Profession faces new challenges
The 2011 annual conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) may have just concluded but, as a sign of its success, organisers are already considering topics for next year's agenda.
The two-day event on June 17 to 18 achieved all its main objectives by bringing together leading thinkers and influential voices from across the business community. It provided an ideal forum to discuss new forces and opportunities that will affect Hong Kong's position as a global financial centre and, where necessary, to highlight key challenges members of the profession can expect to face.
The conference's main theme was 'Hong Kong as a world capital market - what the future holds for Hong Kong's CPAs'. This intentionally encouraged keynote speakers, panellists and other participants to take a step back and reflect on fast-evolving issues.
They dealt with everything from initial public offerings (IPOs) and trade flows, to technology, human capital, governance and creating an offshore centre for yuan. Recognising the practicalities that come with Hong Kong's role as a leading financial community, there was also a special focus on such areas as integrated reporting, trends in auditing, sustainable business practices and skills required in capital markets.
In his opening remarks, HKICPA president Philip Tsai pointed out that Hong Kong is a financial centre and a testing ground for the mainland's reforms and liberalisation process. However, remaining competitive and innovative is not something that happens by accident. As Tsai said, it is therefore essential to keep exploring frontier issues and to find new ways in which CPAs can make a contribution.
On the one hand, this might involve making the audit process more relevant or diversifying services to help clients prosper. On the other, it could mean developing new levels of expertise to maintain Hong Kong's lead in IPOs and strengthen the city's financial reputation.
In different respects, Tsai said, the accounting profession was facing great changes. The conference, though, gave a chance to examine these challenges, short and long term, and start to put appropriate plans in place.
The institute's CEO, Winnie Cheung, said that inspiration from the conference's deliberation would help CPAs in shaping their strategies, grasping opportunities and managing risks. This way CPAs can sustain our future for ourselves, our organisations, the profession and Hong Kong, she added.
Chris Joy, HKICPA executive director and conference chairman, similarly noted the need to give a lead for the sector. The aim is to address issues relevant to institute members that would also have an impact on the wider business community and, by extension, the investing public.
'It is important that we lead the way in terms of offering quality and talking about what Hong Kong should be developing,' Joy said. 'In this way, the conference can act as a catalyst and help to demonstrate the continuing importance of the profession.'
Cheung said she was delighted with the overall response and level of participation. The 200-plus attendants kept keynote speakers and panellists on their toes in some intense discussions, and the event was streamed live to the institute's training centre for an overflow audience.
To create the necessary balance, the agenda did not just cover big themes such as the mainland's capital markets and their impact on Hong Kong. There were also sessions that took due note of more immediate concerns, such as how smaller accountancy firms can enhance their practices and what to expect for integrated reporting.
'These topics also grabbed people's attention,' Joy said. 'There is direct relevance to their jobs and their day-to-day work. From the institute's point of view, we want to keep people up to date and help them pick up on any changes in the wind.'
In certain areas, notably the promotion of sustainable business practices, Hong Kong still lags behind many other parts of the world. Open discussion and better understanding is the way forward.
'This session got a very good reaction,' Joy said.
'These are things we need to keep our members alert to. The profession is becoming more specialised - that is not going to stop - so we must equip members with the necessary information and skills.'
Stephen Law, a member of the HKICPA council and moderator of the conference panel on capital market development in Hong Kong and Shanghai, was in full agreement. He noted, though, that the success and strength of the profession depended on continuous improvement and staying a step ahead of the international competition.
'That includes having soft skills,' Law said. 'Understanding the human mind can help to minimise risk.'