|For over a decade, young accountants have been able
to pick and choose from the best job offers available.
The hardest choice was whether to chose a career in professional
practice or in other financial areas, such as banking
or the civil service. Both, led graduates along a golden
Accountancy courses offered by Hong Kong's tertiary
institutions base their success on the number of Big
Six job offers secured by their graduates. The high
quality undergraduates these courses have attracted
also lured large commercial and industrial corporations,
and government departments such as the Inland Revenue
Department to join the recruitment hunt for this limited
pool of talented youngsters.
The result was that medium and smaller firms had to
wait around, eager to snatch up the occasional graduates
who had chosen less certain career paths (unlike that
offered to them by the big firms) with smaller firms.
A choice that could, nonetheless, provide a career as
exciting and potentially rewarding.
Demand was strong and ever growing. While young people
in many other developed countries suffered from the
effects of massive unemployment, it was a far cry from
the booming demand experienced by those working within
Hong Kong's accountancy field.
The HKSA's findings in the late 1980s and early 1990s
confirmed this general feeling of optimism. With the
rapidly expanding China market in sight, most accounting
firms and business corporations predicted increasing
demand for young accountants. We were right then - just
look at the increase in the number of students and young
accountants who joined the HKSA in the past 10 years.
However, good fortune does not always last forever.
Even before the sudden change in Hong Kong's economic
climate late last year, there were already sure signs
of a graduate slow down in the demand for graduates.
Many of the numerous students and young accountants
I came into contact with in the past two years also
sensed that the major professional accountancy firms
were implementing more cautions recruitment policies.
In addressing their concerns, I identified a number
of changing market influences that graduates need to
be aware of:
||The China market - penetration of
the China market by Hong Kong firms during the formative
years was staffed almost exclusively by Hong Kong-trained
personnel. However, as China quickly responded to
its new economic situation, we have seen an increase
in the number of qualified and better-trained graduates
from China's top universities who are capable and
willing to work for much lower salaries. Understandable,
China, initial reaction to the rapid arrival of
outside accounting firms and financial institutions
was to protect its own financial and accounting
industries. The result was that access to the China
market did not develop as quickly as many firms
originally predicted. Furthermore, there has been
a stronger emphasis on on-site recruitment and training
in China to control long-term costs, causing demand
for Hong Kong groomed accountants to ease off.
||Local Supply - early predictions
of a major shortage in the supply of accountants
prompted the HKSA to send lobbyists, including myself,
to prompt the Government and tertiary institutions
to respond The response we obtained was impressive
and swift, resulting in a dramatic improvement in
the number of course places, as well as in their
quality and variety. These courses have served us
well - the staff shortage might have been unbearable
otherwise. However, as growth in supply has finally
out-paced the graduate dwindling demand, newcomers
may find the new equilibrium less favourable; and
||Overseas supply - the Hong Kong dollars'
stable currency value; the increasing number of
youths seeking education overseas; poor job opportunities
in many developed countries where there young people
completed their education; attractive salaries;
and continuous efforts made by international firms
to recruit from abroad, all contributed to the significant
number of overseas graduates coming to Hong Kong
to seek a career in accountancy and finance. This
trend is likely to continue as overseas graduates
are in many way less demanding and more flexible
in their training requirements, and in their ability
to fit into a firm's recruitment timetable.
Despite these increased challenges now facing our young
accountants, the overt signs are that accountancy is
still the chosen career for a growing number of aspiring
youngsters. Ironically, at a time when the worldwide
economic recession has hit Hong Kong hard and many are
jobless, even more students are choosing accountancy
courses as their number one choice.
In fact, it is now known that this year many of Hong
Kong's best graduates chose accountancy, ahead of medicine,
law and engineering, ahead that they needed better matriculation
results than ever to ensure a confirmed place on an
accountancy degree course.
As I explained in my previous article, a career in
accountancy is still very much viewed as sure bet, especially
as the job opportunities in other fields have become
relatively scarce by comparison. As a result, young
accountants may face greater competition for jobs; less
choice; and less attractive salaries compared to those
of their senior. However, good jobs are still available,
ready to be grabbed, which is not the case for many
other traditionally prestigious occupations struck by
the effects of a serious economic recession. We must
still count ourselves luckier than most! As your LegCo
representative, I am more concerned with the growing
trend of firms replacing senior accountants with less
costly juniors. In the hope of increasing overall job
opportunities for accountants, I have already submitted
several written questions to LegCo, urging the Government
to speed up the privatisation of its insolvency practices,
and to increase its efforts in promoting our financial
services overseas. At the time of writing this article,
I was actually in London visiting the Hong Kong Economic
and Trade Office to review its efforts made in this
I am also spearheading the campaign to increase the
international standing of the HKSA's professional qualification
by meeting with leading overseas accounting bodies.
By enhancing its international recognition, I hope that
the HKSA membership will maintain its leading edge in
this increasingly competitive world.
On an even broader front, I am keeping a vigilant eye
on the Government's economic policies which will hopefully
get Hong Kong back on its feet as quickly as humanly
possible. There is no denying that we are going through
tough times. But I believe that accountants are well
trained and versatile, with the necessary strengths
and experiences to find many ways to earn a living.
Many of you might even find ways to prosper, where others
could only struggle to survive. I trust that you will
find the necessary inner strength to work through it
and to take it 'all' in you stride.