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
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
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
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
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.