In an increasingly complex business world, there is a growing trend for accountants to become more specialized, points out Guy Norman CPA, Partner, Deloitte Advisory, and Convenor of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs’ Forensics Interest Group Management Committee. “To have these specialisms properly supported by education programmes, not only enables accountants who specialize to do so with credibility and qualifications, but it keeps standards high for the profession and the wider business community,” he says.
This is, in part, why the Institute established its five specialist training programmes. “The Institute’s specialist training programmes provide an opportunity for members to acquire in-depth training and knowledge in specific areas, such as liquidation, taxation and financial controllership, at a more advanced level than what is required to pass its Qualification Programme (QP),” says Stephen Lee FCPA, Course Director of the Specialist Programmes in Taxation.
The course directors: (From left) Mat Ng FCPA, Professional Diploma in Insolvency; Gloria Yung FCPA, Financial Controllership Programme; Stephen Lee FCPA, Specialist Programmes in Taxation; Guy Norman CPA, Professional Enhancement Programme in Forensic Accounting; and Wiley Pun CPA, Business Valuation Programme.
In some cases, such as for insolvency and business valuations, where there is no statutory licensing regime, completing one of the programmes acts as a benchmark for professional competency. Wiley Pun CPA, Director, Savills Valuation and Professional Services Limited, says the Institute is considered by many people to be the gold standard in specialist training programme providers, and completing one of its courses can be seen as an entry ticket when pitching for a project in the absence of other licensing requirements.
He points out that the specialist training programmes should not only be taken by CPAs who work in the particular field they cover, but also those in general practice. “Today’s CPAs need a big toolbox given the diversity of matters they may need to deal with. Completing a specialist training programme can be a handy tool for a generalist member when the situation demands it.”
Mat Ng FCPA, Managing Director, Grant Thornton Recovery and Reorganization Limited, and Course Director of the Institute’s Professional Diploma in Insolvency, adds that members should also continue to invest in themselves and consider taking one of the programmes to keep their knowledge up to date in line with recent developments.
The Institute’s Financial Controllership Programme (FCP) provides participants with insights into the work of a financial controller and how to add value to a business. It covers the core technical knowledge and skills accountants need to work as a chief financial officer, finance director or regional or global treasurer.
Gloria Yung FCPA, Course Director of the FCP, explains: “It is the ideal programme for accounting professionals who want to evolve their career from working at a firm in taxation or audit, to a commercial environment. It is also aimed at existing financial controllers who want to refresh their skills or take their career to the next level.”
The programme has five core modules, three of which cover accounting for performance and decision making, strategic finance, and risk management and corporate governance. Another module looks at management competency development, covering the soft skills needed by someone in a financial controller position, such as leadership and communication skills, while the fifth module focuses on business ethics, highlighting the important role a financial controller plays in setting the culture and code of ethics in a company.
Yung explains that the programme is structured to offer comprehensive coverage of all of the main areas in which a financial controller needs to be competent, while it is also flexible, enabling people who are unable to complete the whole course in one year to instead do it as individual modules.
She points out that the instructors all come from industry backgrounds, enabling them to pass on their personal professional experience to people taking the programme. “The market is changing very quickly, but the instructors are able to give candidates up-to-date, first-hand market intelligence,” she says. “The programme is very interactive, involving a lot of discussions with other students and the instructors themselves. It gives students a real insight into what the day-to-day work of a financial controller is like, and enables them to build up a good network.”
The Institute launched the programme in response to market demand and to create an avenue for CPAs who want to move their careers away from working at a professional firm and instead become a financial controller or equivalent professional.
The programme fills an important gap in the market, says Yung. “There is no other programme in Hong Kong that is so comprehensive and practical that brings CPAs up to the level of a CFO,” she says.
“We select very high-quality speakers, industry leaders who are either insolvency practitioners or lawyers, to share their experience with students.”
As Hong Kong has no formal licensing scheme for insolvency practitioners, the Institute launched its insolvency programmes to ensure high standards among its professionals working in this area. It offers three separate insolvency training courses, namely Insolvency Preparatory I and Insolvency Preparatory II, which lead up to the Professional Diploma in Insolvency – the Institute’s Specialist Qualification for insolvency practitioners.
