Management Accounting 2014
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04 Foreword by CIMA 05 How to start CIMA 08 New syllabus set to keep young managers up to date 10 CIMA expertise vital for every business enterprise 12 Relishing the challenge to emerge triumphant 14 CIMA teaches high-level skills for global managers 16 A creator of shopping paradises 18 Hard work and motivation help Michelle turn up trumps
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hen Lord Leverhulme built Britain’s biggest company into what was considered the first modern multinational company (now part of Unilever), he asked his accountants to explain how his business could perform better tomorrow, not today. When he found that the traditional accounting methods used could not satisfy his business, he set up the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, now the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), in 1919 to provide him with the information and skilled people for business success. Now almost a century has passed, and CIMA has been able to build on this heritage and remain at the forefront of developing new approaches to accountancy and reporting that take into account current business challenges and opportunities in the global new economy. Throughout different business cycles, there has been a huge renaissance in the role of management accounting. For one thing, corporates realise they will not find operating efficiencies, increase profitability, or break new ground by just following rules and meeting regulatory requirements. To suit the modern requirements on strategic planning and performance management, specialists such as management accountants are in demand who understand the bigger picture, see possibilities, and are ready to ask the right questions at the right time. That neatly explains the rapidly increasing membership of CIMA, the world’s largest professional body for management accountants, and the steadily rising interest in courses offering the necessary training and accreditation. To keep up with the reach of the profession, a new designation has been introduced – CGMA, or Chartered Global Management Accountant – which is widely recognised, and therefore makes it that much easier to take up overseas postings and pursue an international career.
Jointly organised by two of the world’s most prestigious accounting bodies, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and CIMA, the designation recognises the most talented and committed management accountants with the discipline and skill to drive strong business performance. These CGMA professionals, who gain a combination of exams and experience that is educationally equivalent to a master’s degree, are business strategists who can link the board’s objectives and the rest of organisation, guiding critical business decisions and creating sustainable business success. To help employers recruit the best candidates who are capable of meeting the needs of the real world of business, CIMA has fine-tuned its syllabus to ensure its members are best equipped. The updated CIMA 2015 Professional Qualification syllabus, which will take effect from January 2015, emphasises two major aspects – a new competency framework and a new assessment process. A new competency framework comprises new topic areas relevant to accounting in business, such as managing big data, finance function transformation and sustainability that have been included with integrated case studies added at each level of the qualification to consolidate learning and reflect real-life work situations. To cater for Generation Y, CIMA has devised a new assessment process that is in line with developments in the use of technology and their preference. Students will now benefit from online assessment and exams on demand through a partnership with Pearson VUE, allowing them to choose their own pace of progression. CIMA now has 96,000 qualified members, representing a large and influential worldwide community. Around 33,000 more are currently taking the training programme.
How to start CIMA AWARD – Member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants T4 – Test of Professional Competence in Management Accounting Part A Initial Professional Development – work based practical experience
Part B Case Study Examination based on pre-seen and unseen material
PAPER E3 – ENTERPRISE STRATEGY
PAPER P3 – PERFORMANCE STRATEGY
PAPER F3 – FINANCIAL STRATEGY
· Analyse corporate environment (internal / external) · Evaluate strategic options · Manage change · Design and run performance management systems
· Evaluate and manage business risk · Manage financial risk · Review, audit and evaluate risk control systems · Apply risk management to IT/IS environment
· Formulate and evaluate financial strategy · Conduct business or corporate valuation · Model and forecast cash flows and other finances · Advise on mergers, acquisitions and divestments
AWARD – CIMA Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting PAPER E2 – ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT
PAPER P2 – PERFORMANCE STRATEGY
PAPER F2 – FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
· Analyse competitive environment · Plan, set up, manage and execute projects · Lead the team · Negotiate and communicate effectively
· Advise on product manufacture and pricing · Plan and manage cost for competitive advantage · Design and manage budgeting system · Evaluate performance of organisational units
· Prepare group accounts · Evaluate and apply IFRS · Analyse and interpret financial statements · Prepare CSR reports
AWARD – CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting PAPER E1 – ENTERPRISE OPERATIONS
