Since launching in 1999, over 20,000 graduates have completed the Institute’s renowned Qualification Programme. Four young and bright top students tell Jeremy Chan what surprised them about the experience and how it was unlike any course they had ever done.
“I remember going to the first few workshops and feeling quite lost by the end,” says Cherie Lau, Accountant at KPMG. Though challenged at the beginning, she quickly buckled down, and as a result was given the gold award prize from the Institute for gaining top marks in the final exam in June. Getting the gold, she says, was no fluke.
Determination, hard work and perseverance would ultimately pave the road to achieving top exam marks for Lau, and other top Qualification Programme (QP) students. Lau, who has a degree in Economics from University College London, completed the three-month conversion programme, and joined the QP in November 2017. Later that month, she started working in KPMG’s audit division.
She keeps her QP notes handy, even at work. “When I do audit engagements and look at revenues, I refer back to my notes as well as the resources at the firm – especially when it comes to standards,” she explains, adding how she was able to apply her new knowledge on Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standard (HKFRS) 9 Financial Instruments. “My supervisor at work asked me to look into it, and since I had references from the workshop, I was able to look at how the standard would affect financial instruments and check whether clients were adopting it correctly.”
Composed of four modules – Module A financial reporting, Module B corporate financing, Module C business assurance, Module D taxation, as well as a final exam, the QP is a prerequisite for those who wish to become CPAs. It also includes two eight-hour workshops which take place at the end of each module, providing opportunities for students to apply their understanding in practical ways through group discussions, presentations and role play. The top three candidates in each examination session of the final exams are awarded with gold, silver and bronze plaques, and cash prizes of up to HK$10,000. Students who achieve the highest mark in any exam session of a module are awarded with a cash prize of HK$6,000 and the student who passes the final exam with the highest aggregate marks across all modules is awarded the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales Prize of HK$5,000. All prize-winning students are awarded with a certificate of merit.
Having completed all four modules, Lau found the module on taxation challenging. Discussing concepts such as assessable income, deductible expenses and learning how to fill out tax returns, facilitators encouraged group discussions and for the students to come to conclusions themselves, says Lau. “During case studies, they wouldn’t tell you which tax expenses were deductible, so we would have to argue using cases whether certain ones were or weren’t – I have found this to be extremely applicable in my work.”
Doing well in the final exam required a work ethic she had never seen in herself before, and believes it was the only way forward. “I would study for over 12 hours a day, starting quite early in the morning – I did that for three weeks straight,” says Lau. To do so, she combined the five days of study leave granted by the firm with the rest of her annual leave before sitting the final exam.
Lau feels the course helped her skills in communication and leadership, and feels more confident in her abilities as an accountant. “I used to be super shy – especially when I spoke to my managers – but now I’m much more confident. I know where to find resources, what standards to look for, and how I’m supposed to perform an audit.”
With her brand new set of skills, she looks forward to the road ahead. “I’ll likely stay in the financial industry. I definitely have a lot to learn here.”
Addressing issues early
Yee Chun Chan, Audit Staff at accounting firm P. L. Au & Co., attained the top mark in the financial reporting module exam.
After graduating from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2017, Chan completed the module in June, and like Lau feels he got more than what he expected from the course’s workshops. “I thought it was going to be a case of going to class, sitting down, and just listening,” he says. Instead, the 24 students in a workshop form four groups of six to tackle various case studies suggested by their facilitators, on issues relating to tax competition, accounting profits and taxable assessable profits. “We need to discuss each case using professional judgment, as some items may be taxable, and some might not be deductible,“ he explains.
Chan especially enjoyed solving problems with his group mates. “We were all given the chance to lead our team during case questions,” he adds. “When we presented our answers to the workshop facilitators, they usually critiqued them or asked follow-up questions such as ‘how did you come up with that answer?’ or ‘why did you think that answer was right?’”
By having a facilitator to address many of his and his group mates’ questions, Chan believes that he was able to learn faster, and also avoid making mistakes in the future. “Most questions weren’t so straightforward, so leading my team to tackle these questions within a time limit really helped enhance my analytical and critical thinking skills.”
Despite gaining top marks in the financial reporting module exam, he found it to be the most difficult, especially the section on consolidation. “There are certain adjustments that we need to do as we build consolidated companies as a whole, for example intra-group balances and transactions, and going from a financial statement to a consolidated financial statement. It is concepts like these I learnt in the module which are most applicable to my job,” he says.
For those students who are nervous about the module exams, Chan has a few tips. “Take a bit of time to go through all the questions, and make a mental note on how long to spend on each one,” he hints. “Try not to spend too long on one question – answer all the questions you know first, as that will get you the most marks.”