While the Professional Diploma in Insolvency was launched some time ago, a number of structural changes have recently been made to it to reflect the changing professional environment. Course Director Ng says: “It covers all aspects of the work undertaken by an insolvency practitioner, including liquidation, personal insolvency, corporate rescue and restructuring, and cross-border insolvencies, as well as the relevant legal concepts and ethics.” He adds that the first lecture of the diploma is on ethics due to the strong emphasis the programme places on high ethical standards for insolvency practitioners.
The diploma, which consists of 56 contact hours, is taught using real-life examples and case studies. “We select very high-quality speakers, industry leaders who are either insolvency practitioners or lawyers, to share their experience with students,” he says. “We try to ensure that in each session there is one accountant and one lawyer, or someone from the Official Receiver’s Office or a bank to share their expertise.”
He adds that students are not only able to learn from the experience of these lecturers, but the programme also creates a good networking opportunity for them.
Ng believes taking the programme can help CPAs advance their career through obtaining a specialist qualification that is recognized by the market. “By completing this difficult course, you show an employer that you have a high level of problem-solving skills, and it demonstrates that you are up-to-date with recent developments in the legal environment and in insolvency practice. More importantly it shows your commitment to the industry.”
He adds that completing the diploma counts as contributing 50 hours of insolvency work under the experience requirement for the Official Receiver’s Office’s Panel A Scheme. “Doing the insolvency diploma can help accountants advance their career or improve their business in a very practical way by helping them get on to the Official Receiver’s panel,” Ng says.
Unsurprisingly, there is high demand for the programme, particularly as the volume of insolvency work is increasing, due to the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The diploma course is aimed at accountants and lawyers who want to move into insolvency, as well as those who want to refresh their knowledge, or advance in their career. In the past, it has also been taken by people working in government departments and professionals from financial institutions and banks, particularly those who deal with loan defaults.
The diploma course is open to both members and non-members who have at least 24 months’ relevant experience or who have completed the Institute’s Insolvency Preparatory II course. “It is a very high-level, demanding course, so students must have relevant experience. For those thinking of moving into insolvency, the programme will give them a clear picture of what it is like. For those already in this area, it will give them the skills and perspective to consider cases in a much broader way,” Ng says.
The Institute’s Specialist Programmes in Taxation are aimed at members who want to increase their tax knowledge and practical experience in a field as rapidly-changing as tax.
Course Director Lee explains that in the past, qualified accountants who were interested in pursuing a career as a tax advisor relied on self-learning, continuing professional development (CPD) events, seminars and conferences to acquire the relevant knowledge.
The Institute launched its two tax diplomas in 2012 in order to offer a more systematic way of acquiring the in-depth knowledge taxation advisors required. Lee says: “Over time, taxation has developed into many different specialty areas, like transfer pricing, transaction services, advocacy, and investigation etc. There is also demand for international taxation experts. Accountants with advanced taxation knowledge are the ideal choice for clients needing such services.”
Lee points out that proficient tax advisors in Hong Kong not only need to be knowledgeable about Hong Kong taxation, but they also need to understand international and China taxation, due to Hong Kong’s role as a gateway for international companies moving into Mainland China, and Chinese companies going out into the rest of the world. As a result, the Specialist Programmes in Taxation are built around three core tax modules, namely its Advanced Hong Kong Tax Course, China Tax Course and International Tax Course, as well as a workshop on ethics. Students can choose between the Professional Diploma in Hong Kong Tax and the Professional Diploma in China Tax, both of which include modules on international tax and ethics.
Members who do not want to do complete a whole diploma can attend any one of the three tax modules as part of their CPD.
The modules are delivered through workshops, followed by tutorials run by facilitators from professional, commercial or academic backgrounds to enable the sharing of practical experience. Lee says the workshops make the Institute’s programmes stand out from other purely academic courses and online programmes. “Students are able to gain a full picture of different topics during the workshops and then apply what they learned in the tutorial sessions. Discussions with classmates and the facilitators during the tutorial sessions enable them to understand the topic from different angles,” he says.
The programme is only open to Institute members. Students wanting to take the Advanced Hong Kong Tax Course are also required to have completed module D taxation of the Institute’s QP. Lee adds that practical experience is also highly desirable, and preference may be given to applicants who have experience or who are members of the Institute’s Taxation Faculty.