PAPER P1 – PERFORMANCE OPERATIONS PAPER F1 – FINANCIAL OPERATIONS
· Awareness of IT/IS issues and environment · Awareness of key marketing issues · Awareness of efficiency and quality issues · Awareness of people management
· Calculate and analyse cost of products · Forecast and budget for organisational activities · Evaluate capital expenditure · Manage short-term finance (e.g. cash)
· Prepare basic tax computations · Prepare financial statements for single company · Use IFRS and GAAP · Manage general and other ledger systems
CIMA CERTIFICATE IN BUSINESS ACCOUNTING
Paper C01 – Fundamentals of Management Accounting | Paper C02 – Fundamentals of Financial Accounting | Paper C03 – Fundamentals of Business Mathematics Paper C04 – Fundamentals of Business Economics | Paper C05 – Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law
CIMA ENTRY OPTIONS The road to obtaining the CIMA Professional Qualification is open to all, regardless of educational background. Our flexible entry policy enables anyone with a passion for business the chance to study with CIMA. If you are new to business or accounting studies, you will first need to work towards gaining the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting.
It is a foundation level qualification which will equip you with the knowledge you need to progress towards the CIMA Professional Qualification.
CIMA gateway routes
Entry routes to the CIMA Professional Qualification
CIMA’s gateway routes allow members of recognised professional accounting bodies and graduates of relevant masters degrees the opportunity to gain certain exemptions and fast track their pursuit of full CIMA membership. For more information about the criteria and eligibility for any of the three gateway routes currently available, visit: www.cimaglobal.com/CIMAgatewayroutes
For more information about the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting, visit: www.cimaglobal.com/cimacertificate
CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting Relevant degrees in accountancy or business Accounting Technician qualification Recognised Open University certificates in accounting
CIMA PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATION
CIMA gateway routes: · Professional gateway route · Masters gateway route · Management accountant gateway route
For more information about entry routes to CIMA, visit: www.cimaglobal.com/entryroutes
New syllabus set to keep young managers up to date
all them the “aspirational generation”. They want to be their own boss before reaching their early 30s, while making at least HK$1 million a year. Some aspire to become senior managers in large multinational corporations, though that has to happen before the age of 35. Meet Generation Y. But Gen Y – and their counterparts, the millennials – can also be apathetic at times. In the age of what may have been the biggest global employability gap in world history, 75 million young people across the world cannot find work, although many businesses are sitting idly with vacancies that are yet to be filled. To bridge the gap between employers and Gen Y, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) sees employability and career advancement as being of critical importance to its members, striving to provide them with skill sets that businesses are seeking – now and into the future. Launching the 2015 Professional Qualification Syllabus in Hong Kong in early April, CIMA Hong Kong has conducted a global survey showing that Gen Y are an aspirational generation keen to climb the corporate ladder on their own terms. Polling more than 4,300 Gen Y-ers in a selection of markets including Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Britain, the US and South Africa, the survey reveals that 12 per cent of respondents expect to have their own business by the age of 33 or younger. For those looking to become selfemployed, their objective is to earn, on average, approximately HK$908,760 to HK$1,113,435 per annum. Entrepreneurship aside, a majority of youngsters would rather opt for the corporate world, as 60 per cent believe a major multinational corporation is the fastest way to career progression, the survey shows. Up to 34 per cent hope to be in a senior management role by the time they reach 35. It is important to note that money is not the biggest concern when it comes to job prospects for Gen Y-ers. As many as 67 per cent would choose to work for an employer that shares their values
and boasts a good fit with their lifestyle, over high financial rewards. Dr Aidan Goddard, CIMA Hong Kong’s vicechairman and CFO & COO for Asia-Pacific at L’Occitane en Provence, says: “The good news is that in terms of salary expectations, employers have told us that, on the whole, they are prepared to pay significantly more than Generation Y is anticipating – even at entry level. This is a clear indication that businesses are prepared to pay a premium for recruits who are able to hit the ground running.” To this, Dr Noel Tagoe, executive director of education at CIMA, says: “Supporting the next generation of global finance leaders, and ensuring that our members stay at the forefront of developments in the business world throughout their careers, is at the heart of our mission at CIMA. In this volatile climate, it is very encouraging to see the young generation aiming high and open to new experiences.” The survey by CIMA, the world’s largest professional body of management accountants, addresses an increasingly important question for companies around the world – how to attract and retain young finance professionals, as Gen Y is the fastest growing segment.
