The Institute’s Young Members Committee (YMC) is committed to helping young CPAs find their way and grow and mature as individuals amid an increasingly complex and ever-changing work environment. Speaking at a roundtable, committee members tell Jeremy Chan how the YMC is nurturing the development of young members through its tailor-made events and activities, and how CPAs can benefit from getting involved
Photography by Leslie Montgomery
SPEAKERS: (From left) Edmund Wong, Practising Director of Patrick Wong CPA Limited, YMC Deputy Chairman and Convenor of YMC’s PRC Affairs Sub-group; Yonnie Tse, Chief Financial Officer of Skyway United Limited and Deputy Convenor of the YMC’s Public Relations and Networking Sub-group; William Cheung, Finance Manager at a garment manufacturing group, and YMC Chairman; Yan Yeung, Tax Partner of PwC Hong Kong and Mainland China and former YMC Chairman; Adam Wong, Senior Audit Manager of EY, Deputy Convenor of the YMC’s Professional and Career Development Sub-group
Yonnie Tse wants young and busy CPAs like herself to know that an indispensable channel for them to network, learn and grow among other like-minded professionals exists within the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs – the Young Members Committee (YMC). “As soon as most graduates join a firm, they may feel that aren’t able to speak freely with senior managers or partners. The YMC provides a way for them to express themselves. That’s what makes the committee so important,” says Yonnie, Chief Financial Officer of Skyway United Limited, an Institute member, a member of the YMC and Deputy Convenor of its Public Relations and Networking Sub-group.
The YMC was set up in 2012 to support CPAs under the age of 40 with their career and personal development. “Around a decade ago, there were no committees that served young members. This led to the formation of the 25.35 group, and two years later, the YMC,” adds Edmund Wong, Practising Director of Patrick Wong CPA Limited, an Institute member, YMC Deputy Chairman and Convenor of its PRC Affairs Sub-group. “Right now, we serve around 18,000 young members, which make up more than 40 percent of all Institute members. It’s a very important communication channel between them and the Institute.” Through the committee’s events and activities, members are able to network with other professionals, share their experiences, engage in mentorships and, in doing so, develop long-lasting friendships. The YMC also helps to address the needs of young members today, which can range from career guidance to dealing with stress at work.
Many of the YMC’s events are organized by its three sub-groups. Its Public Relations and Networking Sub-group organizes social events for young members to build their business networks. The Professional and Career Development Sub-group arranges professional and career development events, while the PRC Affairs Sub-group is responsible for organizing events and activities that broaden young members’ knowledge on Mainland China affairs and help them to develop business networks across the border.
One key event organized by the YMC is the Young Members Conference. Adam Wong, Senior Audit Manager of EY, an Institute and YMC member and Deputy Convenor of its Professional and Career Development Sub-group, says the annual conference aims to help CPAs who feel unsure of what long-term career to pursue. Originally called the Career Conference, the event typically features panel discussions, breakout group discussions, presentations from speakers, and networking with fellow attendees, the guest speakers and recruitment consultants.
“The conference helps our young members to decide on what they want to do in the future,” he explains, adding that the conference has two central themes. “One, we help those who want to stay in practice. We talk about what members can do, such as forensic work, restructuring and insolvency, or mergers and acquisitions, for example. Two, if members would like to step into another industry or head overseas, we invite guest speakers with similar experiences to share their story.”
Indeed, the abundance of career opportunities that CPAs have presents a tricky challenge as many may not know how to progress, notes William Cheung, Finance Manager at a garment manufacturing group, an Institute member, Council member and YMC Chairman. “Accountants nowadays are finding that their career paths are very wide,” he explains. “A CPA who starts at the Big Four can either stay, work in a bank or work in the commercial field, and some even choose to change their career paths and become professional lawyers, for example. At the YMC, we provide career advice to them – this gives them a better idea of what they can do in five to 10 years.” Edmund agrees: “In addition to these keynote speakers, we also have breakout sessions comprised of eight to 10 members per table. It’s a good mix of senior members and human resources consultants to discuss their career developments with members. Our members have found this to be very inspiring.”
