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Greater bay area: How accountants are becoming creative innovators

2018 was a big year for Paul Ho FCPA (Aust.). The partner at Ernst & Young, Hong Kong, was elected CPA Australia Divisional President, Greater China, and has been increasingly involved in one of China’s most promising projects: the development of the Greater Bay Area (GBA). The GBA comprises 11 cities including Hong Kong and Macau and has a GDP equivalent to a mid-size OECD country. It’s speculated to become a global hub of trade and finance to rival New York or Tokyo – and Ho is helping to make that happen.

"Rather than just being bookkeepers, we need to become gatekeepers."

Paul Ho

Why is the GBA important? 
“You’re talking about an area with a population of seventy million people and a collective GDP of around 1.56 trillion US dollars. That’s bigger than Australia and Spain put together, and just behind that of Korea – it’s huge. 

“We expect this to be kind of an engine to drive China’s economic growth in the near future. I think the GBA initiative will provide the people and businesses of Hong Kong and the other involved cities significant long-term benefits.

“Hong Kong in particular has a very well-established financial services market, so it has all the necessary infrastructure in terms of helping businesses within the GBA area to raise funding. It’s very well-positioned to become a major financial centre.”

How are you helping to develop the Greater Bay Area?
“In September 2017 I went to the CPA Australia office in Guangzhou to host a media briefing and unveil some of the key recommendations of CPA Australia’s first GBA report, which was jointly developed by a group of senior members, advisors, and myself. 

“And then in July this year, we held another press conference in Hong Kong about some of the success factors for the GBA development. So, we’ve been consistently promoting the GBA to our members as well as to the general public. And I’ve done various media interviews and been involved in government consultation around providing suggestions on how to better develop the area.”

Can you tell us about your role as Divisional President, Greater China?
“Part of my role is trying to enhance member engagement. Another is to bring value to our members through my network, through the senior members of the council, to bring the network and training to our members. Another is really to give our members a voice and advocate on their behalf. 

“Another aspect is connecting the government and business leaders with our members, especially the younger members, so that they can get exposure to those really important people in the business community.”

How has being an FCPA helped you to get where you are?
“I think, as a practising accountant, having a designation from a highly regarded accounting body such as CPA Australia is very important for both personal brand and career development. It allows people to have a high level of trust and confidence in you, and it’s viewed very positively by employers. 

“The FCPA designation brings this to an even higher level, and I do see people recognising you as a CPA and really trusting in your opinions, in your integrity. “

The GBA spans several different monetary systems, and blockchain has been suggested as a potential solution to the complications this presents. Can you tell us why this is?
“We did a report on that, and in our report, we suggested setting up a de facto blockchain standard for the GBA. That means that different blockchains used throughout the GBA cities would, regardless of what software they use, be interoperable. I think this has many potential advantages for businesses, because the blockchain standard can facilitate making legitimate movement of money easier, and it can help tackle illegal activity. 

“And the other good thing about the blockchain would be to improve the reliability and accuracy of the data that lenders can get access to, making it easier for them to make decisions on businesses that are looking for finance.

“Currently, the GBA has several different payment systems. We believe having a standard, de facto blockchain would definitely smooth out all the different systems between the cities.”

How do you think blockchain will impact the future of accounting not just in the GBA but generally?
“I would say the biggest advantage of blockchain for accounting is its ability to make the opportunity for human error almost negligible. The other benefit I see is increasing efficiency. Blockchain is fast and powerful, so getting data in and out of the system can be done very efficiently. And it can interact with accounting software applications as well. 

“The other key benefit of blockchain is to reduce fraud. Basically, the nature of blockchain makes it extremely difficult to alter data. If you want to modify a record, the same change would have to be made on all copies of the distributed ledger at the same time, so the information’s integrity is very protected. 

“And lastly, it reduces time for accountants. One key feature of the blockchain is it can really reduce our auditors’ time, so they can use smart contracts and other auditing functions which can be automated.”

Where do you see the future of accounting going? 
Like many other industries, accounting is currently experiencing disruption from technology. And as raw number-crunching becomes ever more digitised, employers are looking for more from their accountants. 

“We did a survey on this,” says Paul. “And many employers are not looking for an everyday number-cruncher anymore, but more for someone who can think creatively and innovatively and is able to communicate that thinking effectively.

“A lot of routine work can be done by machine now, so we as accountants need to upskill, and start thinking proactively to keep ahead of our clients’ potential issues.“

According to Paul, the near future will see the accountant increasingly assuming the role of business advisor.

“Rather than just being bookkeepers, we need to be become gatekeepers.”

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