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Join the Knowledge-based Econony Wave

Recently, an education magazine asked me what instant, personal definition I would give to the now widely used term knowledge-based economy. I thought that if the seven million people of Hong Kong had to work together towards that goal, it should be a simple, non-technical notion that everybody could understand.

With little time to think about it, I said, 'It's an economy where investors would be willing to place large sums of money to turn original ideas and creative concepts into business practice. Regular consumers would habitually demand goods and services to be delivered with efficiency and flair. As for those who contribute towards the success of this economy, the independently thinking and innovative should and would be sure to reap the rewards.'

Deliberately, I did not mention knowledge in the traditional context of higher academic or professional qualifications. More formal training might help, but evidently greater academic knowledge is not a guarantee of higher rewards. As the unemployment rate of Hong Kong gradually climbs to disturbing new heights, an increasing number of highly qualified professionals are fated to join the unfortunate jobless. This is something of a shock to our long held traditional values that the better qualified you are, the more secure your career. Our hapless city is now frantically searching for a new formula for security and success.

The Chief Executive of the HKSAR made clear in his recent Policy address that he wishes to steer Hong Kong toward the concept of a knowledge-based economy. It seems that our Government already knew what road to take to Rome. The Chief Executive would relentlessly invest in more university places, more retraining courses and more Government projects to kick-start private sector investments in the technology sector. But in reality, is it that simple? Can the Government do everything for us without receiving positive and thoughtful responses from our side? Will the completion of a government-funded course provide us with the much-needed comfort that will spell the end to all the misery?

The little Oxford Dictionary defines the word 'knowledge' as 'awareness, familiarity, person's range of information, understanding (of subject); sum of what is known.' In short, it refers to a mindset, some tested experiences and the general awareness of the fast changing environment around us and in China rather than an accumulation of textbook knowledge.

The theme chosen by the 16th World Congress of Accountants to be held in Hong Kong next year is aptly set to explore the updated connection between the 'Knowledge-based Economy and Accountants'. It is an opportune time for us to put questions to ourselves for re-consideration on many important issues. A few examples might include firstly, are we ready to compete in an increasingly global environment with foreign enterprises flocking into China? Secondly, how much do we actually know about modern China? And thirdly, what have we got to show the rest of the world in evidence of this self claimed expertise?

It seems that no one can afford not to put his/her thinking cap on at all times as we move towards a knowledge-based economy. Routine compliance services are unlikely to offer attractive business prospects anymore as global competition intensifies. China will no doubt be able to produce low cost accountants in large numbers to conduct this relatively simple task with great effectiveness. We need to be thinking a lot more about other services which add value to clients' businesses. With ten of thousands of small and medium enterprises vying for places in China's opening markets, do we know exactly what information and services they might need and be willing to pay for?

On the technology front, Hong Kong is straggling behind other advanced economies. Although the economic bubble for high-tech stocks might have burst, the innovations have not. We are still riding the technology wave where more ways, faster means and better methods are being invented to do the same tasks every day. Unless we also ride this wave, we will find ourselves bringing up the rear in no time. On the other hand, how many technological skills do we need to learn in order not to miss out on the ride?

As information becomes the driving force behind business and capital investments and physical facilities take second place, how are we as accountants going to place the right value on knowledge and information?

Accounting is one of the most pragmatic professions. In the realms of business and commerce, we are never short of answers and solutions. Moreover, we are often the ones to offer them first. That is how we help the economy to manage change and uncertainty. Unless you disagree with me that a move to a knowledge-based economy is inevitable, we might just as well try to ride this wave on a spot out in the frontline. When are you going to make a move?


Credit: Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative. For more information, refer to his website at http://www.ericli.org.

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