As Senior Manager of Group Audit and Management Services at a high-end lifestyle brand operator, Sean Cheng oversees risk and governance, and finds ways to enhance existing control processes – all on a daily basis. He tells A Plus what he enjoys most about working at the company, and why he made the switch from working in practice to the commercial sector
What is your current role and responsibilities? How is it going so far?
I’m mainly responsible for leading the internal audit team to ensure the right corporate governance and internal controls are in place. This includes designing risk-based internal audit plans, performing control and advisory review projects, and communicating areas of improvement to management. I’ve recently been busy leading the transformation of our risk management practices and developing the data analytics capabilities of the team. I’d say things are going very well so far. Apart from traditional internal audit engagements, there have been new initiatives within the company to enhance our environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices, for example. ESG risk management has grown in importance, especially after the revision of Hong Kong’s listing rules on ESG reporting. By looking at our current ESG risk management practices, I find ways of integrating better practices within our company’s business strategies with ESG in mind. As we have a sustainability team leading the group to achieve our ESG targets, there has been regular communications between them, my team and the business strategy team. It is necessary to make sure that we aren’t working in silos, but rather working together to look at risk management and ESG issues within our business strategies and the impact they have on the company’s objectives.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role, and why?
What’s most rewarding is having the opportunity to learn, pick up new skills and help the company evolve. The company is growing quickly and undergoing digital transformation, so I’ve had to be a quick learner. For example, our team is developing its data analytics capabilities. With more data, it’s crucial to know what is available, how to analyse it – and more importantly – how to present it in a way that’s easy for management to understand. This is the most challenging aspect of the job, but I can say that it’s a role where I learn something new every day. I also like how the company values art and nature, and integrates these two elements into all aspects of what we do.
What inspired you to become an accountant?
I’ve always liked numbers, even as a primary school student. This led me to attain my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, majoring in Finance and Marketing from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I wanted to work in a numbers-related field after graduating. I then received an offer from KPMG and accepted it, knowing a career accounting would be a very stable one. I am also pursuing my master’s degree in Construction Project Management from the University of Hong Kong.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far and how did you overcome it?
It would have to be learning how to build trust with business partners. The key is to listen. By putting yourself in their shoes, you can really understand the root causes of their problems. We have to come up with solutions that won’t compromise best practices yet also meet their concerns. Another challenge was switching to the commercial sector. I started my career at KPMG, where I worked for two and a half years, then went to PwC. At KPMG, I focused more on corporate audit, whereas at PwC, I was involved in more external audit for financial institutions. After leaving the Big Four, I worked at Swire as an internal auditor. I returned to KPMG advisory three years after Swire and joined their risk consulting practice, where I stayed for almost five years as I wanted to expand my exposure to the corporate governance space and enterprise risk management. I joined my current company in November 2020. Working in practice is very different from working in the commercial sector. In an external audit, you mainly deal with numbers and determine whether financial statements give a true and fair view. But in the commercial world, you also have to communicate with management to understand their pain points and how the company intends on achieving its objectives. It’s a field I enjoy working in and plan on staying.
How do you think the Qualification Programme (QP) has helped you in your career so far, or prepared you for your current role?
I found all modules of the QP are useful. The programme itself provides us with the fundamental knowledge in key areas such as accounting standards, financial reporting, taxation and business assurance. It also informs us of the code of ethics we have to comply with. I found the workshops to be especially useful, as they simulate real-world situations very well. They coach young professionals on how to communicate with team members, leading a team and how to work with others to solve problems. These are all essential skills for a CPA.