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Award & Graduation Ceremony of Hong Kong Society of Accountants

Professor Arthur K C Li Secretary for Education and Manpower Speech at the Award & Graduation Ceremony of Hong Kong Society of Accountants
23 September 2003

Mr Sun, Mr Oxley, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honour for me to address you on your graduation and prize-giving ceremony today. This year, the Hong Kong Society of Accountants celebrates its 30th anniversary. This year, many graduates of the Qualification Programme enter a new phase of career development by passing their Final Professional Examination, qualifying as competent practitioners in the accounting profession. I extend to all of you my warm congratulations. And to the few who have scored the highest marks in the examination, let me say, 'Bravo! Well done indeed.'

Before I came here I wondered what a non-accountant like myself should say to a group of aspiring professionals like you. Some have told me that on occasions like this, the role of the guest speaker is purely ceremonial. They need me in order to have the ceremony and give away the prizes; nobody would expect me to say very much.

Well, even if this is true of most other graduation ceremonies, I won't take any chances with accountants, for they are famed for their meticulous and no-nonsense approach to everything they deal with. When they hear that the meek shall inherit the earth, for example, they will probably start to list the assets and liabilities of the planet earth, work out the tax-implications, and compile a report specifying what should be rendered unto God before earth can be inherited by the meek as equal shareholders.

When accountants say 'a speech', they mean a speech, in much the same way as they call a spade a spade. So my speaking assignment this evening is not something to be taken lightly, I tell myself.

Luckily, there is one advantage I enjoy, and that is, my father was an accountant and, I am quite familiar with how your professional body take pains to ensure high standards of practice among their own members; I also know how they always encourage members to pursue continuous professional development throughout their working lives. So perhaps I should just take this as my starting point.

Your previous studies particularly at the university, ladies and gentlemen, exposed you to the vast body of knowledge on accounting, equipped you with the broad generic skills in its key fields, and acquainted you with the proper attitudes to adopt with regard to the profession. University education is an all-round, broad-based training designed to prepare you for continuing self-education and development. It is the foundation on which you build your future career.

Professional training, on the other hand, emphasizes your ability to apply the knowledge and skills that you've acquired to specific, professional situations, and to display a strong sense of professionalism while doing so. In passing your Final Professional Examination, you have demonstrated that you can integrate knowledge and skills and apply them across all fields of competency. Yet, we all realize that graduation from the Qualifying Programme is just the beginning and not the end. Ahead of you are more practical experience to acquire, more self-learning to pursue, more seminars and conferences to attend, and increasingly greater responsibilities to take up, which require an increasingly sophisticated level of competence and expertise. It is through continuous learning that you proceed step by step from a fresh graduate in accountancy to a competent practitioner, then a proficient practitioner, and finally an expert practitioner.

Yes, we are talking about continuous professional development, we are talking about life-long learning. It may sound appalling to some, for it reminds them of endless assessments and examinations until they kick the bucket and breathe their last. But to the true professional - to doctors, engineers, not least accountants - it is a well-accepted fact of life, something as natural as breathing. Not only is it the proper route to achieve higher qualifications that can enhance your competitiveness, it is also the only way to enable professionals to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment within which they work. In a knowledge-based economy where knowledge is updated every other minute and the demands of various professions are constantly evolving, none of us can afford to remain static, and no certificate, diploma, or degree can ensure life-long employment any more. In the painful restructuring of our economy, it is obvious that those who have lost their jobs will have increasing difficulty getting re-employed if they do not learn new knowledge and acquire new skills. Those who have jobs may not be able to keep them, unless they continue to equip themselves well for new changes. Education is no longer a task to be completed, but a process to be continued. When you are through with learning, you are through as a professional, for the strength of a professional depends very much on his ability to change and grow with his profession.

I am not playing with words here. The essential thing is for us, for the universities to prepare our students in such a way that they would be ready to deal with problems and face challenges in the real world, in a global setting. It is more important for our graduates to be able to learn on their own, apt in communication, flexible and creative, as well as ready to take on responsibility, rather than for them to fit into specific job requirements. After all, the categories of jobs and their requirements could easily change and, though one may have been trained for the job, the skills and knowledge will have to be updated every now and then. It is thus to the benefit of employers if the newly employed might not be perfect in doing his or her job now but, with experience, could actually adapt as business expands and promote further growth. One therefore cannot over emphasize the importance of life long learning.