Dr Aidan Goddard
According to the Next Gen Market Research by PwC, one of the largest accounting firms worldwide, 80 per cent of the company’s employee population will be comprised of millennials by 2016. CIMA – which has been working closely with employers, educational institutions and other stakeholders to identify ways to best equip the next generation of business leaders – finds a clear disconnect between the skills that Gen Y thought employers were looking for and what employers say they need. At entry level, most Gen Y respondents say they thought employers would want a mixture of soft skills (75 per cent) and core technical skills (72 per cent). But in fact, 60 per cent of employers would prefer core technical skills over soft skills (24 per cent). Drawing on these extensive global research findings, CIMA has fine-tuned its syllabus to ensure its members are best equipped to meet future business needs, and will help employers recruit the best candidates capable of meeting the requirements of the real world of business. Dr Tagoe says: “I believe the new 2015 CIMA Professional Qualification Syllabus will help diminish the gap between the young and employers; and I look forward to seeing the value added by our talented and ambitious young generation that allows businesses to remain competitive and resilient.” The updated CIMA 2015 Professional Qualification Syllabus, which will take effect from January 2015, emphasises two major aspects – a new competency framework and a new assessment process. The new competency framework comprises topics related to accounting in business, such as managing big data, finance function transformation, and sustainability. These elements will be demonstrated through integrated case studies which cater to different levels of qualifications. All these aim to consolidate learning and reflect reallife work situations. As part of the new syllabus, CIMA has also devised a new assessment process that is in line with developments in the use of technology and the preferences of Gen Y. Students will now benefit from online assessments and exams on demand, through a partnership with Pearson VUE, which allows them to choose their own pace of progression.
Dr Noel Tagoe
CIMA Hong Kong committee member Irelan Tam notes that virtual learning is bound to become a more popular trend, as internet access is expected to spread to three billion people by 2015. China, Tam adds, will lead the globalisation of talents, as the world turns to its most populous country for professionals. Speaking of this, Dr Alan O’Neill, head of executive development at Jardine Matheson Group, says the young generation is more tech-savvy, and the challenge ahead for corporate firms is to know how to retain and engage them in a dynamic working place. A case in point: Jardine has an admirable retention rate for its executive trainees, with nearly two-thirds remaining in the company after 15 years. Dr Goddard believes the CIMA training not only benefits candidates, but also helps companies expand their business, save money and add value to existing projects. He says this is largely because of CIMA members’ excellent analytical skills, and their ability to read situations, as well as predicting possible future outcomes. “Where possible, I prefer to place CIMA students or members in our affiliates around the region not only to manage tasks such as reporting, forecasting and budgeting, but also to involve them more proactively in business development and influencing decision-making,” he stresses. “I look forward to working with more CIMA students or members, as our programme of study combined with professional training ensures that our talent has a globally consistent approach to driving sustainable business success.”
Amy Lam CIMA (HK) branch committee chairman
Photo: Berton Chang/SCMP
CIMA expertise vital for every business enterprise
ong-term success for any organisation depends on efficient operations, risk awareness and clear-sighted forward planning, which explains why the expertise of professional management accountants is in ever increasing demand. Distinct from auditors and financial accountants, their essential role is to tell board members and department heads how each part of the business can still perform better, taking due note of such factors as new technology, the regulatory environment, competitive elements, and potential hazards. And, supporting that, the basic mission of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is similarly clear: to set high standards and oversee the training and qualification programme which gives members a professional status now recognised around the world.
