Christie Leung started her career at one of the Big Four, but, like many CPAs, she transitioned to the commercial sector after a few years. One thing she noticed after making the change was that it was no longer clear to her what skills she needed to further her career and how to go about acquiring them.
“The Big Four provide a lot of technical training, but when I jumped to the commercial side, it was a bit confusing because I had to find out what continuing professional development (CPD) I needed,” says Leung, Senior Manager, Finance and Accounting Division, at Canon.
She is far from alone. Although 95 percent of respondent members to the Institute’s 2018 Career Survey in the Big Four stated they had support or subsidies for their CPD, only 44 percent of members in corporates reported support. To help professional accountants in business (PAIBs) – who make up around 60 percent of the Institute’s membership – in their personal development, the Institute’s Professional Accountants in Business Committee developed the Professional Development Framework for PAIBs, which was released in November last year.
Jennifer Cheung, Executive Director, Hong Kong Conglomerates 1 Head, Institutional Banking Group at DBS Bank, Hong Kong Branch, and Chairman of the Institute’s PAIB Committee, explains: “It is something we thought was missing from the Institute. The Professional Development Framework for PAIBs is very much a guide to help our fellow members have a structured framework to help them understand where they can develop their skillset going forward by using the Institute’s CPD resources.”
(From left) Christie Leung, Yan Yeung, K.M. Wong, Jennifer Cheung and Keith Ng.
Creating the framework
The PAIB Committee began creating the framework in 2018. Their aim was to provide an accessible guide to the professional competencies, such as prerequisite knowledge, skills, attitude, practices and standards of behaviour that PAIBs will need throughout their careers – particularly as the role of PAIBs is evolving from providing technical support to creating value for the business. It is designed to help PAIBs shape their careers through identifying gaps in their knowledge and then take control of their learning using the extensive CPD courses the Institute offers.
“It can also help the Institute shape the CPD that is being offered, such as through looking at which skills PAIBs need now, to help to steer the resources to the gaps.”
“The Institute has put a lot of resources into developing our CPD offering, as CPD is one of the key requirements for members to maintain their membership (see Building knowledge below),” Cheung says. “Not only does the framework provide a more structured way to help members understand which courses fit their needs, but it can also help the Institute shape the CPD that is being offered, such as through looking at which skills PAIBs need now, to help steer the resources to the gaps.”
The framework is not only intended to be used by individual PAIBs, but also by businesses, as a structured guide to the skills their employees will need to boost the effectiveness of the finance function.
From technical skills to ethics
The framework covers four areas:
- Technical skills enabling PAIBs to identify, collect, process and analyse the information that they will need to share with various stakeholders, such as the preparation and dissemination of external and internal reports.
- Business skills helping PAIBs to use their knowledge of business and the economic environment to transform this data into insights, evaluating the strategic positioning of a business and helping to identify strategies and opportunities for the future.
- Leadership and people skills covering the need for PAIBs to act as leaders and motivate other team members.
- Finally, ethics, integrity and professionalism covering the need for PAIBs to comply with the fundamental principles of professional ethics for accountants, as well as the relevant laws and regulations.
Each competency is broken down into three levels according to job seniority, so that members can see what skills they are likely to need at each stage of their career. For example, while PAIBs at the operational and supervisory level are likely to require only a basic understanding of business structures, operations and financial performance, by the time they progress to middle management, they will need to have acquired strong analytical skills and the ability to advise on strategy for the business. Those at senior management and leadership levels will require expert knowledge to develop a strategic vision for their organization and provide unique insights into the direction of the business.
K.M. Wong, Chief Financial Officer at Hong Kong Electric Investments and Chairman of the Institute’s Professional Development Committee, points out that while technical skills are important, some of these can be acquired while people are still at university or early during their careers, and if accountants limit themselves to this area, they will just be a technical person. “I think the other skills are important. Without those you are not really going to be able to add value to a company and help to build the business,” he says.
Leung, who sits on the Institute’s Young Members Committee, agrees, pointing out: “As you progress to higher positions, the technical skills are really just the basics, so you also need to develop yourself to improve your communication skills and presentation skills. You need to be able to present your ideas to the board and also to the shareholders.”