Ladies and gentlemen, consider it your good fortune that in your lifelong quest for new skills, new knowledge, and new opportunities, you have a clear, well-structured learning path to follow, thanks to the meticulous planning, effective administration, and careful monitoring by the Hong Kong Society of Accountants. I do wish every one of you steady advancement along such a path, and I thank the Hong Kong Society of Accountants for their admirable efforts in helping to nurture quality accounting manpower for Hong Kong over the last 30 years.

Young aspirants like you should also bear this in mind: you have chosen a much-respected profession with a long tradition and global implications, whose language can serve as an international language in the running of business corporations. You shouldn't limit yourselves to systems, regulations and standards that are relevant to the particular environment of Hong Kong. You should try as much as possible to develop a perspective that is global. Set your eyes on the world. This will broaden your horizon and do your profession good.

Just look around the world: everywhere you see giant corporations and transnational enterprises, whose success or failure has worldwide repercussions. The soundness or otherwise of their governance can also be as important as that of nations. Take Nokia as an example: its market capitalization is only slightly less than the GDP of Finland herself. Take Microsoft: its market capitalization outstrips the GDP of the smallest economy in the G-8. In an economy that is getting increasingly globalized, businesses the world over are actively reviewing the need to adopt the same accounting standards, people are more and more concerned about the adequacy of corporate governance structures and the role of professionals as gate keepers to ensure their accountability, integrity, and transparency.

Much closer to us, just north of our border with Shenzhen, the economic environment is also undergoing rapid change, which is a result of the emergence of a capital market since the 1990s, the accession of the mainland to the WTO, and the recent introduction of the QFII, QDII, and CEPA. We can expect major reforms on the mainland in its accounting system, securities law, disclosure requirements, and auditing practices. We also expect to see these gradually converging with international standards.

All these new developments at the global and regional levels pose challenges as well as opportunities for a new generation of intelligent and knowledgeable accountants, who are expected to provide the necessary change as well as to adjust to it. Ladies and gentlemen, in you the future of your profession lies.

And I hope you will help make sure it is a bright future for both yourselves and your profession. You do this by constantly reminding yourselves of your social responsibilities, by constantly practising your professional ethics and fulfilling your professional obligations.

All of you must be familiar with names like Enron and Worldcom - names that call to mind not only company failures and heavy losses suffered by small investors, but also financial scandals associated with professional oversight, negligence, possibly fraud. If more professionals are to fail in their duty and be suspected of playing accomplice to deception, public confidence will be seriously undermined and the credibility of the profession as a whole will be in jeopardy. No profession can survive repeated scandals of this nature.

It hardly needs saying that most of the learned professions represent an honourable calling. They thrive on honesty, honour, the sacredness of obligations, unselfish performance, and compliance with a specific code of ethics. In carrying out their duties, professionals are driven not by personal gain or monetary profit but the moral stimulation of their work, the thrill of creative effort, and the pride of being trusted and respected.

Ladies and gentlemen, yours is one such profession, but yours is also one that is inextricably associated with money. Now money, in particular big money, is always a seduction, a test of morals, a temptation to sin. So, of all professions, accountants are the most susceptible to such temptation. They therefore have the greatest need to get their priorities right when it comes to money.

What I wish to share with you over this are the views of a priest, who has been quoted as saying that money is just like toilet paper: when you need it, it is indeed indispensable; but when you have too much of it, you will have serious problem where to store it or what to do with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, let's not pretend that money is unimportant. But don't be mistaken either that you are worth more as a person simply because you have more dollars than your neighbour. I am quite sure that when choosing accounting to be your profession, it is not just the prospect of monetary profit that has attracted you. It is rather the opportunity it offers you to realize your potentials and to prove yourself. Always keep this in mind, and you will find it much easier to withstand temptations to betray the trust vested in you as a professional, for what good does it serve if you win the whole world and lose yourself?

Dear graduates of the Qualification Programme, you are entering a profession that expects you to learn continuously, to be alert to global trends, to contribute to its advancement, and to respect its code of ethics. Try your best to do your profession proud. Try your best to do yourselves proud. And in store for you will be endless opportunities for you to grow as a professional, and to derive great satisfaction from your work.

Good luck to you all. Have a great life as a true accounting professional.

Last revision date: 23 September 2003
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