Accountants regularly make a positive impact across different sectors. The benefits to society as a whole can be subtle to the casual observer, and to some members of the professions, the sense of purpose that comes with the work uncovers itself over time. But for Roy Leung, the new President of the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs, accounting as a pathway to a meaningful career was immediately clear.
“The purpose attracted me,” says Leung. “It might not be very obvious, but the fact is the profession has contributed a lot to enhancing Hong Kong as an international financial centre. With high quality reporting, you help direct relevant resources to the best performing businesses. You help investors identify the best businesses to invest in, and for those businesses that have the potential, they have the opportunity to further their journey and succeed.”
Bringing the accounting profession’s deeper purpose and value to the wider public consciousness – as well as to CPAs themselves – is hugely important to Leung, and ties in with what he says are the Institute’s current three focus areas: member support and engagement; nurturing the next generation of accountants; and branding and communication.
With the first year since the further regulatory reform of the profession, and the Institute’s 50th anniversary celebrations having just concluded, Leung says it is now the perfect time to cement the Institute’s redefined role and ramp up efforts around those three themes.
“In the past two years, we had great leadership by the Immediate Past President, Loretta Fong, during a difficult period – the fight against COVID-19, the disruptions to both the Institute’s activities and our members’ day-to-day business. Significant time was also spent facilitating the transition of the Institute’s regulatory functions. With all of that being history, it’s a great opportunity for us to reinforce a mindset change towards focusing more on members,” he says.
“I can already feel the very strong support of our Council members. They have a lot of drive to join in on the different activities, and that gives me a lot of encouragement and
Leung, Partner and Head of Public Affairs, Hong Kong at KPMG, has served on the Institute’s Council since 2018. He says he is keen to make use of the experience he gained from those six years to lead the Institute in continuing to develop the accounting profession of Hong Kong. Leung also stresses the point that it’s not just about him. “It is the Institute management and the whole Council. I’ve been in this role for about a month, but I can already feel the very strong support of our Council members. They have a lot of drive to join in on the different activities, and that gives me a lot of encouragement and empowerment.”
A much-discussed issue troubling the Institute is the shortage of staff within the profession in Hong Kong. Leung brings up one statistic – that 62 percent of professional accountants in practice, or PAIPs, indicate junior level job positions as the most difficult to recruit, according to the Institute’s recent survey. “It just tells you how important it is for us to, first of all, attract young talent to join the profession and, secondly, to retain them. This is obviously a very important role of the Institute,” he says.
To take a closer look at the talent supply within the Hong Kong profession and explore potential solutions to attract talent, the Institute conducted a members’ survey from late November to early December 2023. Based on the findings, the Institute came up with several proposals to address the talent shortage, which will be brought to the government, Leung says. “We’ll also be sharing with our members the ways in which the Institute is trying to help them overcome this challenge,” he adds.
The Institute is advocating for three measures: including the accounting profession in the government’s “Talent List”; initiatives to attract more talents from the Greater Bay Area; and subsidies for Mainland China students pursuing the Institute’s Qualification Programme.
Leung says that while these initiatives will help speed up the process of filling vacancies, other initiatives set up by the Institute are taking place which are more long-term and emphasize communication. An example is the Experiential Business Learning Programme, which Leung initiated as Vice President two years ago. The programme offers training as well as internships with small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) to university students in Hong Kong. “It’s really about enhancing communications with students and universities,” he says. “I was pleased to receive very good feedback from both the students and the employers. We managed to recruit close to 100 people last year for our SMPs,” Leung recalls.
Students are not just taught about audit and accounting but also hear directly from Institute members working in different areas of the profession about the value of what they do, Leung explains. “We’ll be doing more of these. We have started similar activities with secondary school students because we would like to have high quality secondary school students who are thinking about their future careers to at least know what accounting is,” he says. “It’s still not very clear to the general public what accountants do in addition to accounting and auditing. All of these activities aim to showcase that it’s not just about numbers. It’s about businesses, technology, communication, and more.”
While attracting talent is one aspect, retaining talent is another. To Leung, the “purpose” and meaning of the job is important to the younger generation, and this must be acknowledged by recruiters and the profession as a whole. “This reiterates the importance of showcasing our value, for example in the areas of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability, through the Institute’s branding and communication,” he says.
Leung thinks more focus should also go into bolstering the Institute’s network of young members, with more enticing activities and services. “Cross-professional activities are most welcomed by our members. They treasure the opportunity to mingle and to expand their network outside the profession.” Enhancing communication between younger members and more experienced members could also be beneficial, he notes. “We’ve always had our Mentorship Programme, but I think we could explore more opportunities and ideas. For example, would career planning activities be appealing for younger members?”
With the Institute having 18,776 young members, as of 15 January, accounting for 39 percent of the overall membership, Leung wants to see more work being done around engaging with this member segment. “Young members are a really important asset to the profession. One thing which I have always thought about is, ‘How can we make sure we have our young members participate in most of our events?’ Young members make up a big proportion of membership. We should be thinking about whether there is enough participation by young members in activities. If not, why not, and how we can enhance that going forward.”