“At the YMC, we provide career advice to them – this gives them a better idea of what they can do in five to 10 years.”
The YMC is committed to helping young members manage work-related stress. As William notes, based on conversations with its young members over the years, a majority of them regularly face the issue of long working hours, which leads to stress and the lack of a work-life separation. “Young members who are still juniors in their firms or companies face a heavy workload and therefore, long hours at times,” he says. Adam adds that part of the issue is the increasing need for young accountants to stay on top of changing regulatory and technological developments. “In response to the changing economic environment, there have been a lot of amendments to accounting standards and increasing regulatory requirements to safeguard the public interest, for example,” he explains. “Also, as society innovates and uses new technologies, CPAs need to stay on top of these developments. This has added more work in recent years.”
Project managers who previously worked long hours as juniors may also expect a similar work ethic from their team, says Yan Yeung, Tax Partner of PwC Hong Kong and Mainland China, an Institute member and former YMC Chairman. “Our young members are made up of both junior staff and middle management,” she adds, noting that the YMC has actively been speaking with members who are middle management on the sensitive yet widely accepted issue of overtime work. “We’ve been reminding project managers to take their team members’ feelings into consideration,” Yan says. “If they’re too demanding and want junior accountants to work overtime all the time, we advise them on ways to avoid this, for example by having a better allocation of duties to staff. We emphasize that this is part of being a good and effective project manager, as well.”
William acknowledges that the issue is widespread but says that no one is to blame, as managers themselves are also under pressure. “Some managers may also be preoccupied with their own tasks assigned by their managers. This may get in the way of them communicating with juniors,” he says. Therefore, the YMC also helps manager-level members to understand the importance of working well with their teammates. “Maintaining a good relationship with juniors is key. By doing so, they would be willing to go the extra mile for you and with you, especially if you work in a team,” says William.
Junior members, he stresses, are also encouraged to take the initiative to make their voices heard in the workplace. “Young members have to be both brave enough to speak to their managers, and yet humble enough to listen to their opinions,” William notes. “But the reality is most juniors probably won’t speak up, so managers need to take the initiative to truly help them, instead of assigning them more work or a hard deadline.”
Young members who have trouble communicating with senior managers can build their interpersonal skills through the Institute’s Mentorship Programme, adds Yan. “I agree with William that young members must be brave and humble – but it can be tricky to strike a balance. It takes years of experience to learn how to effectively deal and communicate with seniors. This is something mentors can help young members with, since they have more experience,” she says.
The YMC helps young members advance in their careers through the Mentorship Programme, which pairs mentees with mentors with the purpose of career development through consultation and experience sharing. Yan says the programme is an effective way for young members to get acquainted with and be mentored by a more senior professional. “Members can also gain these communication and leadership skills through the Mentorship Programme,” she adds.
Yonnie adds that the programme particularly benefits young members who work in the commercial field. “Young members who work at the Big Four may already have a mentor or coach, but professional accountants in business may not receive the same help,” she says. William agrees, noting that through the Mentorship Programme, juniors have a chance to network with senior managers and partners from firms such as the Big Four.
The benefits of the programme aren’t one-sided, notes Yonnie. Since the launch of the programme, mentors have also gained knowledge through mentoring and speaking with a younger professional. This has led to the Institute launching an initiative where young members take on the role of mentors. “We’ve launched a pilot run of reverse mentoring, where the mentees help the mentors,” she says. “The idea is that the young generation learns things very quickly as their exposure is different too. They might have more experience on the IT side of things, ideas and trends, and can share these views with their seniors. This is something we’re interested in.”
Beyond lending young members a helping hand with their career aspirations, the YMC strives to help CPAs with their overall personal development. “Personal development is something professionals need to start thinking about early on in their careers. By the time they become more senior, they might be more focused on their career, business or even their family,” says Yonnie. “But for young members who have just entered the workforce and need to deal with people such as clients, managers and bosses, they have to focus on building both technical and soft skills.”
