Despite not having an accounting degree, Kelvin Ng enrolled himself in the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs’ Qualification Programme (QP), assured that the programme would provide him with a solid foundation in the subject – as well as a diverse set of technical and soft skills – to one day become a CPA. “I enrolled in the QP because I felt that even though I was gaining a bit of finance and accounting knowledge on the job, I didn’t feel well prepared,” says Ng, who is a Senior Analyst at Bank of China Group Investment Limited.
Ng is among the second batch of students to enrol in the Institute’s new QP and experience the programme’s newly introduced Associate Level modules. Having taken the first five modules so far, he has scored the highest exam scores in three of them – Module 1 Accounting, Module 2 Management Accounting and Module 3 Business Economics.
(First row from left) Tiffany Yip, Angel Lam, (Second row, from left) Kelvin Ng and Kelvin Li.
For more than two decades, the Institute’s QP has helped to train and nurture young professionals to become CPAs in Hong Kong. Its latest iteration launched in December last year starting with its Associate Level, followed by the Professional Level in June, and its Capstone Level will commence in December. Its Associate Level and 10 modules are the new QP’s biggest change as it offers an opportunity for students with different educational backgrounds, including sub-degree holders and non-accounting majors, to gain fundamental knowledge before moving on to the Professional Level. The Professional Level’s four modules, Module 11 Financial Reporting, Module 12 Business Finance, Module 13 Business Assurance and Module 14 Taxation, are based on the previously sat four modules, and are designed for students with an accounting background, such as those who studied accounting in university. Students are provided with a “learning pack” or course materials to prepare for each module. Each module consists of lectures from experienced facilitators, while modules in the Professional Level include workshops. To graduate from the QP, students will need to complete the programme’s Capstone Level, which consists of three-day workshops and a four-hour final exam.
What struck Ng the most wasn’t his top marks, but how well structured and informative the Associate Level modules are, especially for those who enrolled with limited accounting knowledge like himself. “I can already say I have the skills to explain to someone what accounting really is, and the key aspects of my job in the accounting process,” Ng says, adding that despite having to study the QP modules online, that the learning materials have helped him greatly. “I’ve been learning through the e-textbook provided by the Institute and taken mock exams through its website. Still, the course materials were very rich in content – I was very impressed. It’s been both convenient and a practical path to take.”
Ng, who majored in Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, now works in his company’s accounting department and is involved in the treasury function of the company. He says he found the management accounting module to be the most helpful so far. “This module taught me how to systematically look at a company’s financials,” he notes. “My duty is to raise funds for the company. This requires me to understand the company’s annual reports and explain some of the figures to external parties, such as other banks and investors, and why we issue bonds in the market. So the module has helped me to understand the working nature of the company’s business and how it is performing, which is a very important aspect of my role.”
The Associate Level also prepares professionals with the ability to make strides in today’s increasingly digital and technology-driven workplace, adds Ng, through Module 5 Information Management. “The content in the module was very up to date; it covered big data, artificial intelligence and their uses in the real world. I did not expect to learn this at all,” he says. “I imagine many young accountants have little exposure to this at work, so it has been extremely beneficial.” Indeed, the knowledge he has gained from this module has already proven useful for Ng. “We are working on a new system that will link up all accounting information with the treasury function. Relying on these IT systems will speed up routine jobs and automate many finance and accounting functions, so knowledge in this area has been helpful, especially in my role now.”
While Ng is aware that the nature of his role provided him with a slight advantage in understanding the modules, he says students of all educational backgrounds will be able to benefit from the QP’s Associate Level modules, and should start by setting aside time to read through the learning outcomes of each one. “This will help you understand the importance of each one and what you can expect to learn,” he explains. “When I started studying for the management accounting module, I actually knew it would prepare me for the accounting module as well, because they are interlinked. These two have to be learned together, so you won’t get confused when taking the next module. This will help the learning process and help you to understand accounting more logically.”