“Nowadays, I see management accountants as a prerequisite for every business enterprise,” says Amy Lam, who took over in early January as branch committee chairman for CIMA in Hong Kong. “Companies need the insights and
professionalism they can bring to assess potential risks, consider new strategies and support good decision making.” In the year ahead, one of Lam’s particular objectives will be to spread that message. By raising the profile of management accountants, and emphasising the value they can help to create, she hopes to attract new members, improve the general employability of existing members, and make the CIMA designation one which local companies automatically look for and respect. “In running a business, obviously you need historical data to analyse trends and performance measures,” Lam says. “But management accountants mainly help to look forward, drill deeper on variances, and identify what can be done to help the company sustain or improve in every area.” Risk evaluation is an important aspect of this, with recommendations then to follow on how to prevent, mitigate or avoid possible problems. However, the role can also entail anything that has – or could have – a bearing on operational efficiency, productivity, strategy and overall profitability.
As the world’s largest professional body for management accountants, CIMA has a rigorous and well-defined pathway to qualification and membership. In total, there are 15 topics to complete, but various exemptions are available for individuals who, for example, already hold an MBA or are members of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). The first five papers cover the basics of accounting, business law, and professional ethics leading to certificate level. Subsequent steps moving up to diploma and then professional diploma levels deal with topics like operations, budgeting, group consolidation and management controls. The last two levels are more strategic, looking at internal controls and managing financial risk, with a final case study and three years’ relevant work experience required to gain associate CIMA membership. Without any exemptions, candidates usually take three to five years to complete the process, though timescales can be flexible. Necessary courses are taught at institutions like HKU SPACE (School of Professional and Continuing Education), with an increasing range of online study options also on offer. “At present, we have 218,000 members and students globally and want that number to keep rising,” Lam says. “Graduates in any discipline can go into management accountancy and, when qualified, will have extensive opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD).” Typically, this includes the chance to attend seminars, workshops and training sessions at least once a month, which focus on the latest developments in a wide cross-section of business
Photo: Oliver Tsang/SCMP
and management topics. Some are run in collaboration with HKICPA and other institutions or business schools and highlight practical subjects like corporate governance, business models, supply chain management and new regulations.
At present, we have 218,000 members and students globally and want that number to keep rising
CIMA members can also keep up with international cases via a specialist magazine featuring articles by members working in different industries around the world. And, in keeping with the global reach of the profession, a new designation has recently been introduced - CGMA, or chartered global management accountant – which is widely recognised, and therefore makes it that much easier to take up overseas postings and pursue an international career. “During the year, my intention is to set up some task groups to air our views, for example, on government budget proposals,” says Lam, who is also group finance director of Jardine Shipping Services and has held a series of CIMA committee posts over the last 12 years. “We can act as a forum for members to express opinions and be more involved in the area of general public policy.”
CIMA has a rigorous and welldefined pathway to qualification and membership, while various exemptions are available.
John Cheng Senior analyst, rates and currencies Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Relishing the challenge to emerge triumphant
ohn Cheng Kuen-fung likes challenges. The more, the better, because he is ready to ascend to the next level.
The investment banking analyst has spent the past three years sitting three examinations – different subjects in a week at times although he has never failed in any single subject – on top of a highly demanding workload from his British and American employers. Out of the three professional qualifications, he found the CIMA experience more challenging – and probably the most rewarding. Cheng scooped the title of the best student in Hong Kong six times and ranked within the top 10 globally twice, achieving his best score in the paper “Enterprise Management”, when he ranked world No.6 in July 2013 out of more than 6,800 students sitting the same exam.
“I was surprised and shocked to receive a recognition letter from CIMA,” said Cheng, who was trained at Barclays before joining Bank of America Merrill Lynch this year as senior analyst, rates and currencies.