While, naturally, accountants talk about ESG and sustainability predominantly in terms of reporting, audit and assurance, Leung emphasizes that there is much more to it than simply those things, and therefore many opportunities for accountants to play a key role.
“It’s really about the long-term plan for an organization to achieve ESG goals and to remain sustainable. With that you have the ESG or sustainability strategy setting, and the company would have to monitor adherence to the plan, and identify and manage risks from an ESG perspective. So it’s not just reporting, it’s about the whole ESG journey, and if you look at the role of an accountant, we are already involved in every part of it – we have accountants acting as business advisors or involved in the strategic direction of a board,” says Leung. “With that, there’s a lot of opportunity for our members.”
“It’s not just reporting, it’s about the whole ESG journey, and if you look at the role of an accountant, we are already involved in every part of it – we have accountants acting as
business advisors or involved in the strategic direction of a board.”
Helping members seize these opportunities for development is a priority for the Institute, especially as it is pressing on with its role as Hong Kong’s statutory sustainability standard setter. It will not just be setting sustainability and climate disclosures for the city, says Leung. “Our role will also be about communicating with our members and the general public what those standards mean. And then as part of a standard setting protocol, we do have to engage with both the users and also the preparers of the information,” he says.
Leung also points out that the Institute has been and will continue developing initiatives for building members’ capacity, and part of that are the various continuing professional development programmes, which have covered the latest topics related to ESG and sustainability.
Another way the Institute can help members capture the opportunities is by creating ways for members to connect with businesses, says Leung. “We could collaborate with other professional bodies or business chambers on an event or a professional development programme on sustainability or ESG reporting, to promote why accountants are most suited to help with a company’s ESG journey.”
Having been chairman of the Institute’s Professional Development Committee (PDC) in the last two years, Leung has a good idea of what it takes to be a good accountant today. “Compared to my time as a young accountant, the skill sets required of our members are now more diverse. To be a good accountant, you have to have good skills in technology, and in ESG and sustainability. So with my experience as chairman of the PDC and current role as President, I think a lot of focus has to be on these emerging themes when driving members’ development,” he says.
To provide better support for members when it comes to technology, the Institute recently conducted research on technology adoption among SMPs. Leung says it was important to understand the current state of play, and the challenges faced by the profession, in order to see the different roles the Institute can play.
One key role is as an advocator for the betterment of the profession, says Leung. “As set out in our report, we advocate for additional funding from government to support SMPs to further their journey in digital transformation.”
On the training and member development side, Leung recognizes that the Institute has done a significant amount of work building up awareness, by organizing training and seminars on a range of key topics such as cryptocurrencies, blockchain and artificial intelligence. He now wants to move on to the next level. “Going forward, we’d like to focus on having more use-cases for members. What does a particular piece of technology development mean to our members? And how can they make use of technology in their own business to improve efficiency?”
Leung reminisces about the time he was first elected as a Council member in December 2017. While he had a clear understanding of the role and responsibilities, he never imagined he would gain so much. “Honestly speaking, if I look back at the past six years, I learned a lot more than I expected. As a Council member, and now as President, you get to see how the different segments of our membership think about a particular issue or a particular piece of communication from the Institute. You get to learn about the different needs and perspectives of the different areas of the profession. So it gives you a broader view of what something means to the society at large.”
Members return to his mind when asked about his most fulfilling career moments. “Moments when members share good feedback, for example when they came up to me and said they really treasured the Experiential Business Learning Programme, are really fulfilling for me, knowing that I was able to help them.”
Leung also values opportunities to speak to members, and has been a speaker at seminars for numerous years. “For me, it’s not just about sharing accounting knowledge. It’s also good hearing the questions raised by members as this allows you to understand what their challenges are. It could be the lack of staff or lack of technical knowledge. Then you can bring this to the Institute and Council and see how we can help support our members.” Leung says the Institute will do more to enhance engagement with members and to encourage members’ participation in Institute events and affairs.
With Leung’s schedule often packed with both Institute and firm-related meetings, he is often thinking about how to strike a balance between work and being a present parent. Leung, dad to an 11-year-old boy, prioritizes spending any free time he has with family. He particularly loves playing badminton with his son. “I like to really plan out my time, even if it means reorganizing my schedule and spreading things out. Having your Monday or Friday lunches full of appointments isn’t too difficult, and this allows me to reserve some time for family,” he says.
Leung admits that he hasn’t yet pushed the idea of an accounting career to his son, believing it to be pointless. “What a CPA would look like 10 years from now is probably something I can’t imagine right now. But I do try to make sure that he’s well equipped with the skill sets needed to play a significant role in the future environment. And then it will be up to him. But obviously, out of my self-interest, I would very much like him to be an accountant.”
According to findings from the Institute’s recent survey on talent supply in the accounting profession, 61 percent of the respondents ranked the extent of talent shortage impact at 7 or above (where 1 represents no impact and 10 indicates severe adverse effects), with 25 percent of them indicating a rating of 9 or above.