With hopes of one day becoming a tax advisor, he eagerly anticipates sitting the taxation module this December. “I look forward to someday advising clients on tax planning, legal tax deduction and minimizing their tax liabilities,” he says. “It will be the next page in my career.”
Learning as a team
Tammy Law, Accountant at EY and top scorer in Module B, corporate financing, also feels more confident in her skills after the programme. “The QP is tailor-made for accountants and auditors,” she explains. “I wouldn’t say that what I learnt in university wasn’t useful, but the QP is much more applicable to my work now – I would say that what I learnt at university laid the foundation for the QP.”
Law did a double major at the University of Hong Kong, one in International Business and Global Management and one in Wealth Management. Working in the audit department, she says it was the goal of many graduates at work to enrol in the programme, which she did so in January. Completing both corporate financing and taxation modules in June, she commends the modules’ practicality, and also applies what she learns at work. “I found Module B to be very useful on a daily basis. It includes future-looking concepts such as modelling, budgeting, and valuation,” she says.
She also agrees the most difficult, yet most rewarding, module so far is taxation. “We learnt about corporate tax, which is very useful as we need to look at companies’ tax conditions when auditing,” she explains.
Law says role-playing with fellow group mates was her favourite part of the course, and recalls an exercise during the taxation workshop. “One person played the part of the Inland Revenue Department, and one was the tax representative of a company,” she says. “We really learnt from it, and it was so fun.”
She often teams up with her peers, and encourages fellow students to do the same. “Try to form a study group with your group mates,” she advises. “That way, you can communicate with each other on what you have studied, difficulties you encountered, and solve problems together before and after classes.”
By regularly communicating with each other using WhatsApp and even scheduling conference calls on Skype, they were able to help each other overcome challenges even while studying at home alone. In the end, the merits of the study group went beyond her expectations. “There were five people in my study group – I was the top student for Module B, and my friend was the top student for Module D! So we were very happy and surprised.”
She looks forward to doing her best on the two modules she has left before the final exam, and celebrating the day she becomes a qualified CPA. “I want to have a big party with all my group mates once we have all passed the exams,” she says with a smile.
Setting new standards
Vincent Chow took mostly science-related subjects in secondary school, but accounting was always at the back of his mind. He went on to study accounting at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. After graduating in December 2016, he joined KPMG the following month, and knew enrolling in the QP would be the next logical step. “As I was exploring and studying different fields of accounting and finance, I started to build an interest in it – that’s why I chose to become a CPA.” Attaining the silver award upon completion of the final exam was a milestone for Chow, who then brought that experience with him in his role in government services.
Joining the Hong Kong Post Office as Accounting Officer in July, Chow says he needs to keep abreast of new and developing standards, and credits Module A, financial reporting, for helping him. “I am responsible for revenue and billing in our financial services division, and I need to cooperate with other divisions to improve accounting processes, systems, and controls,” he says. “There are a lot of accounting standards to comply with and many new standards have been developed in recent years, such as HKFRS 9, 15 and 16. Being able to study accounting standards in depth in Module A was very beneficial.”
When it came to advising clients on HKFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers, Chow frequently referred back to his QP notes back when he worked in a Big Four firm. “We also needed to consider the impact of new accounting standards when performing audits for our clients,” he says. “I was able to give advice on HKFRS 15, as its five-step model to recognize revenue from customer contracts will impact my clients’ upcoming financial years,” Chow says. “So, I researched on how to prepare financial statements and notes in accordance with the accounting standards regarding the timing and nature of revenue, and passed my findings to managers for consideration.”
Chow believes the taxation module’s end-of-workshop presentations helped him develop leadership skills, and upped his confidence in presenting. “I don’t have many opportunities to give such presentations at work,” Chow says. “Standing on a stage before an audience to present my opinions and views using technical terms and with professional knowledge, especially with limited preparation time, really improved my communication skills.”
The QP also changed him on a personal level. “Before the workshop, I was a bit self-centred, and I didn’t like listening to other people’s views or opinions,” he recalls, adding that he has also become a better team player and leader. “Since I had to work in a team, it was important for me to listen and to also accept other people’s opinions – and to be a leader, you have to understand your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and consider how they can complement one another to accomplish different kinds of tasks.”
Still revelling in the sense of achievement his silver award has brought him, he looks forward to the road ahead, and also feels it is time to relax. “I’ve had to use my annual leaves for study leave up until now – and I can’t wait to use them for a real holiday,” he laughs.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of A Plus. You can also read the digital edition.