Keith Ng, Head of Capital Markets at Link Asset Management and Deputy Chairman of the Institute’s PAIB Committee, stresses that understanding ethics and integrity is also crucial, as accountants must have their own bottom line.
Yan Yeung, Partner, Tax Services at PwC and Chairman of the Institute’s Young Members Committee, agrees: “When you progress in your career, you are not just doing technical work – you need to use your judgement as well.” As Cheung points out, members are required to uphold the ethical standards that are set out by the Institute. “As Institute members, we pride ourselves on upholding integrity. This is a key part of the framework,” she says.
Upholding international best practice
The framework was created with reference to the competencies required by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), as well as its vision for transforming the finance function from accounting for the balance sheet to accounting for business. This vision includes ensuring accountants have a comprehensive understanding of business performance and results, and have a growth and change mindset, as well as having the insight, understanding of risk management and integrity at the centre of decision-making. Accountants must also have the necessary communication skills to make their views known.
Cheung points out that as a member of IFAC, the Institute must also be in line with international developments and standards in order to maintain its position, so it was important that the skills it was promoting for PAIBs to develop were also aligned with those requirements.
Being in line with international developments should also help members with international career mobility. Wong adds that as an international finance centre, Hong Kong has many companies and people from abroad, and, as such, it is important that the qualifications one attains from the Institute are in line with other standards. “Hong Kong actually has the highest concentration of CPAs in the world,” he says.
All sectors, all roles
PAIBs are a very diverse group, and the framework is designed to help them regardless of whether they are working in the commercial, public or not-for-profit sectors, across industries, and at different levels of seniority. “We have kept it generic because we cannot have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for all the different industries. Our members all do different things,” Cheung says.
She points out that a lot of the skillsets in the framework, such as corporate governance, accounting and financial reporting, risk management and control, and business and planning strategy, are core competencies that most accountants at corporate organizations or even non-government organizations will need. “We hope to have designed the framework so that it brings awareness to members about what they need to think about it in order to advance their career,” Cheung says.
Ng adds: “The framework is the crystallization of the thoughts of a lot of PAIB Committee members from very diverse backgrounds. Different companies may put emphasis on different aspects of the framework.”
Shaping career planning
A key aspect of the framework is to help individual PAIBs plan their own careers. Cheung points out that while whether people achieve their career objective is very much up to the individual, the PAIB Committee hopes members will use the framework to carry out a self-assessment on where they are in their career.
The framework includes a section on self-assessment to help PAIBs identify any skill gaps they may have either in their current role or the position they aspire to, as well as to take into account any performance feedback they may have received from their employer or customers, and whether they have any gaps in the relevant statutory and legal requirements for a CPA. It also helps them to understand and prepare for any future changes that are expected, such as new regulatory requirements or professional standards, or the impact technology is likely to have on the profession.
Leung thinks this aspect is very important. “As accountants, we have multiple career prospects, for example, we can go into management accounting and corporate finance. I think the framework can develop our members’ skillset. Whether they are management, senior management or supervisor-level, the framework can help them develop,” she says.
Once they have completed the self-assessment, PAIBs are encouraged to take action to fill gaps through looking for one of the Institute’s CPD courses.
Yeung thinks the framework can be particularly beneficial for the Institute’s younger members. She explains that, many accountants start off in professional practice but once they have qualified and transition to a business, it is more difficult for them to gain direction on the training they need. “At the firms, we receive a lot of guidance and training, so we don’t have to worry about CPD but once you join the commercial side, you suddenly find that you don’t have any guidelines. The framework provides a good platform for younger members to find direction,” she says. Cheung agrees: “When they move out of professional practice, we hope the framework will be a much easier way for them to understand where the Institute will come in for their professional development later on,” she says.
The PAIB Committee hopes the framework will act as a guide for companies and organizations to set up their own training for employees. Ng says the framework should help to shape the expectations of management, as well as enabling them to better define the roles and responsibilities of accountants and the contributions they can make.
