The Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) sees changes as opportunities and strives to pave the way forward for the next five to 10 years. 'Technological innovation, globalisation of the accountancy profession, revolution in the financial world and the widening of Hong Kong's window between the world market and the mainland have posed a lot of challenges for us,' said Winnie Cheung Chee-woon, chief executive and registrar of the institute. Qualification is fundamental to meeting challenges and sustaining professionalism, for which the institute has responsibility under the Professional Accountants Ordinance. 'HKICPA saw the requirements of the 21st century in the mid-1990s, so it knew what expertise and skills were required to train accountants capable of supporting business needs that were growing ever more sophisticated,' Ms Cheung said. The institute's Qualification Programme (QP) covers four subjects necessary to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA): financial reporting; financial management; auditing and information management; and taxation. For university graduates without a degree in accounting, a conversion course will be provided before admission to the accountancy qualification programme. The institute emphasises the importance of real-life application as reflected by its use of case studies and workshops. Aspiring CPAs must finish their qualification by completing three years of work experience under an authorised supervisor or employer. Then they can apply for membership of the institute and use the CPA designation. 'Our goal is to attract the best of the brightest,' Ms Cheung said, adding that institute members' qualifications were recognised internationally. Ms Cheung said the institute had signed reciprocal membership agreements with several chartered accountancy bodies worldwide since 2002, which made its members 'mobile' so they could work in many countries including Britain, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement meant greater synergy between Hong Kong and the mainland in economic and financial aspects and this led to the need to promote 'dual qualifications' among accountancy professionals. Holders of HKICPA qualifications have paper exemptions for the CPA Uniform Examination from the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CICPA). The institute is also working with the mainland's Ministry of Finance and CICPA to offer the qualification Programme on the mainland. Ms Cheung said access to the mainland market was the institute's priority. That integration was key to boosting business and work opportunities for accountancy practitioners in Hong Kong and the mainland. Besides accommodating training needs, Hong Kong plays a significant and unique role in helping the mainland move towards international standards of financial reporting. The China Accounting Standards Committee (CASC) late last year said that convergence with International Financial Reporting Standards was a fundamental goal of its standard-setting programme, which marked a starting point for CASC and HKICPA to work on their convergence project. 'We have been trying to identify our differences in standards and pursue various means to reduce or eliminate them,' Ms Cheung said. 'Although it will take a lot of time, by cementing close dialogue between the two sides we are moving forward.' Ms Cheung said she hoped that, over time, the mainland and Hong Kong would better understand the standards of both sides and together would bring issues of mutual concern to international standard setting organisations. While HKICPA acts as a bridging party between China and the world it provides its members with support to meet the changing business market. One of these is specialisation support. 'Accountants, like doctors, have their own specialisation for various industries, so we have to strengthen our support for this,' Ms Cheung said. To realise this goal, the institute has formed interest groups on industry and functional focuses for its members. These include taxation, financial services and mainland affairs. In the pipeline are audit, business valuation and corporate finance. Technical support is also available to help accountancy develop in line with technical expansion in financial reporting, auditing, regulation and business. The institute also aims to develop its presence in the community by strengthening its thought leadership role in key areas of interest to the profession and in the economic development of Hong Kong. 'Our key focus is on issues of public interest. For example, corporate governance and anti-money laundering,' Ms Cheung said. HKICPA hopes that the cohesion with members in Hong Kong can be extended further to the mainland by establishing offices in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Ms Cheung said: 'We intend to form a city network group in the mainland.' The institute expects the group to be able to offer more help to members working in the mainland and more opportunities to network with mainland accountancy bodies. The HKICPA will from tomorrow until Sunday be one of the parties playing host to the Cross-Straits, Hong Kong and Macau Accounting Profession Conference 2007 in Hong Kong in which CPA practitioners from Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan and Macau will meet to discuss the risks and liability issues in accountancy and their possible solutions, with the event also being a valuable networking opportunity.