The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) established its regional office on the mainland at the end of last month. Working with organisations including the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CICPA), ICAEW is leveraging its professional expertise and reputation it has built over 140 years to grow on the mainland. A two-route programme for membership of the ICAEW is open to mainland residents. For those with the CICPA qualification, prior learning credits are granted, meaning those eligible need only sit the final five exams, as opposed to 15, for the associate chartered accountant (ACA) qualification to become eligible for membership. The alternative is studying the full ACA programme. In addition to a work experience quotient, mainland students need to draw on analytical and real-life problem-solving skills that require more than mere rote learning. 'We recently had our third graduation ceremony. Realistically, students need two years to complete the exams and obtain the relevant work experience,' says Douglas Lau, director for Greater China, ICAEW. Choosing Beijing over Hong Kong to be the regional headquarters was a decision based on several factors. Hong Kong has the greatest number of ICAEW members outside London, with more than 3,000, compared with about 200 on the mainland. Lau says the focus on the mainland is in part a strategic decision, 'as not only are we closer to the decisive financial organisations in Beijing, but we also see the potential to grow our membership and strengthen awareness about the institute on the mainland'. Many high-calibre business and accounting professionals are members of ICAEW in Hong Kong, including Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, chairman of the Hospital Authority and Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce; Silas Yang, chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hong Kong and China; and Sir David Li Kwok-po, chairman and CEO of the Bank of East Asia. Overcoming the gap between Hong Kong's high level of recognition for the London global headquarters of ICAEW and the mainland's relatively new ventures in the industry is one challenge being addressed by the international organisation, which has more than 136,000 members around the world. According to Lau, one telling point showing the shift in the global accounting dynamic is that only the second honorary membership bestowed by the prestigious organisation in 2009 went to Dr Wang Jun, the mainland's Vice-Minister of Finance, who was instrumental in implementing changes in the financial system. The first such honour to be bestowed on a non-accountant went to the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles. Lau says focusing on building relationships with key stakeholders on the mainland and Hong Kong is a firm goal for the institute. 'Through the exchange of expertise and experience, we hope to further contribute to the internationalisation of China's accounting industry. It's a win-win situation for top-tier mainland accounting professionals to obtain an international qualification and for the growth of ICAEW,' he says.