Gary Poon, member of the Institute’s Community Services Working Group and Partner of Poon & Co., on how CPAs can give back to the community using accounting and related expertise
Like other Accountant Ambassadors, I have had the opportunity to make a difference in the society through the “CPA for NGO” programme, the Institute’s flagship social responsibility initiative. As an Accountant Ambassador, I conducted seminars and workshops, provided pro-bono advisory services and visited executive boards to advocate good corporate governance and best governance practices to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The following are some tips for members considering getting involved in such programmes, and supporting the community.
Align objectives and understand needs
It is imperative to first align the objectives of community service projects with your own. If you are not committed or passionate about these projects, the standard of the community services can be compromised.
If you are giving a talk, remember that the seminar topic should be relevant to the target audience group. Whether you are talking to accounting and finance staff or board members, your seminar should be tailored to meet their needs. The former group tends to look for more in-depth coverage of the technical aspects of the topics, while the latter group expects more high-level coverage of the topics at the executive level.
Collect information in advance from the recipients in order to reduce expectation gaps.
Be prepared, professional and patient
Similar to your professional work, preparation before seminars and meetings with the recipients is critical. Sufficient understanding and research on the relevant professional standards and publications, regulations, best practices and common application issues are all vital to the successes of these community services. Despite the pro-bono nature of these community services, people expect high-quality professional advice from accountants, and for CPAs to offer different options, make recommendations and ultimately solve the identified problems.
During the pilot-run of the pro-bono advisory service offered to a selected group of NGOs in 2017, teamwork among accountants within the teams of three and preparation between the several meetings were critical.
With the majority of the target groups being non-accountants and with different backgrounds, staying patient is key. Using layman’s terms and stepping into the shoes of the recipients can help you to communicate more effectively in these community service projects.
“Using layman’s terms and stepping into the shoes of the recipients can help you to communicate more effectively in these community service projects.”
Manage risks and liabilities
If consulted on issues you are not familiar with, it is advisable to carry out further research, and respond later than to give the wrong advice too soon while under pressure. Nevertheless, we should remind ourselves of the areas where we do not possess sufficient expertise to provide professional advice, and understand our own limitations.
In some cases, recipients may ask for advice on areas that go beyond the scope and objectives of the projects. Knowing and communicating how to distinguish between advice expected from professional accountants and routine work performed by, for example, the employees of the NGO, can be helpful in managing expectations.
As Institute members, integrity and ethical standards should be maintained at the highest level when taking part in these projects. Possible oversights that can be prevented include charging fees after providing community services without going through the appropriate procurement procedures, such as quotations and tendering where applicable, and organizing community service projects during office hours without getting prior permission from the recipients’ employers.
Other than the Institute’s main social responsibility programmes of “CPA for NGO” and “Rich Kid, Poor Kid,” the Institute’s free public advisory service scheme can give members further opportunities to give back to the community. Duty Accountant Ambassadors have the chance to not only meet people from the general public face-to-face and advise them on their financial-related issues, but also witness first-hand how their knowledge and expertise can truly make a difference to people’s lives.