The wildest job

Nicky Burridge
WWF-Hong Kong's Director of Finance, Thomas Leung, on how accountants can save the planet 
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Nicky Burridge


WWF-Hong Kong’s Director of Finance, Thomas Leung, talks to Nicky Burridge about the role CPAs play in meeting donors’ expectations and saving the earth

Photography by Calvin Sit

“If everyone in the world lived the Hong Kong lifestyle, we would need 3.9 earths to generate enough resources,” says Thomas Leung, Director of Finance at WWF-Hong Kong. He points out that in financial terms; the world is currently in a resources deficit. “We consume far in excess of what the planet can sustain. This is why we have to educate the public. We have to change our lifestyle, our values and our needs,” explains Leung, a Hong Kong Institute of CPAs member.

The conservation organization has set out a four-point action through campaigns to encourage people to reduce their consumption levels for clothing, eating, living and travel. For clothing it urges people to buy less and choose organic materials, while for eating the aim should be to waste less food and opt for sustainable seafood and seasonal vegetables, Leung says.

He adds that people can also make small changes at home to become more environmentally friendly, such as choosing energy efficient appliances and turning things off when they are not in use. When they travel, Leung encourages people to use public transport and take direct flights to minimize carbon emissions.

Interestingly, recycling is not on top of the list. “Recycling is a means of dealing with the problem, but if we use less and waste less, that tackles the issue at the source,” Leung explains.


Green victories

Education, Leung says, is a very important part of the work WWF-Hong Kong does. It runs numerous programmes with schools and in local communities to help people learn about sustainability, biodiversity and climate change. “Conservation starts with awareness and appreciation. We need to connect the people to nature,” he says.

A significant vehicle for this education is Earth Hour, which takes place every year and is the largest collective environmental movement in the world. The event sees cities in 187 different countries and territories turn off the lights for one hour to raise awareness about climate change. Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007 and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year in Hong Kong.

“Being a CPA and making the numbers transparent, relevant, meaningful and userfriendly for donors, and maintaining very strong financial control is important as it builds donors’ trust.”

In Hong Kong, more than 5,600 companies and buildings, all universities and over 300 primary and secondary schools pledged to turn off their lights for the hour, which this year was held on 24 March between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. “It is amazing to see Victoria Harbour, even with all the lights turned off, is still very beautiful. We don’t need the lights to make it beautiful,” Leung says. He adds: “In Hong Kong, we want to do more and go beyond that one hour. We make use of the event to talk about not just climate change, but also sustainability and biodiversity.”

WWF-Hong Kong uses an area outside the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui to set up activities and educate the public about climate change issues. “We show people it is not just one hour, they have to change their lifestyle,” he says.

One big victory for WWF-Hong Kong has been through its Say No to Shark Fin campaign. “Many sharks are predators and they play a very important role in the marine ecosystem balance. But at least a quarter of sharks and related species are listed as being under threat of extinction,” Leung says. Hong Kong is an important shark fin trading hub and accounts for 40 percent of the global shark fin trade every year, according to the Global Sharks and Rays Initiative run by WWF International, the global secretariat of the organization.

The organization started its shark fin campaign 10 years ago, encouraging individuals and firms to make a No Shark Fin Pledge, as well as developing an alternative shark-free menu for restaurants. In 2015, it started working with shipping and logistics companies to help them identify shark fins in cargos and monitor the supply chain to block the carriage of shark fins.

“As of today, 17 shipping companies have a no shark fins carriage policy, representing 80 percent of the global market. This is very impressive,” Leung says. “The volume of shark fins imported into Hong Kong has also declined by more than 50 percent.”

In fact, the volume of shark fins imported into Hong Kong has fallen from 10,210 tonnes in 2007 to 4,979 tonnes in 2017, according to figures from the Census and Statistics Department.



Donor demands

Leung believes CPAs can play an important role in helping companies to become more sustainable. He points out that there has been growing interest from companies in non-financial information in light of increasing pressure on companies to disclose environmental, social and governance (ESG) information due to concerns over the impacts of ESG factors on business risk, financial performance and prospects.

“I think CPAs play a critical role in linking sustainability to financial performance, and streamlining processes, reducing costs and improving efficiency,” he says. “Being a CPA, we can take a lead to develop and implement an environmentally friendly office.”

