PASSING EXAMS is not always easy. The 18th-century writer Charles Caleb Colton once said, 'Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.' However, even passing examinations often represents only the base of a career mountain rather than its summit. Take, for example, someone who has just passed the licensing examination for the financial services industry. Passing the licensing examination does not give that person the authority to actually practise. Passing the examination is like getting a ticket to be a spectator at the bottom of a mountain. To start climbing the mountain, a person needs to be actually working for a firm recognised by the relevant regulating authority and also be granted a licence to practise by that regulating authority. The Hong Kong Securities Institute offers its licensing examination on the mainland for professionals wishing to practise in Hong Kong. The institute also offers the PRC Securities Regulations Examination in Hong Kong for professionals wishing to practise on the mainland. This arrangement was made possible following the implementation of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) with the mainland in January 2004. Such a reciprocal arrangement seems helpful for Hongkongers wishing to practise on the mainland and for mainland residents wanting to practise in Hong Kong. In terms of convenience, this arrangement is indeed helpful but unfortunately any reciprocity does not extend to actual practice. To practise on the mainland, a person must be employed by a firm there and satisfy the regulatory requirements that often include giving up any Hong Kong practising licence. While it is possible to be accredited to a mainland intermediary firm and a Hong Kong-licensed corporation simultaneously, it is not that easy. Depending on the existing needs in the mainland, a person can be accredited to both firms only if the two firms are in the same group or one firm has more than a 50 per cent shareholding in the other. With the mainland market still dominated by state-owned banks, it is less competitive than Hong Kong and offers fewer opportunities for career growth. These factors together with lower salaries in the mainland and the requirement to give up a Hong Kong licence, may explain why the number of Hong Kong professionals taking the mainland regulatory examinations has fallen from 379 in 2004 to 61 this year. In contrast, the number of mainland professionals taking the Hong Kong Licensing Examination in the mainland has increased from 270 last year to 404 this year. The reasons for the increasing number of mainland residents sitting for the examinations are the prospect of higher salaries and better opportunities for career progression in Hong Kong. When it comes to being a licensed financial practitioner, Cepa appears to be benefiting mainland residents more than Hong Kong people. However, Hongkongers who want to work in the mainland's financial services industry should check the latest requirements well.