Cheng prepared for the three demanding exams using roughly the same amount of time and effort, having spent almost every weekend studying in the previous two years. But CIMA was the only exam – the others being Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Financial Risk Management (FRM) – where he knew he had passed with flying colours. If FRM was technical in nature and CFA comprehensive in scope, Cheng says CIMA is the most exciting, not just because he estimates that CIMA has the lowest pass rate among the three, but also because it requires strong writing skills. “I have been through many examinations and I can tell you each one is difficult,” Cheng says. ”But you really need to be a fast writer to pass the final paper, known as T4, or Top CIMA.” During the final exam, Cheng managed to produce a 4,500-word quality research-report paper within three hours in a pre-seen case study that required candidates to look at the company situation from a top management seat. The emphasis on writing may have presented a major challenge to many candidates whose
mathematical and analytical skills are superior to their command of non-mother tongue English. But Cheng said he enjoyed the challenge of this particular exam because it resembled a practical case which engaged candidates in a real-life situation, and which was probably a bit less difficult than the theory-driven exams he went through at university. A graduate in quantitative finance from Chinese University (CUHK), Cheng was recruited by Barclays, which made CIMA a part of its core management trainee programme, in 2011. “I like the financial industry because it is so dynamic and always a big challenge for me,” Cheng says, adding that while his middle office job might be less stressful than that of the front desk traders, the amount of trading volume he handles in the Asia-Pacific region leaves no room for error. Having acquired sufficient financial qualifications, Cheng can now focus more on work and develop his own network in his future endeavours. Looking back on his academic achievements after two tough and hardworking years, he says he is deeply indebted to three ladies.
“I would not have passed these examinations without family support, especially from my mother, who often boiled me soup filled with love,” Cheng says. “I am also very lucky to have a girlfriend who spent weekend hours studying with me, because she also worked hard in her accounting exam. “Last but not the least, there is the CIMA lady who invited me to be the master of ceremony for CIMA’s annual dinner – that offered me exposure and opportunities that I treasured.”
I was surprised and shocked to receive a recognition letter from CIMA
Having acquired sufficient financial qualifications, Cheng can now focus more on work and develop his own network in his future endeavours. Photo: Adrain Bradshaw/EPA
CIMA teaches high-level skills for global managers
ack in 1919, the founder of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) stressed the importance of having qualified professionals who can tell department heads and senior executives how their business can perform better tomorrow, not just how it has performed to date.
Almost a hundred years on, that need is as great as ever, as organisations everywhere grapple with the challenges and opportunities created by a recovering global economy, new technology, and changing shareholder expectations. That explains the rapidly increasing membership of CIMA, the world’s largest professional body for management accountants, and the steadily rising interest in courses offering the necessary training and accreditation. “The role of a management accountant is to help companies look at their own business, their potential risks and capabilities and to support good decision-making,” says Andrew Harding, CIMA’s London-based managing director, drawing the distinction from financial accountants and auditors whose basic task is to report on historical results. “The focus is on strategic planning, performance management and driving future success.”
The last 10 years have seen all kinds of regulations introduced or adjusted, from Sarbanes-Oxley to IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), and due compliance has been a priority. But, Harding notes, that has also precipitated a huge “renaissance” in management accounting. Companies realise they won’t find operating efficiencies, increase profitability, or break new ground by just following rules and meeting regulatory requirements. To keep improving, they need specialists on hand who understand the bigger picture, see possibilities, and are ready to ask the right questions at the right time. CIMA now has 96,000 qualified members, representing a large and influential worldwide community. Around 33,000 more are currently taking the training programme. A new designation – CGMA, or chartered global management accountant – has recently been introduced and is recognised around the world. And there are various pathways to qualification depending on an individual’s background and experience. “For MBAs, for example, we have a master’s level gateway which allows them to sit a challenge test and, on successful completion, to enter the CIMA programme for the final four assessments,” Harding
Andrew Harding FCMA, CGMA Managing Director, CMIA Photo: CIMA