Leung adds that WWF-Hong Kong has comprehensive carbon recording and reporting, as well as carbon key performance indicators to minimize its carbon footprint, while it uses carbon offsetting for unavoidable carbon emissions.

Since he has been in his post, he has introduced a number of measures to make WWF-Hong Kong more environmentally friendly, including putting in place an expenses control discipline policy to reduce its carbon footprint through encouraging staff to take fewer taxis and cut down on overseas travel. He is also currently implementing an e-approval system to reduce the use of paper and improve operating efficiency.

There are also financial benefits for companies if they are more environmentally friendly, he emphasizes. “Reducing the use of electricity or overseas travelling in turn reduces costs and increases operational efficiency. That is the benefit to corporates when they implement this type of policy,” he says.

He also believes CPAs have a particularly important role to play in the charitable sector, as they are well regarded by the community and known for their high ethical standards. “Fundraising is not easy in Hong Kong as there are many different charities,” he says.

“Being a CPA and making the numbers transparent, relevant, meaningful and user-friendly for donors, and maintaining very strong financial control is important as it builds donors’ trust,” he says.

“In most corporate sectors, the financial guys are the last ones to leave the office, but here the conservation experts are always the last ones to leave.”

Moving to non-profit

While Leung’s main role is financial and risk management, he also handles legal matters. As a member of the senior management team, he plays a part in strategic planning and policy implementation, and he has also  recently been elected as a member of the Finance Steering Group of WWF International, where the team helps to review and develop its global accounting and finance policies.

“I love to talk to our conservation experts. I learn a lot about conservation practice from them and I really appreciate their passion and their knowledge,” he says. “In most corporate sectors, the financial guys are the last ones to leave the office, but here the conservation experts are always the last ones to leave.”

After completing a degree in accountancy at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a Master of Business Administration at Manchester Business School, Leung started his career at EY. He spent four years at the Big Four firm as anauditor, where he gained his CPA qualification. “I am really thankful to EY as they provided a lot of support to staff attaining the qualification, like examination training and leave, and also on-the-job training,” he says.

After his stint at EY, he moved on to Cheung Kong Holdings, now known as CK Asset Holdings. “My decade of experience in both audit and commercial was very good training that really built up my technical foundation,” he says.



After a few years at Cheung Kong Holdings, Leung took up a post as head of finance at AMTD Asset Management, which provides financial planning, insurance risk management, discretionary account and fund management, and investment advisory services. “It was a newly set up business and was very challenging. I was exposed to a totally different industry,” he says.

He says that having the qualification really has been the “Success Ingredient” throughout his career. “I find the professional status is invaluable and it has helped me a lot in my career progression. I am very proud of being an Institute member,” he says.

It had never been part of Leung’s original plan to work for a charity or non-governmental organization (NGO), but when the opportunity arose at WWF-Hong Kong in 2012, he was excited to make the switch. “I felt ready to make a change and do something more associated with society. I am very happy to have had the chance to join WWF-Hong Kong,” he says.

Working for an NGO is not that different to working in the commercial sector, he explains. “In many ways it is the same, particularly when we are talking about financial management and internal control,” he says. “The main difference is that the corporate sector is more profit-orientated, but we are more focused on sustainability. We have to plan how to fully utilize our resources to deliver the conservation impact to meet our donors’ expectations.”

When not at work Leung spends most of his time with his two children, a daughter aged 14 and a son aged 11. He also likes to go running. “I did not think of myself as being particularly sporty, but two years ago I joined my first 10-kilometre run with WWF, and since then I have continued to run and taken part in other events,” he says. “My target is to run the Hong Kong Half Marathon this coming year.”

Leung also enjoys singing, and he laughs when he recalls how this hobby delayed his early career. “All the graduates who joined EY with me had left and joined the corporate sector. I was almost the last one left,” he says. “What made me stay a little bit longer was that I won a singing competition and I had the chance to perform at the [EY] annual dinner, so I waited until after then before I joined the corporate sector.”

He also spends his weekends taking part in events organized by WWF-Hong Kong, such as Run for Wild and Walk for Nature. Leung thinks working at WWF-Hong Kong has changed him and made him more environmentally aware. “I have become a change agent and hope that we can change the way we live.”  

Hong Kong accounts for 40 percent of the global shark fin trade every year, according to WWF International’s Global Sharks and Rays Initiative.

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