World becomes smaller under recognition deal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am


A new agreement involving mutual recognition of qualifications between Hong Kong and United States accounting bodies could mean more mobility for accountants. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) in Hong Kong and the US will be able to obtain licensing without having to go through the entire examination process.

In July, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) in the US approved a mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs (HKICPA).

Winnie Cheung, HKICPA CEO, says the agreement, due to be signed in Tennessee at NASBA's annual meeting next month, will allow Hong Kong and American CPAs to pursue their careers wherever the best opportunities exist.

'These days accountants travel all over the world for short-term and permanent assignments. We have received enthusiastic support from our members for this latest MRA, which will allow their qualifications to be recognised in the US,' Cheung says.

She says the MRA is in addition to agreements held with accounting bodies in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain. 'When we sign the US agreement, we will have mutual agreements with accounting bodies operating in most of the world's major capital markets,' Cheung says.

She says that under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland, there is also an agreement to exempt Chinese and Hong Kong CPAs from certain examination papers.

To qualify for exemption from US exams, Hong Kong CPAs are required to have completed their HKICPA qualification programme and spent at least three years as a practising accountant. Those who obtained their qualification before 2001, when the HKICPA began offering its own qualification programme, qualify for the exemption provided they are a degree holder and have at least four years of relevant experience.

American CPAs wishing to work in Hong Kong must have obtained their degree in the US. It should include 150 semester hours, equivalent to a five-year degree programme. They must also have completed a minimum three years of relevant accounting experience. In addition, they would also be required to pass an aptitude test covering Hong Kong law and tax. Hong Kong CPAs looking to work in the US must also sit an aptitude test.

'Hong Kong and the mainland need accounting talent to match economic growth. Still, quality is the key as it is important that high accounting standards are maintained. There are a lot of opportunities for accountants who are prepared to expand their vision and stay at the forefront of the profession,' Cheung says.

She says Hong Kong accountants wishing to gain overseas experience or those working for companies with US connections could also benefit from the MRA.

Cheung says it is unlikely the CPA exam will become internationally standardised in the near future. She says different tax systems and reporting standards, and countries with economies at various stages of development, would present too many barriers.