says. “For CPAs (certified public accountants) in Hong Kong, there is an exemption programme in place for them to sit one exam and complete one multi-disciplinary case study.” The case, usually completed over two or three months, looks at a holistic business scenario. Candidates have to consider investment decisions, mitigation of risk, performance management issues, and advice for the board on how to get the best out of the business. As preparation, courses are available over six weekends covering things such as balanced scorecards, management tools, budgeting and targets. Alternatively, if candidates are not eligible for exemptions, the full series of courses can be taken online through approved tuition providers. There is additional support in the form of training sessions, specialist seminars and mentoring. Typically, if someone is studying part time and comes in with a first degree, it can take three or four years to complete the programme. Importantly, there is no need to be a CPA or finance major as a prerequisite for becoming a management accountant. “For people who have trained in other areas, such as engineering, and then moved up to head a team or project, the CIMA qualification is a very attractive career option,” Harding says. “It gives them the knowledge and skills needed to take on broader responsibilities and to work in different business roles.” To ensure that the younger generation in Hong Kong become more aware of the options, a CIMA university ambassador programme has been
launched to engage students and generally spread the message. As part of the initiative, selected students will be able to join a series of training workshops on topics such as résumé writing and job interviews and to receive mentoring. Over the next nine months, they
CIMA now has 96,000 qualified members, representing a large and influential worldwide community. Around 33,000 more are currently taking the training programme
will also have the chance to meet CIMA members, finance professionals and students from other universities, as well as to run events and online campaigns on campus as a way of promoting better understanding of management accounting. “We want people to know about the value of management accounting and the career opportunities it can bring in the corporate sector in particular,” Harding says. “The ambassador programme is part of our broader objective of working with universities to adapt courses and align syllabuses so they prepare students for the world of work.”
Photo: David Wong/SCMP
For people who have trained in other areas, the CIMA qualification gives them the knowledge and skills needed to take on broader responsibilities and to work in different business roles.
ACMA Senior Asset Manager, Commercial Property, Hongkong Land
Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP
A creator of shopping paradises
ow, picture yourself walking through Hong Kong’s fanciest malls as part of your daily work. Wouldn’t that be nice? Monica Hong, senior asset manager with Hongkong Land, certainly agrees. Educated at the London School of Economics, Hong has enjoyed a long and impressive career, firstly with professional services firms and now Hongkong Land. Hong is grateful to the company for allowing her to continue growing professionally since her graduation by providing a very stimulating environment where there are always new challenges and new things to learn. “Last year marked my tenth anniversary with Jardines and Hongkong Land. I have had the privilege of continuously interacting with – and therefore learning from – a large number of inspiring, successful professionals, including finance directors and regional or business heads,” Hong says. During her 10 years with the company, Hong has rotated through its various departments including accounting, financial control, residential sales and commercial property. Her many and varied experiences have given Hong a strong grasp of the company’s operating mechanisms.
Now, as senior asset manager, Hong begins every morning by conducting department meetings where she and a group of managers review agendas and touch base with team members on portfolio issues. Midday for her is mall walking time, monitoring display merchandise and reviewing operations. Hong devotes the rest of her day to liaising with real estate agents, as well as current and potential retail tenants. “My job requires high-level analytical skills to evaluate daily decisions based on the company’s two main drivers: mall image and revenue generation. With that in mind, I need to see the whole picture while evaluating clients’ potential from both a global and local perspective,” she says. “The challenge is finding the right mix within our portfolio among fashion, menswear, watches and jewellery, cosmetics, and food and beverage, in order to create a coherent offering that is in line with the luxury positioning of Hongkong Land properties,” Hong explains. Presentation skills are also of critical importance to Hong’s work, as she needs to share the company’s vision with its clients and communicate it effectively to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction. Hong’s daily interaction with
people from different backgrounds and cultures – brand executives, contractors, engineers, designers and marketing colleagues – requires flexible interpersonal skills. The CIMA qualification Hong earned early in her career prepared her well for the many challenges at work. “I started to pursue the CIMA qualification early in my career as part of the Jardine Matheson executive trainee programme. This is like a miniMBA that teaches us to evaluate problems, look behind the figures, analyse effectively and help drive the business forward. CIMA training has also equipped me with a better understanding of the financial constraints and considerations of the counterparty in order to create a win-win situation for everyone,” Hong says. Hong sees herself as a sponge, constantly absorbing and learning traits from supervisors, colleagues and clients alike. Living and working in a highly commercial and competitive city like Hong Kong, she knows she has to stand out and distinguish herself on a daily basis.
