Crisis raises value of top professionals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am

The global credit crunch may have dulled the appetite for initial public offerings, triggered mass lay-offs and brought the banking sector to its knees. But for the accounting industry, opportunities have abounded, highlighting the growing importance of accountants in good and bad times.

'The crisis has brought the value of accountants in business to the fore. Corporations have been turning to their in-house accountants to manage cash flow, be involved in strategic development, and make tough cost cutting, management and investment decisions,' says Winnie Cheung, chief executive of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA).

Accounting firms have also seen the scope of their work expand, primarily in the areas of corporate recovery, forensic accounting, mergers and acquisitions and risk and compliance, as clients become increasingly aware of the greater regulatory demands in Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

At the HKICPA, these latest opportunities have helped shape its continuous professional development offerings to members. All of the organisation's qualified accountants are required to enrol in 40 hours of training each year in order to keep up to date on the skills needed to tackle the emerging challenges of an increasingly globalised and complex work environment.

The institute, whose training has long covered a gamut of generic competencies such as leadership and business strategy, values, ethics and attitudes, and general management skills and technical skills, now plans to emphasise its focus on aspects of internal control, risk management, compliance and corporate governance; important areas highlighted by the fallout from the global financial crisis.

'These are not considered traditionally mainstream areas, but are becoming more prominent as companies and clients are increasingly looking to professional services firms to assist them in these aspects,' says Philip Tsai, vice-president of the HKICPA and a partner of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

In view of the tightening regulatory requirements, the institute introduced a profession-wide technical advisory support and training service this year to help its members better understand and apply the HKICPA's standards in financial reporting, auditing and assurance, and the code of ethics.

Last year, it launched a one year part-time specialist diploma in solvency covering aspects of liquidation, corporate rescue and restructuring and personal bankruptcy, on the back of a growing number of insolvency cases. This was done mainly with a view to train more accounting professionals, even from the mainland.

Stephen Yiu, senior partner, Beijing office at KPMG China, says the mainland is moving from a manufacturing base to a servicing industry and financial services is one of them. There will be a lot of investments overseas by mainland entities and overseas companies will continue to invest in China.

Hence, a proper international accounting training will serve multinational companies or mainland companies going overseas for investments.

The development of more specialist programmes in corporate finance and tax are in the pipeline as the profession gains new expertise. 'The institute's goal is to raise training, advocacy and the status of these specialisations, perhaps to the point of a specialist designation,' he says.

Training was further boosted by the rollout of an online competency development tool in February. The virtual platform helps accountants identify the core capabilities needed to pursue a specific stream of accounting, offers a development plan including recommendations of the available workshops and seminars, and is supported by a range of professional development resources including the institute's own virtual library.

Of the 18 career streams available, five - audit and assurance, executive management, external reporting, performance management and risk management - have specifically been adapted for the Hong Kong and mainland markets as they comprise some 70 per cent of members' work focus.