Accounting Remains a Lucrative Profession in Hong Kong at US$104,000 a Year

A new survey by the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) found that the average annual remuneration of young CPAs is around HK$817,000 (about US$104,000).

“Accounting continues to be one of the highest-paying professions in Hong Kong,” concludes the Institute. “Improving economic sentiment has seen the percentage of membership reporting pay rises increase from 84% to 87% year-on-year, while the percentage of member respondents receiving a bonus has increased from 79% to 80%.”

The Career Survey interviewed 3,310 HKICPA members and 3,887 students working towards their CPA qualification in the Institute’s Qualification Programme. The study was conducted from November 2017 to January 2018. The professional body said  the surveyed CPAs are younger than the overall HKICPA membership, and therefore less senior.

Eight out of ten respondents (83%) in senior and middle-management posts in the Big Four accounting firms said their company is encountering recruiting difficulties

New career paths

The survey finds demand for accounting professionals remaining high in Hong Kong, with accounting firms and corporates reporting difficulties in attracting and retaining talent. Eight out of ten respondents (83%) in senior and middle-management posts in the Big Four accounting firms said their company is encountering recruiting difficulties.

An even higher 96% said their firm is finding it a challenge to retain staff. The non-profit sector reports the fewest problems in recruitment and retention of accounting staff, but the number of respondents encountering problems is still a high 71% for recruitment and 77% for retention.

A quarter of the CPAs surveyed and a third of students changed jobs in the year prior to the survey. Interestingly, close to 30% of all respondents opted to move to non-traditional accounting fields such as advisory, consulting, investment and finance, IT and learning and development.

Jonathan Ng, Executive Director, Qualification and Education at HKICPA, attributed the change to new career paths that are being opened to finance professionals as their profession evolves into “something more than traditional accounting and auditing.”

“CPAs today combine their accounting knowledge with higher-order analysis skills and technical abilities to improve professional offering and add value to businesses,” he notes. “Many practicing CPAs are doing data analytics, business restructuring, merger and acquisition, fintech and cloud computing, whereas those in corporations are playing key business roles in a wide variety of industries and sectors.”

Employers may need to do more. Four out of ten CPAs and 55% of students plan to change jobs over the next year

Sellers’ market

The survey uncovered differences in pay structures between accountants in practice and accountants in business. Respondents working in accounting firms reported high pay rises in the past year – half said they received a salary increase of 5% or more, while 12% received a wage rise of 15% or higher.

Pay rises were lower for accountants in the corporate sector, but bonuses were larger. Nearly six out of ten accountants in business (59%) received more than one month’s salary as bonus, while 21% reported getting two to four months’ salary.

Students enjoyed a lucrative year too. More than a quarter of students in public practice (28%) were granted a pay rise of 20% or more in the past year, with 44% getting 10% or more. This is on top of the regular pay rise granted by employers when students complete the Qualification Programme and become CPAs.

Employers may need to do more. Four out of ten CPAs and 55% of students plan to change jobs over the next year.

"The demand for CPAs is likely to continue to be strong, as more business activities demand the services that CPAs offer,” predicts Ng.

“The changes of listing rules [in Hong Kong] allowing companies with weighted voting rights structures, and biotech companies at pre-profit/pre-revenue stages, plus the interest in the deep capital markets of Hong Kong by companies seeking a secondary listing, are likely drivers of IPOs and demand for CPA services like advisory, audit and financial analysis," he says.