Bernice Chan CPA

Bernice Chan CPA is Assistant Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, a leading tertiary institution for the performing arts in Asia. She shares how the pandemic pushed her out of her comfort zone

What have been the three biggest lessons in your career so far?

They’re related to what I call the three Ps. The first is “people.” Dealing with different people through good interpersonal skills is important, particularly when you work in the finance function of a non-profit. There are six schools under the academy, representing different art forms, and we have to communicate with each of them regularly on the financial resources available and manage their expectations. The second “P” is “problem-solving.” It’s important to see challenges as a learning experience. The last one is “passion.” If you’re not passionate about your role or the industry you’re in, then you won’t be proactive. I have to be proactive, which means planning ahead and being committed to the academy’s mission of promoting arts and culture in Hong Kong.

What attracted you to the role?

Before joining the academy in 2015, I was working as head of human resources for a non-governmental organization. I was looking through the South China Morning Post, checking that our job ad was there, then I spotted the job ad for bursar at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. I was interested in it so, just to see what would happen, I sent my CV. During the interview, I told the director that I didn’t know anything about the performing arts, but he said I had passion and that’s what matters. Now I love classical music. One piece that I remember deeply captivating me was The Swan, composed by Camille Saint-Saëns, and performed by Professor Ray Wang, an internationally renowned cellist, in 2017 at Hong Kong City Hall. Since hearing that, I’ve been in love with the sound of the cello.

In what ways has your CPA qualification helped you in your career?

It has helped me significantly. During job interviews, my qualification conveyed a message of trust. Those hiring knew that I have the competency and training needed for the job, and a high standard of professionalism. I think the branding of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs is very important for every member.

In what ways did you help the institution deal with the pandemic?

Last year, as well as being CFO, I had to deal with the campus facilities management and the infection control measures. There were many small things that we had to stay on top of. I remember looking for masks became a 24-hour job because Hong Kong was struggling with a mask shortage, and my department had to make sure we had enough for staff and students when they returned to school. The challenge was less about managing the financial resources to support this unexpected situation, but more about the simultaneous decisions I had to make on logistics, remote access to computers and IT security.

How do you view Hong Kong’s current performing arts landscape? 

What I’ve learned from the six schools is that Hong Kong really is a dynamic and diverse cultural city. There’s this unique intersection between eastern and western culture here that you don’t find elsewhere. At the academy, we have Chinese opera, which is completely taught in Cantonese or Mandarin, and we have classical music, which is taught in English. Hong Kong, however, is not so much known for its arts. It’s not that we don’t have the talent, it’s just that it’s not being put under the spotlight. Students in our junior programme are so good that the world’s top music schools, like The Juilliard School and The Curtis Institute of Music, offer them full scholarships. I think we can do more to let people know that our students are on that level.

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