Never-ending story: CPA must be prepared to continually learn new skills and update existing ones
HKICPA president Ivy Cheung says accounting remains the ‘language of business’ – which means emphasis on integrity and quality analytical skills
While technical skills are essential in the world of accounting, the range of work the profession covers requires certified public accountants (CPAs) to continually upgrade their interpersonal skills and extend their knowledge and abilities that go beyond dealing with numbers.
As the roles of accounting professionals expand, Ivy Cheung Wing-han, president, Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), says the accounting sector needs professionals who are always prepared to learn new skills, and update existing ones.
“The industry is constantly changing with new regulations and standards being introduced. Therefore, CPAs must always prepare for the future while being aware of what is taking place today,” Cheung says. However, she stresses that, while the industry is subject to many changes, accounting remains the “language of business”, which means the emphasis on integrity, quality analytical skills and the ability to provide actionable advice cannot be overly emphasised.
“Many CPAs provide consulting services, to help companies improve their operations, so the ability to look ahead is key,” Cheung says.
With more than 40,000 members, Cheung says the HKICPA provides a wide range of support, career development and continuous professional development (CPD) options to its members. The HKICPA’s Qualification Programme not only trains accountants to be technically proficient, the programme also focuses on developing analytical and problem solving skills. The HKICPA also plays a leading role in cultivating more CPA candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds to add diversity within the profession.
To cater to the needs of HKICPA members, who, besides working for professional services firms, hold responsible positions in the public sector, non-profit sector, small- and medium-sized enterprises, government and regulatory or professional bodies, the institute regularly organises seminars and presentations by industry leaders to provide insights and industry specific updates.
Because a high percentage of HKICPA members are relatively young, more senior members provide coaching and mentoring.
“We are always looking for new ways to support our members,” Cheung says. A good example, she says, is a pilot financial controllership programme designed for aspiring and recently appointed financial controllers and members preparing to move from a CPA practice into the business environment.
Cheung says the programme, which has been well-received, covers topics such as strategic finance, capital planning, bank financing, and treasury and risk management.
Meanwhile, Alice Yip, Hong Kong vice-chairman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), says flexibility in the working environment is also important to attract talent with different background and expertise – also to retain current staff.
“Some accounting firms have programmes, offering flexible working hours, part-time work or work from home for staff with special needs,” Yip says.
Whether CPAs are working for a professional services firm, a listed company or a government department, Jane Cheng, head of ACCA Hong Kong, believes it is important for accounting professionals to identify changes in the macroenvironment and adapt to them.
“CPAs need to continuously upgrade their knowledge and skills set to a level which is needed today and be ready to face the challenges of the future,” Cheng says.
She adds if professionals are unable to keep pace with the latest skills set needed, they are likely to encounter a bottleneck in their career. It is also necessary to have a strategic entrepreneurial mindset, think outside of the box to provide insights from a strategic perspective.
“The modern accountant has to be ahead of the curve on all fronts – trained to the highest of professional standards and able to look beyond the numbers,” Cheng says.
ACCA’s “Professional Accountants – the Future” report, which focuses on the global outlook for the accounting profession up to 2025, identifies four main drivers of business world changes, which also apply to Hong Kong. The drivers include increasing regulatory complexity, keen competition from globalisation, digitalisation disrupting business models, and the demand and expectations society and businesses place on accountants and finance professionals.
“These are opportunities for accountants to up-skill themselves in the value chain, seize important roles in corporations and position themselves to contribute to business success,” Cheng says.
Based on an in-depth analysis of the accounting profession, and identifying the skills that accounting professionals of the future would need to succeed, the ACCA is committed to driving the development of the next generation accounting professionals, and training and nurturing them with the required skills.
Cheng says ACCA offers its members a range of CPD programmes, including signature events such as ACCA’s Annual Conference and CFO summit, which serve as platforms for members and industry leaders to exchange experiences and ideas on impactful issues faced by accounting and finance professionals.
“Our goal is to provide our members, including young accountants, with opportunities to develop and prepare themselves for the future success in this challenging yet rewarding finance profession,” Cheng says.