HONG KONG must train more accountants and emphasise the development of advanced management skills if it hopes to enhance its competitiveness as a regional business centre. That is the view of Choi Sau-yuk, deputy president of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Hong Kong division, and director of Asia Consulting Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in the private and public sectors. Mr Choi said the role of management accountancy was to improve business performance and efficiency, and required financial people in operations rather than in the audit function. Most accounting graduates wanted to join one of the Big Four firms - Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young or PricewaterhouseCoopers - and to work on auditing, he said. However, in practice, only 25 per cent make a career in auditing. There is a greater need for management accountants. 'Most of the students want a job with the audit firms, but they do not necessarily have to take that route to become qualified accountants,' Mr Choi said. 'Many of those who qualify that way eventually find themselves going into business and industry, and then have to undergo a transition because they have little real commercial experience. Their experience with audit firms would have been limited to reviewing other qualified accountants' work to confirm compliance with the agreed accounting standards of the day.' Mr Choi said that in business and industry, unlike in the auditing profession, experience in decision-making and execution was required. 'In a way, the difference is between being a doer and a watcher,' he said. He said accountants who learned the profession in business and industry would be better prepared and would have a broader practical understanding of financial management, treasury, cost control, budgeting, information systems, pricing and business planning. Practising accountants (auditors) would have much less direct experience and training in these areas. 'Both types of accountants are important, but in Hong Kong the balance has tilted too much towards the practising side,' Mr Choi said. He said this was partly due to lack of awareness on the part of tertiary institutions and students, and also because practising accountants tended to dominate the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants. As a result, many students are steered into the profession via the practising route to ensure a steady supply of entry-level trainees. Mr Choi said that students who opted to qualify via the business route enjoyed more diversity and learned how to work successfully in operational situations. However, Philip Tsai, audit partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, had a different viewpoint. He said that given the nature of work, the practising side of the profession provided a better opportunity for graduates. Graduates could learn first-hand about the best practices of the accounting sector. 'Auditing allows for engagement in a variety of assignments and provides excellent exposure to different types of companies,' he said.