Let's call it pocket science
Keith Pogson, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, retraces his career path.
What did you want to do when you were at school?
My parents are both scientists; my dad was a biochemist and my mother was a physicist. At school, the teachers said: 'You should do science. You're genetically gifted in this area.' But science didn't actually appeal to me that much. I was interested in the business world. I focused more on social sciences - geography and things like that - but also studied economics and politics at school before I went to university. I wouldn't say this was childhood rebellion against my parents because that really wasn't what it was. It was sort of seeing the world through a different set of eyes - practically rather than theoretically.
What did you study at university?
I decided I wanted to do a business-school style degree. I was in Britain at the time, and I signed up to go to Warwick University to their business school and do a management degree there. This kept my options open, as well. Their degree programme is actually very wide. I did a BSc in management science.
How did you get into accountancy?
While I was at college, I was put in a room with another guy who was studying accountancy. We became good friends. We worked with the business school to get external funding for a business society. We went to all the big eight accounting firms, and all of them were reasonably keen to put their hands in their pockets, as were a number of other industries. Then my flatmate and I got offered the opportunity to be summer interns at most of these businesses. They were surprised that students had reached out and had this commercial venture. It was all very positive.
How was the internship?
The internship was for about eight weeks, between my second and third year at university. At the end of the internship, I liked them, they liked me, and they kind of said: 'Do you want a job? It wasn't a particularly difficult decision at that time. The economy wasn't the strongest in Britain in the late 1980s-early 1990s, and having a job offer in the bag was a good place to be.
One of the things that struck me as I was doing my internship was that being an accountant was a great way to continue developing and learning very rapidly, and understanding about business. Being in audit was a way of getting under the bonnet of business and having a look around at how it works. You weren't running the business, but you got to see more than you would if you joined as a trainee in a bank or something.
What are the attractions of the accountancy profession?
The accounting profession, particularly audit training and becoming a qualified auditor, is one of the best professional qualifications you can get. It's a way of being recognised as being a 'financial expert'. It's the gold standard in business qualifications in the finance world. Second, it's the fastest way to develop your understanding of business as a whole. You could work in a family business and understand a particular business very well, but if you want to understand business more generally, it's probably the fastest way you can do it.
Would-be accountants in Hong Kong can take three paths to the profession, says Pogson, all of which end with the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Qualification Programme (QP): do an accountancy degree; do any degree and then follow a conversion programme of around three months with one of the accounting firms; or study to become an accredited accounting technician, then take another diploma-level course