The programme has had consistently high feedback from students, receiving an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 since it was first launched. “Members of the Institute who wish to extend and advance their tax knowledge and practical experience to become competent tax advisors in an increasingly complex business environment should consider taking the Specialist Programmes in Taxation,” Lee says.
“There is also demand for international taxation experts. Accountants with advanced taxation knowledge are the ideal choice for clients needing such services.”
Business valuation is of paramount importance in today’s financial reporting landscape, and accountants in both business and practice need to acquire knowledge in this area to know how to understand, review and interpret business valuation reports, according to Pun, Course Director of the new Business Valuation Programme.
He says that changes, such as the introduction of International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) 13 Fair Value Measurement, and IFRS 9 Financial Instruments, has led to an increased need for valuers on both the preparer and reviewer side. At the same time, there is also a growing demand for valuers to act as advisors on how to increase a company’s value.
But Pun points out that there is no qualification requirement for a practising business valuer in Hong Kong in connection with financial reporting engagements or public filing purposes. As a result, the Institute launched its new Business Valuation Programme, in collaboration with Savills Valuation and Professional Services (S) Pte Limited, earlier this year to fill a gap in the market.
The programme is divided into four parts. The first two parts cover the fundamentals of valuation and the three primary valuation approaches, namely the market, income and cost approaches. The third part covers major financial reporting valuation areas, such as purchase price allocation, intangible asset valuation and asset impairment. There are also a number of electives covering the valuation of financial instruments, biological assets, properties, and plant and equipment. The final part of the programme covers the application of what students have learned through looking at three case studies.
Pun says the programme incorporates International Valuation Standards (IVS), the most frequently cited standards for business valuations after IFRS, which are not taught to students during the Institute’s QP.
The programme is not only aimed at CPAs who want to work as business valuers, but also users of business valuation reports, including audit professionals, directors of boards, preparers of financial statements, and fund managers. “This programme can give participants the tools to assess valuations more systematically,” Pun says.
The programme has proved to be highly popular. When it ran for the first time in April to June this year, it received more than 100 enrolments. Around 70 percent of respondents who completed the post-course survey rated it as being excellent or good.
The Institute’s Forensics Interest Group launched the Professional Enhancement Programme in Forensic Accounting earlier this year in response to increasing demand for forensic accounting and fraud investigation-related work. It is the first time the Institute has offered a formal programme in forensics.
Norman explains: “We were keen to have a programme that would enhance learning, standards and quality in forensic accounting in Hong Kong. This city is a leading financial centre, and the Institute is a leading accounting association, so the long-term goal is to have our own forensic accounting qualification programme. This introductory course is the beginning of that.”
The course is run as eight training sessions, around two hours each. It covers investigations, interviewing witnesses, securing evidence, the technology used in forensic accounting, giving expert witness testimony, and the basic structure of international legal systems where forensic accountants are needed for proceedings. “The course offers an introduction to forensic accounting, not just in terms of accounts and numbers, but we also have two leading lawyers who give us a good understanding of the basic structure of international and Hong Kong legal systems, and where forensic accountants fit in,” Norman explains.
“We were keen to have a programme that would enhance learning, standards and quality in forensic accounting in Hong Kong.”
The course is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, ranging from first and second year trainees who want a good foundation in forensic accounting, to those who have five or six years’ experience in the area and want to refresh their skills. It is open to all Institute members and members of the Forensics Interest Group.
Norman says: “It sometimes isn’t that easy to get into forensic accounting. I think this course will be a great enabler for people who want to get involved to do so with credibility, or to change gear in their career, whether within an accounting practice or for members in business who want to focus on something interesting.”
He adds that there is high demand in the market for people with forensic accounting skills. Take up of the programme has been strong, with more than 120 people signing up for the first course that ran in March and April, leading to a second course being offered this September. “We definitely see it filling a gap in the Hong Kong market and there is an obvious need for it. It is a very good way for practitioners to start off developing a specialism,” he says.
To anyone thinking of taking one of the Institute’s specialist training programmes, Pun says they act like a “coat of arms” for practice, signalling a level of ability, seriousness and sincerity in committing to the field. Lee agrees, saying: “These programmes are a reliable and objective yardstick for measuring members’ expertise in these specialty areas.”