Wong points out that the Institute’s framework can be used by companies to create their own frameworks or to identify skill gaps in their employees. “Having something established is a good starting point,” he says. There are also resources to help organizations evaluate their own finance function against IFAC’s vision.
Cheung hopes the framework will act as a catalyst to encourage companies to place more emphasis on identifying and filling skill gaps among their accounting employees. “We developed the Mentorship Programme a few years ago and one piece of feedback we got from fellow members was that because of the Institute pushing its Mentorship Programme, individual firms and small- and medium-sized practitioners had decided that they should push their own programmes. We hope the PAIB framework will act as a push as well,” she says.
Evolving with the times
The PAIB Committee was very deliberate in its selection of the word “framework” for the initiative, believing this choice enabled it to be more flexible. It also stressed that the framework is not something that is fixed, but rather something that will need to be revised at intervals in response to changes and developments in the field. “We hope to refine the framework and develop it as time goes on and with input from members and organizations as they use it,” Cheung says.
She notes that the role of accounting professionals has expanded significantly over time, from being largely focused on reporting and taxation in the past, to now playing a significant part in shaping business strategy and the framework must be agile enough to be able to respond to these changes.
“We hope to refine the framework and develop it as time goes on and with input from members and organizations as they use it.”
Wong agrees. He points out that 30 years ago, the career path of an accountant was a lot more structured than it is today. “I think the framework gives members the tools to think about what they want to do. The profession is more dynamic than in the past,” he says. “Things change very quickly, and all accounting and finance functions change over time. The skills people will need to move up in a company could be very different in a couple of years’ time. When I was young, everyone talked about journal entry, nowadays no one does that because everything is put in the system automatically.”
Ng points out that another area of accounting that has evolved significantly in recent years is corporate governance. “Ten years ago, we never talked about green financing. As an accountant at a big company you need to do a lot in this area now, even at smaller companies, the whole market is pushing in that direction and it is evolving as well,” he says.
Digital transformation and new technologies, such as big data and artificial intelligence (AI), are also expected to have a significant impact on the role of accountants. “We can use AI to do some of the tedious work so that we can focus more on the analysis and the management skills,” Yeung says. “But we will need to develop the skill set to use this technology in our profession.” Wong agrees, pointing out that the Institute has a responsibility to show the public that it is leading in these new areas, and this will be reflected in the framework.
Although the framework was only launched in November 2019, initial feedback has been positive. Cheung says: “It gives people a much more useful framework. We have so many online courses and so much face-to-face training, there is a wealth of resources available and this helps to inform what people use.”
Wong is keen to see members making greater use of the framework now that it has launched. “We want to make it more popular and we really want members to use it,” he says. The PAIB Committee is also keen to receive feedback from members on the framework. “The most important thing is that they give us feedback if they think something is missing or if something is insufficient,” Wong says. “Getting the framework is the first stage, and we will develop programmes to ensure that our members are able to develop the skills they need.”
Are you using the framework to guide your development? If so, and you have any feedback on the framework, please email email@example.com
The Institute has significant resources to help members ensure their skills and knowledge remain up to date. All members are required to complete 120 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) every three years, with a minimum of 20 hours to be completed each year.
To help members meet this requirement, the Institute offers over 300 face-to-face events a year, and 500 online courses.
There is also a range of specialist training programmes in areas such as financial controllership, insolvency and taxation. CPD is not limited to attending courses and seminars and sitting professional exams, but also extends to speaking at seminars and writing technical articles and papers. Reading A Plus also counts towards non-verifiable CPD hours. It is up to individual members to use their professional judgement to decide what type of CPD activities they should undertake, highlighting the important role of the Professional Development Framework for PAIBs in helping them identify the areas in which they need to develop their knowledge, professional skills and professional values, with reference to both their current and future work.
K.M. Wong, Chief Financial Officer at Hong Kong Electric Investments and Chairman of the Institute’s Professional Development Committee, says: “We have a high number of courses that we run to help our members. The framework will help members understand how to link it all together, and how building up their CPD, can be powerful.”