With plans to complete the last five modules and their exams in the December Examination Session and then take on the Professional Level modules after, Ng deeply appreciates both the knowledge and direction the QP has given him so far. “I now have a clearer picture of my career path, what I’m going to be, and the key abilities that I will gain through the whole programme,” he says. “It has prepared me for the next step, which is, of course, becoming a CPA.”
“I can already say I have the skills to explain to someone what accounting really is, and the key aspects of my job in the accounting process.”
Kelvin Ng (left) was the top scorer for Module 1 Accounting, Module 2 Management Accounting and Module 3 Business Economics; and Tiffany Yip (right) scored the highest marks in Module 11 Financial Reporting, at the June 2021 session.
Tiffany Yip says the QP’s content-rich modules and interactive workshops provide students like herself with a strong foundation of accounting and financial knowledge, as well as the effective interpersonal and communication skills to excel in their careers. “It’s a programme that went beyond my expectations,” says Yip, Associate at PwC’s Financial Services Assurance team. Yip, who completed the business assurance and taxation modules of the previous QP last year, enrolled in Module 11 Financial Reporting and Module 12 Business Finance in June and scored the highest marks in the financial reporting module exam.
Yip is most proud of how she applies her newfound knowledge in the workplace. One of the most unique and valuable aspects of the QP, she says, is its workshops, which offer students the opportunity to practice what they have learned in the lessons, and for facilitators to see where they need to improve on. “At first, I thought workshops would involve just sitting and listening to the facilitators, but it’s far from that. There are numerous interactive group discussions, case studies and debates,” she says, noting that the workshops encourage students to learn by engaging with each other to take on simulated scenarios.
Yip, who entered the QP with around two years of auditing experience, was pleasantly surprised at how the workshops thoroughly cover real-world situations. “For the Module 11 workshop, we did a case study as a group on Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standard (HKFRS) 16 Leases and HKFRS 3 Business Combinations where we learned how to do consolidation entries. This is something CPAs will actually face at work,” Yip explains. “When I have to audit a group company, for example, I need to consolidate the financial figures of the parent company and its subsidiary into a single set of financial statements. And when I calculate lease payments, I need to understand how to account for right of use assets and lease liabilities.”
Workshops also see students taking turns to present their findings after each case study to the rest of the class. “The facilitators help by questioning our answers and suggest new perspectives when we discuss case studies. It helps all students to think deeper,” Yip says. “You really get a chance to exchange ideas with group mates. I gained a better business mindset and better critical thinking skills from these workshops.”
She reminds students to make full use of each workshop by arriving prepared. “Students should complete any relevant learning materials before the QP workshops. During workshops, you really have to force yourself to join in the group discussions. They will help you identify any gaps you have in your knowledge,” she says.
“The facilitators help by questioning our answers and suggest new perspectives when we discuss case studies.”
Planning ahead of time
To get the most out of the QP, students should dedicate time to intense studying, says Kelvin Li, Compliance Officer at UBS Bank. Since QP students are also working full time, he says being able to manage one’s time throughout the entire process will be key to gaining the most knowledge from the programme and passing the exam.
Li, who recalls working as fast as he could during the Module 12 Business Finance exam, knows this first-hand. “I was writing non-stop, right up until the last few minutes of the exam. I nearly couldn’t finish,” he says. “I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d answered all the questions correctly and thought I wouldn’t pass.” Luckily, he did, and was surprised to find out that he was the top scorer of the Module 12 exam.
He enrolled in the QP last year and first completed the financial reporting, business assurance and taxation modules before taking on Module 12 this year. He found that particular module to be the most helpful in his compliance role. “It’s a very all-round module that covers a wide range of topics within finance such as company valuations, risk management, and company strategy,” he says, adding that the knowledge he gained from the financial reporting module was equally beneficial. As a compliance officer in his company’s financial crime team, Li spends much of his time looking at financial statements that their clients provide. “I’m able to pick up on anything suspicious and notify my team. I also handle personal investments too, so by knowing how to look at financial statements, I can better understand the background of different companies.”
