Programme focuses on critical analysis and people skills The Hong Kong Society of Accountants' qualification programme uses best international practices on professional admission requirements as its benchmark. The programme, aimed at enhancing the professionalism of new accountants, was introduced in 1999 following a comprehensive society review that found Hong Kong accountants had sophisticated technical knowledge but needed better generic and soft skills. The society hired a consultant to develop the programme to help turn this situation around. The programme, which is tailored for all newcomers, puts strong emphasis on interpersonal, presentation and communications skills, and the ability to think independently. It consists of four modules: financial reporting, financial management, auditing and information management, and taxation. Participants are also required to pass a final professional examination. The modules are taught by experienced practitioners, who focus on sharing practical experiences and real-case studies to help strengthen participants' analytical and problem-solving skills. The programme's interactive course structure, group discussions and presentation sessions aim to improve participants' communication skills. 'In the real world, we have to integrate all the knowledge we have,' said Elizabeth Law, deputy chairman of the society's qualification programme development and promotion committee. 'The qualification programme helps accountants to learn the required skills and apply [them] to their jobs. 'This is not about memorising everything but about knowing how to apply knowledge. As we all know, the rules and regulations change all the time. We need practitioners able to adapt in changing times.' Accountants who successfully complete the qualification programme and have three to five years of practical accountancy experience qualify to become associate members of the society. The programme also enables society members to pursue careers abroad more easily. Graduates of the programme need only to complete an aptitude test on local law and tax practice to become chartered accountants in countries including Australia, England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The accounting profession is expected to prosper as a result of the booming China market. 'We certainly have a bright future as the China market will need a lot of properly trained accountants, whether they are for accounting firms or corporations,' said Ms Law. International accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers is planning to resume normal hiring in Hong Kong after the recent slowdown in recruitment. The firm hopes to hire 180 graduates from local and overseas universities, and experienced accountants. 'The market has been very quiet for the past two years,' said the firm's human resources director in Hong Kong, Cameron Sloan. 'However, we do foresee there will be increasing work from our clients.' The firm tends to choose newcomers from diverse backgrounds, including candidates with non-accounting degrees. Conversion training is provided to equip the new entrants with the necessary accounting knowledge. 'More importantly, we want [candidates] to have the ability to think out of the box,' Mr Sloan said. Moreover, candidates needed to have strong writing skills, to write regular reports, and excellent interpersonal skills as they would have to deal with clients from different backgrounds, he said. Accountancy's so-called Big Four - KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche - offer structured career paths to young professionals, from associate, to accountant to manager and, finally, partner at least 12 years later. Accountants can also start up their own practices or join a company as a finance manager or accountant and eventually becoming a chief financial officer. Smaller practitioners offer employees different rewards to those of the Big Four. In a smaller operation, staff have a wider job scope and outstanding staff are recognised more quickly. 'The major difference is the exposure,' said Ms Law, who is a partner of Stephen Law & Company. 'Our clients do not seek our advice only in auditing but also in different corporate management aspects.' It is generally agreed that accounting provides a good grounding for anyone pursuing a career in business and commerce. 'Most of our auditors spend a lot of time investigating management systems, rather than simply number-crunching,' said Mr Sloan. 'This definitely provides them with a comprehensive knowledge in corporate operations.' The Big Four accountants support the society's qualification programme for its emphasis on integrated knowledge, its practical approach to problem-solving and its comprehensive evaluation of participants' abilities. 'We believe that the programme helps to develop more rounded accountants,' said Mr Sloan.