successful CPA needs to be able to work with people from different backgrounds and industries. People skills are important to excel in this profession," says Susanna Chiu, council member of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and chairwoman of the Career Forum 2010 organising committee.

The forum was held by the institute on October 10 at Cyberport Conference and Exhibition Centre in Pok Fu Lam. Focusing on what it took to become a CPA, the event was aimed at students, fresh graduates, qualification programme (QP) students, new entrants to the profession and people who wished to pursue or shift to an accounting career.

"The forum aimed at information sharing, helping attendees plan their career, and provided an opportunity to network," Chiu says. "Participants were able to further understand the importance of accountants in all industries through the seminars and workshops."

During the career development seminar, held on the morning of the event, experienced CPAs from accounting and non-accounting firms shared their views on the challenges posed by the job, career prospects and the outlook for accountants in Hong Kong.

According to Tony Mak, panel speaker and associate director of forensic services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the professional qualification poses an entry barrier, so accounting graduates will face less of a challenge when they are looking for a job.

An HKICPA survey showed that 17,290 CPAs were working in business in July last year. Some 80 per cent of accountancy graduates chose to qualify as accountants with the institute's QP. Almost all who finished the QP got a job, with a typical starting salary at HK$20,000 to HK$28,000, according to the survey.

Having to deal daily with numbers, executives from different firms and companies from various industries, CPAs should be able to think logically and grasp significant information.

"Professional scepticism is also very important for CPAs," says Daniel Lin, panel speaker at the career development seminar and partner at Jingdu Tianhua Hong Kong. "They should remember not to judge at face value."

One of the rewards of the profession is a high degree of job satisfaction from customers' appreciation, according to Eugene Fung, another panel speaker.

"There are unlimited possibilities in the future. Individuals should be fully prepared to adapt to different environments and should be aware of the development in the mainland market," says Fung, who is also director at Pan-China (HK) CPA.

Those looking to qualify as a CPA should prepare to cope with opportunities and challenges in their line of work, while bearing in mind the importance of completing their everyday tasks, according to panel speaker George Hongchoy, executive director and CEO of The Link Management, which looks after one of Hong Kong's biggest real estate investment trusts.

To stand out from local competitors, Mak says qualified accountants who wish to develop their career in Hong Kong could specialise in a certain field of accounting.

"Auditing and accounting work is more commonly sought after in Hong Kong," he says. "But the demand for local accountants who specialise in a certain field, such as forensic services, has been increasing over the years."

HKICPA organised a series of workshops and seminars on the same day, aiming to provide a full picture of the profession and advice for prospective accountants on the qualification requirements.

The workshops included the sharing of experiences among QP graduates, information sessions on authorised employer-supervisor training and the enhanced QP, and a talk on career development in China that highlighted the differences between the mainland and Hong Kong markets, and offered tips for those who wish to further their accounting careers on the mainland. Participants were also briefed on how to prepare professional resumes and cover letters, interviewing skills, psychometric tests, career planning and image building. In between the workshops, participants met recruiters and top employers attending the career exhibition to scope out job opportunities and requirements.

Exhibitors included BDO, Boardroom Corporate Services (HK), Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young, Jones Lang LaSalle Sallmanns, KPMG, Michael Page International, Morgan Mckinley, PKF, PricewaterhouseCoopers, ShineWing (HK) CPA, the Hong Kong government's treasury and Tricor Services.

The South China Morning Post, Classified Post and fuel were the media partners.


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