Li encourages students to make good use of the course materials provided. “I found the learning pack to be very useful and well-written, as there are exercises and questions from past papers for us to see if we are on the right path,” he says. Li is also aware that many students may feel intimidated by its length, but urges them to spend time familiarizing themselves with as many topics discussed within, as this will also help them during workshop discussions. “Before attending the workshops, have a read through the key points of that module. By being prepared, you’ll at least have input to share during group discussions.”
He agrees that the workshops, and its facilitators, are an indispensable aspect of the QP. “Some students may not feel as confident during these workshops, but that’s where the facilitators come in to help,” he explains. “They guide us through the group discussions, give us tips, and if they notice we don’t understand something, they’ll provide us with examples to help us continue the conversation.”
To maximize efficiency during the exam, Li advises students to complete the “easy” questions, or the ones they already know the answers to, first. “This will allow you to warm up, attain as many points as possible and give you the confidence to finish the rest of the paper,” he says. “By doing the easier questions first and having a second thought about the more challenging questions, you will have a better chance of coming up with the answer later. This was my method in the exam.”
Kelvin Li (left) attained the highest marks in Module 12 Business Finance, and Angel Lam (right) achieved the top scores for Module 14 Taxation, at the June 2021 session.
A clearer picture
Angel Lam says the knowledge she gained from the QP helped her to better understand her own role as an auditor, and how to add value in her role. She remembers the moment everything clicked after completing the programme’s business assurance module. “After completing the programme, it made sense why we perform overall analytical audit procedures during each engagement, and the principles behind these procedures,” says Lam, who is a Staff Accountant at EY. Lam, who knew she wanted to become a CPA when she was in secondary school, majored in Professional Accountancy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and says the QP’s unique structure and content gave her that edge she was seeking. “What I learned in university wasn’t as in-depth, practical or as updated as the QP. The programme fully explains why CPAs need to do certain tasks,” she adds.
Lam, who first enrolled in the QP in December 2020, was the top scorer of Module 14 Taxation exam. She found all modules equally beneficial and notes that her newfound knowledge in tax, for example, is often called upon during audit engagements. “The taxation module covered a lot of technical knowledge in depth,” she explains. “We learned about tax rules, tax planning, transfer pricing and stamp duties, for instance. I need to look at tax matters during each audit engagement such as when a company is shifting profits or engages in transfer pricing. My awareness and knowledge has been very useful on the job.” Lam also commends Module 11 Financial Reporting. “We learned about financial reporting frameworks and how they work. Without knowledge from this module, I don’t think I’d be able to identify misstatements during an audit.”
“What I learned in university wasn’t as in-depth, practical or as updated as the QP. The programme fully explains why CPAs need to do certain tasks.”
Therefore, students have to be proactive throughout the programme, especially its workshops, in order to make the most progress, she notes. “The workshops are a precious opportunity for QP students to apply what they have learned; they remind us of what to spend more time studying on and what gaps we need to fill, such as our knowledge of accounting standards,” she says. Lam adds that the workshops and group discussions also offer students an invaluable chance to refine their soft skills. “We are presented with a case study each workshop and we have a limited timeframe to discuss it with our group mates. Everyone is trying to brainstorm different ideas and also to ensure a good presentation is given. So during this process, you get to improve on your communication and presentation skills, and also your ability to work well within a team.”
Though it is crucial to pass the QP’s exams, Lam says it is most important that students finish the QP with a genuine understanding of each module’s content. “You need to ask yourself whether you fully understand all the concepts. To test your knowledge, spend time doing past papers. This will help understand the material and also the format of the exams,” she says. “The content in all modules is all very much relevant to what you will experience in the job, so you need to make the most out of this programme. Try to find connections between the four modules and apply them in your related field.”
Lam is studying hard to pass the QP final exams this December Examination Session and applying her new skills at work. “I look forward to completing the QP and want to continue doing audit at EY,” she says. “I enjoy being able to audit companies from different sectors and learning about each one. By being an auditor, you also have better exposure to the business world as well – and the QP has helped me to become an better auditor.”
The new Qualification Programme comprises three progressive levels with 14 modules and a Capstone, i.e. Associate Level (10 modules), Professional Level (four modules) and Capstone. More information on the programme can be found on the Institute’s website.