Old hand plays it by the book

The 2015 Hong Kong In­sti­tute of Cer­ti­fi­fied Pub­lic Ac­coun­tants pres­i­dent has not only seen but also par­tic­i­pated in his­tory in the mak­ing. Luo Weiteng re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

An ac­count­ing vet­eran with over two decades in the pro­fes­sion un­der his belt, Den­nis Ho Chiu-ping, 2015 pres­i­dent of the Hong Kong In­sti­tute of Cer­ti­fied Pub­lic Ac­coun­tants (HKICPA), has been a true wit­ness to the in­dus­try’s rise in the city and an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant in shap­ing its fu­ture.

The thriv­ing lo­cal econ­omy back in the 1970s to 80s her­alded the be­gin­ning of a golden era for Hong Kong’s ac­count­ing sec­tor, as the city was build­ing up its brand as a global fi­nan­cial cen­ter, a feat that called for an army of fi­nan­cial pro­fes­sion­als, in­clud­ing those spe­cial­ized in ac­count­ing.

As the main­land econ­omy across the bor­der took off, it made ac­coun­tancy an even more highly sought-af­ter and lu­cra­tive pro­fes­sion here in Hong Kong, as main­land com­pa­nies queu­ing up to list in the city were re­quired to hire in­ter­na­tional ac­count­ing firms as au­di­tors.

To­day, the city is home to more than 39,000 home­grown ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion­als, their num­bers swelling with each grad­u­a­tion year, and the lo­cal out­look for the pro­fes­sion con­tin­ues to be en­cour­ag­ingly pos­i­tive, noted Ho.

Ac­count­ing-re­lated cour­ses main­tain their al­lure for a good many young lo­cal stu­dents, with more than 2,000 new ac­coun­tants re­port­edly join­ing the pro­fes­sion ev­ery year. One draw may be that ac­coun­tants are quite highly paid, with 40 per­cent of HKICPA mem­bers earn­ing more than HK$600,000 a year, ac­cord­ing to a mem­ber­ship sur­vey pub­lished in 2015.

“No mat­ter whether it is good times or tough times, you can al­ways see ac­coun­tants play­ing ac­tive roles. De­mand for ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion­als is a con­stant,” said Ho.

While the pro­fes­sion is of­ten per­ceived as be­ing lim­ited to num­ber-crunch­ing, Ho noted it is much more wide-rang­ing. It can in­clude ca­reers in busi­ness op­er­a­tions, risk man­age­ment, cor­po­rate re­struc­tur­ing, cor­po­rate gov­er­nance or foren­sic ac­count­ing, and cut across a wide range of sec­tors, in­clud­ing pri­vate, govern­ment and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ho be­lieves ac­count­ing skills rep­re­sent a ba­sic knowl­edge that pro­fes­sion­als can equip them­selves with and move into other sec­tors. It is some­thing that peo­ple can lev­er­age to find out how to of­fer more value in po­si­tions held within their own or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“The Cer­ti­fied Pub­lic Ac­coun­tant (CPA) (qual­i­fi­ca­tion) is more of a step­ping stone to big­ger and bet­ter things, open­ing many doors for peo­ple,” said Ho. “The pos­si­bil­i­ties for CPA are far wider than just a ca­reer story of work­ing for ac­count­ing and au­dit­ing firms.”

In the past few years, the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion has con­stantly gen­er­ated head­lines amid a spate of reg­u­la­tory di­a­logue.

The lat­est sup­ple­ment of the Closer Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Ar­range­ment (CEPA), signed at the end of last Novem­ber, aims to tear down more bar­ri­ers to cross-bor­der trade in ser­vices and al­low more lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als to set up shop across the bor­der, thus see­ing them poised to en­joy greater ac­cess to the grow­ing ser­vices mar­ket in the main­land.

The new agree­ment, touch­ing on sec­tors such as ac­count­ing, le­gal ser­vices, in­sur­ance, se­cu­ri­ties, bank­ing and tele­coms, will def­i­nitely help lo­cal CPAs boost their pres­ence on the main­land, which has long been the big­gest ex­port mar­ket for Hong Kong’s ac­count­ing ser­vices sec­tor, ob­served Ho.

How­ever, Ho also pointed out that the ser­vice-ori­ented trade pact is “lim­ited” to promis­ing lo­cal CPAs enough in­volve­ment in the main­land econ­omy and thriv­ing ac­count­ing busi­ness, as a great deal of pro­fes­sional ac­count­ing busi­ness in the non­ser­vice sec­tors still re­mains out of reach for Hong Kong CPAs.

One pre­req­ui­site for Hong Kong’s ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion­als seek­ing to en­ter the po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive main­land mar­ket could be to be­come part­ners of main­land firms. Main­land firms, how­ever, would need “a good com­mer­cial rea­son” for them to en­ter into such a part­ner­ship.

Ho be­lieves tremen­dous work has al­ready been done through the CEPA, which was in­tro­duced in 2013 as a way to boost the weak Hong Kong econ­omy fol­low­ing the SARS (Se­vere Acute Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome) out­break. But more work needs to be done to push open the main­land door wider to Hong Kong pro­fes­sion­als.

One heart­en­ing fac­tor for the In­sti­tute re­gard­ing cross-bor­der busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties is that a model for reg­u­lat­ing listed com­pany au­di­tors is be­gin­ning to take shape, ad­dress­ing an­other much-dis­cussed is­sue that has grabbed the city’s at­ten­tion for quite some time.

When the SAR govern­ment un­veiled its pro­posal on the pro­posed regime-tight­en­ing in June, it trig­gered op­po­si­tion from small and medi­um­sized ac­count­ing firms, which com­plained that the pro­posed HK$10 mil­lion max­i­mum fine for mis­con­duct was too high.

Ho said that the pro­posal, which calls for the set­ting up of an in­de­pen­dent au­dit over­sight body to im­prove the reg­u­la­tory regime for au­di­tors of listed firms, needs much more work on the de­tails.

He added that the In­sti­tute ex­pects to see a clear def­i­ni­tion of the scope of the in­ves­tiga­tive and dis­ci­plinary pow­ers of the new over­sight body, as well as due process and checks and bal­ances within the watch­dog, which they hope would con­sist of pro­fes­sion­als from the au­dit­ing in­dus­try.

Ho said the HKICPA will con­duct con­sul­ta­tions with mem­bers and other stake­hold­ers as ap­pro­pri­ate on re­view­ing the Pro­fes­sional Ac­coun­tants Or­di­nance, which has been in place for 42 years and seen as out­dated. Based on the con­sul­ta­tion, the In­sti­tute will pro­pose re­vi­sions to the or­di­nance in a bill that will in­clude nec­es­sary changes fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the new reg­u­la­tory regime.

Look­ing ahead, Ho be­lieves a world of op­por­tu­ni­ties for Hong Kong’s ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion­als would come from the coun­try’s high-pro­file multi-na­tion “Belt and Road” ini­tia­tive and the three pi­lot free-trade zones in Qian­hai, Nan­sha and Hengqin in the Pearl River Delta.

“Hong Kong’s well-trained and highly pro­fes­sional CPAs are al­ready ready to play a big part in th­ese bold moves,” Ho signed off.

Con­tact the writer at sophia@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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