Li & Fung

'Women to play bigger role' in accounting

Female Li & Fung director breaks glass ceiling to be industry body's president

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 5:31am

The first woman to break through to become president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants says women are poised to play an increasingly important leadership role in the accounting industry.

"In recent years women have come to account for about 65 per cent of all new members joining the industry," Susanna Chiu said after she was elected to the top post on Friday night.

Chiu, a director of Li & Fung Development (China), has volunteered on various committees at the institute since 1993, has served on its council since 2004, and has been vice-president for the past two years.

Her win followed a keenly contested election, she said, in which she had to lobby hard for votes to beat rival candidate, Clement Chan Kam-wing, the Hong Kong managing director of international accounting firm BDO.

She also ran for the presidency last year but lost to Ernst & Young's Asia-Pacific financial services leader, Keith Pogson.

The institute, set up in 1973, issues accounting licences, sets industry standards, and regulates the city's 33,000 accountants. A new president is elected every year by its 22 council members.

Chiu said she did not think gender discrimination was the reason why it took so long for a woman to become the organisation's head.

"In the old days there were simply not so many women working in the accounting profession. Even now, though more women are entering the profession, some are not keen to contest senior positions. But this is changing as we see more female accountants becoming partners or directors of companies," she said.

There are equal numbers of male and female members of the institute but only 30 per cent of partners in the industry and 10 per cent of directors of listed companies are women.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing said on Thursday that from September next year it expected listed companies to have more women on their boards. It also wanted company boards to reflect a wider range of ages and backgrounds, saying the firms would have to explain if they failed to meet the requirement.

A Credit Suisse Research Institute report issued in August said companies with at least one woman on their board had a 4 per cent higher average return on equity.

Chiu said she supported the HKEx's move and that women could give more balance to board decisions.

She said that as president she wanted to expand the institute's membership and work with mainland accounting authorities to give institute members more opportunities on the mainland. "China's development will be a key focus of the [institute's] development plan over the next five years," Chiu said.