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With the legacy of the 2008 global finance crisis still reverberating, amidst a swiftly shifting compliance and technological landscape, Hong Kong's banking and finance sectors are facing the challenge of attracting talent to future proof the industries.

"One of the major lessons that we learnt from the global financial crisis is that the banking industry cannot stay strong without the support of good talent," says Carrie Leung, CEO at the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB). According to a talent development survey conducted last year by the HKIB, only 51 per cent of respondents aged between18-34 agreed that a career in the banking industry is appealing. "I believe that this may be partly due to the misperception about the banking industry formed after the global financial crisis," she says.

The HKIB believes this perception can be reversed by strengthening practitioners’ competencies. The HKIB is a programme administrator for the Enhanced Competency Framework (ECF), introduced by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to standardise professional training in the industry.  Leung says the ECF sets out a series of common and transparent competency standards that enable effective training and professional development for practitioners and new entrants. The framework includes current hot topics such as Anti-money laundering (AML) and Counter-Terrorist Financing (CFT).  

"The ECF is tailored to meet the training needs of the modern day banking," Leung says. With future training demand in mind, the HKIB has also launched a new Certified Banker (CB) professional qualification designed to help banking professionals succeed in a fast-changing banking environment. "In our view, the ECF is a building block of the CB programme," Leung adds.  "We are now working on a seamless integration of the ECF subjects with the CB programme."

She also believes  Hong Kong’s banking industry has an important role to play in the China-led  "Belt and Road Initiatives" (BRI), the Mainland's modernised vision for the ancient Silk Road, connecting Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa through investments in trade infrastructure. "Hong Kong as the largest offshore renminbi hub, with its unrivalled banking and finance infrastructure and free flow of capita can serve as the fundraising hub for numerous infrastructure projects," says Leung.

She adds, however, that education is of great importance for the initiative to be truly successful. "Many banking practitioners are still not very familiar with the BRI as well as the countries along the Belt and Road routes," notes Leung. To address, she suggests that industry seminars and even visits can help banking professional have a better understanding of the initiative, as well as opportunities the ambitious undertaking can provide for Hong Kong banks.

Mabel Chan, president, Hong Kong Institute of CPAs (certified public accountants) shares a similar view.  "We need to be more open and aware of the different cultures of ‘Belt and Road’ countries, she says. “In fact, for Hong Kong's accounting sector to continue to grow stronger, we should be more open and embracing of cultures globally."

Chan sees a long-term role for Hong Kong's accountancy sector in providing services to companies and investors involved in the BRI. In the early stages, she says infrastructure development will require investment and project contracting, areas where Hong Kong has a lot of experience. Later, as trade and business develop along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road corridors, companies will require tax, auditing and advisory services.

Meanwhile, Chan says there is an ongoing demand for professionals to help clients meet their AML, tax evasion and Common Reporting Standards (CRS) compliance requirements. "With no end in sight on the amount of wide-ranging regulations that focus on corporate accountability, accounting firms are looking for the skills and insights needed to meet today’s tough economic and regulatory challenges."

Seeing as Hong Kong led the world in IPO (initial public offerings) listings, the city’s professional services firms have stayed busy. "As client companies move into new jurisdictions with differing tax laws and operating rules, accountants must continually update their knowledge to ensure they provide the best advice and support," notes Chan.   

Because Hong Kong has a well-established platform of international experience and the legal and professional talent resources, Chan says Hong Kong-based accountants are in a good position to assist Chinese enterprises seeking business opportunities overseas to 'go out' more smoothly. The broad scope of work is also driving demand for graduate trainees to ensure accounting firms are able to sustain a talent pipeline for the future.

Chan also envisions new opportunities for young people interested in joining the accounting sector. As new technologies have increased influence in every area of business, including the accounting sector, Chan says the next generation of accountants can boost their career opportunities by combining financial knowledge with big data, business analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) know-how.

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2020, five million jobs will be lost to AI, including a displacement of jobs through automation in the accounting industry. "Those who are able to utilise the opportunities created by  AI, big data and analytical tools will play a vital role in improving business decisions and provide clients with unparalleled data analysis combined with the human touch," says Chan.

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