“I plan to deepen my understanding of the mainland market, as Chinese consumers will have an increasing influence on retail in Hong Kong. I would also like to improve my coaching skills; what I’ve learned from my mentors is that leaders don’t create followers, but other leaders,” Hong says.
CIMA training has also equipped me with a better understanding of the financial constraints and considerations of the counterparty in order to create a win-win situation for everyone
The properties Hongkong Land mainly located Central.
of are in
Photo: David Wong/SCMP
Hard work and motivation help Michelle turn up trumps
ichelle Cao could have picked the United States for further study six years ago, just like her fellow elite students in Shanghai, but instead she chose Hong Kong because it offered her a better opportunity to develop her career. Indeed, she was the co-founder of a social enterprise club on her campus before taking further studies in sociology. On graduating, she opted for a financial career. Cao could have picked other financial professional qualifications such as CFA or CPA for advancement, but instead she chose CIMA and greatly enjoyed its self-study mode. A management trainee with South China Group, Cao is now working as an equity research analyst in the mainland property industry, after two postings in investment banking and treasury.
Recruited after graduating with a masterâ€™s in sociology from the University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and a finance degree from Polytechnic University (PolyU), Cao recalls the time she decided to leave Shanghai for Hong Kong. â€œMy parents wanted me to go to the US, but I preferred Hong Kong because it offers more
opportunities for mainland Chinese,â€? says Cao, who can still remember the 2008 financial tsunami in the US, where many of her Shanghai colleagues are now studying business or finance in graduate school. Cao chose a different path and immediately made a smooth cultural transition in Hong Kong. While finding fun in books and finance, she came across a special opportunity with an international non-profit organisation, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), whose Greater China team leader persuaded her to set up a local chapter in her university to help people in need. Serving as SIFE founding president at PolyU, Cao led a 40-strong team of foreign, mainland and Hong Kong students in initiating projects to help local dropout students and disadvantaged elderly people living alone, with the assistance of local business leaders. It was the top chapter among university chapters in Hong Kong for two consecutive years, and also made presentations in the mainland. Building on her initial success, Cao wanted to achieve her next goal: starting a career in the financial industry.
Michelle Cao Management trainee South China Group
“Financial services are not only the pillar of Hong Kong, but also an international battlefield for top financial firms,” Cao says. “I knew I could learn a lot about their interaction and I wanted to be a part.” Taking up the offer from South China Group, Cao underwent its first management trainee programme, which required her to sit a CIMA exam providing comprehensive in-depth knowledge of the corporate inside world. For two years, Cao spent almost every weekend studying and completed 11 out of a total of 15 papers. She scored the highest mark out of all Hong Kong candidates in one paper, “Performance Management” (P2), and ranked 23rd in the world with a mark of 92. “When I sat the exam, I needed to be well-prepared and complete all the past papers. I was lucky that I sat only one exam at that time instead of three, as I am currently doing,” Cao says. Cao was particularly happy when her programme initiator, the CFO of South China Group Albert Law, took her to lunch to celebrate, something which gave her satisfaction at her hard work and the extra motivation to study even harder. “I like the CIMA, not just because of its flexible study mode and progressive study system, but also because I feel that I am continuously improving.
Photo: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
Every time I understood a concept via a case study or past paper, I found it a valuable learning experience because it was not theoretical, but very much practical,” Cao explains. Cao is grateful for the company’s support for her involvement with CIMA through its offer of a financial subsidy and study leave. Looking ahead, she has gained the confidence to look for further job-related study after CIMA. She regards it as the best possible study experience, something she has always felt thankful for and which she thoroughly enjoyed.
I like the CIMA, not just because of its flexible study mode and progressive study system, but also because I feel that I am continuously improving
Hong Kong offers more opportunities for mainland Chinese, Cao says.