To build on young members’ interpersonal and communication skills, the YMC places emphasis on events and activities that encourage members to network and bond with each other. Events range from networking events with members from professional bodies, cocktails, hikes around Hong Kong, trips to Mainland China, visits to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong International Airport, indoor war games, wine and sake tasting sessions, baking classes and workshops on social etiquette.
Edmund says the cross-sector networking element is what sets the YMC apart from other committees. “For small and medium practitioners, we have the Small and Medium Practices (SMP) Committee. From members in the commercial sector, we have the Professional Accountants in Business Committee. But at the YMC, we gather members from all different sectors to socialize and mingle,” he says. “Many members have stayed at the YMC for years because of this aspect.” Edmund, who also works at an SMP, praises this. “It’s also quite inspiring to learn how to develop another line of business from speaking to these young members.”
While the events help CPAs to get to know other accountants from other companies across different industries, Yonnie says some events also allow young members like herself to meet professionals from outside the profession. “The YMC organizes joint professional and networking events with members from professional bodies such as lawyers, engineers and architects. It’s a great channel to meet with other professionals,” she says. “CPAs won’t have the chance to do so, otherwise.” Adam recalls how he enjoyed one particular event involving members from other professional bodies. “I remember when I joined the first cocktail, I only knew one person – so these events almost push you to socialize,” he says. “People will approach you and say hello, so it’s a very relaxing place to meet people.”
Yonnie also notes that the activities and outings organized by the YMC provide an opportunity for young members to network and build friendships with other CPAs outside the context of work. One of her most memorable moments with the YMC was a coastal clean-up event in 2016. “Along with 50 other members, we cleaned a coastal area in Tuen Mun, which was followed by a nice barbecue,” she recalls. “It was such a nice opportunity to not only clean up the rubbish from the area and do our part in helping the environment, but also network, chit chat and enjoy some good food with everyone under the sun. We look forward to organizing another similar event again once it’s safe.”
Before the pandemic, the YMC’s PRC Affairs Sub-group organized biannual visits to Mainland China for young members to visit regions within the Greater Bay Area and cities such as Shanghai. Edmund, Convenor of the sub-group, recalls how all attendees got to know one another during those short trips. “The whole ‘being stuck with someone’ is a big part about these tours,” he laughs. “Since it’s a two-to-three day event, a lot of members have found that it’s a great way to meet and bond with new people.” Yonnie, who has also joined the trips on multiple occasions, agrees: “At the YMC, we place emphasis on social networking events, so the trips to Mainland China are the perfect opportunity for young members to mingle with each other. The visits are a mix of corporate visits and sightseeing. Usually, everyone becomes really good friends after the tour.”
“The YMC organizes joint professional and networking events with members from professional bodies such as lawyers, engineers and architects. It’s a great channel to meet with other professionals.”
Open for all
The YMC is busy preparing its events and activities for the year ahead. Though many of them are expected to take place virtually, the committee saw how effective its online events were in 2020 and may continue to hold events in this format. “The webinars have become somewhat of a trend – since going virtual, our participation rate is the highest it’s ever been,” notes Yan. Adam hopes the added flexibility continues to attract attendees. “Some of our webinars are archived and available for members to views, in case they’ve missed an event,” he adds. Yonnie concurs, noting how the online sessions allow her to attend events despite her packed schedule. “We accountants are busy, and with these virtual events, we can keep working and still attend webinars.”
Edmund, however, would like to go back to in-person events as soon as possible. “Most members are still looking forward to our face-to-face events,” he says. William agrees: “It’s still a challenge to network virtually.”
Yan says that the committee is always looking for new talent to help nurture the next generation of accountants. She encourages members to consider volunteering for YMC sub-groups, noting that doing so also helped her as a young professional. “At the YMC, we serve young members and we are always looking for new blood to help the committee,” she says. “I’ve been a member of the YMC since I was a manager, and I’ve since been promoted to a partner. What I’ve learned from being a committee member has given me the exposure and also helped me to build my network.”