Curiosity led Carmen Chung, ACCA affiliate and global prizewinner, to embark on a career as private equity fund accountant with Langham Hall in Hong Kong
This article was first published in the May 2018 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Having embarked on a career as a private equity fund accountant, Carmen Chung already understands that learning to be adaptive and mastering the art of communication is crucial to excel as a financial professional.
Chung joined the Hong Kong office of global fund administration firm, Langham Hall in 2015 as a fund administrator. The firm – an ACCA Approved Employer – provides private equity fund administration as well as depositary services to fund managers in the debt, infrastructure and real estate sectors.
‘I’m currently working as a fund administrator for private equity funds,’ Chung explains. ‘My role involves preparing quarterly accounting reports and issuing capital calls and distribution notices, as well as communicating with investors,’ she says.
At this early stage of her career in the private equity sector, Chung is aware of the complexity of the industry. ‘I have learned to be more adaptive because every client has their own personality and different requirements,’ she explains, adding that different private equity funds have different fund structures. ‘Hong Kong has a very fast-paced environment. The private equity industry is also developing at a very quick rate, so you need to be very adaptive but at the same time resilient,’ she says.
Building strong relationships is one of the hallmarks of the private equity business. When dealing with investors, managers or outsourcing partners, good people skills are extremely valuable to a firm’s success. Something Chung picked up from her colleagues is how to master the art of communication and negotiation in the workplace.
‘Through interacting with colleagues and observing how they communicate with their clients, I realised the importance of the tone and wordings used in our daily communication; it could have huge impact in conveying messages and it affects people’s feelings, which could eventually impact the results of the work,’ she says.
Chung gives an example of how communication style could make or break a deal. When there is a tight schedule or deadline to meet, rather than asking colleagues and clients blunt questions around expected completion times, Chung suggests that it’s much more practical to ask whether they have encountered any problems or whether they need any assistance or clarification.
‘In this way, people are reminded about the schedule without feeling offended or getting extra pressurised, which could have a negative impact on work relationships,’ she says. ‘At the same time, we are able to understand the actual progress and plan the next steps together to solve the problem as a team in a much more efficient manner.’
While studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Chung attended PwC’s Talent Academy in the UK (see box). This enabled her to take part in networking events and get first-hand experience of life and work in the UK.
‘Curiosity’ then led her to choose private equity as her career entry point. This is, she explains, a more specialised area than general audit.
‘For audit, people seem to have a basic understanding on what the work involves,’ she says. ‘To be honest, I did not have much knowledge about private equity before I joined the company because private equity accounting is not taught in school or exams.
‘This makes the work very interesting as I have been able to learn on the job about how private equity funds work and operate,’ she adds.
This does not, however, mean that Chung thinks the private equity sector is necessarily more challenging than audit or vice versa.
‘I think there are pros and cons to each sector depending on one’s view and preference,’ she says. ‘For me, I find the private equity sector more appealing because we get to provide administrative services, which is a more proactive role that gets involved in the daily operation of funds.’
Chung believes that having essential knowledge of the industry is a premise to building a successful career in finance – which is where ACCA comes in. ‘The ACCA Qualification has helped me lay down the knowledge foundations for my career,’ she says.
‘The ACCA exams cover a wide range of topics in relation to accounting, such as financial and managerial accounting, tax, audit and so on,’ she says. ‘It helps to equip me with the essential and fundamental accounting knowledge to conduct my daily role and activities as an accountant.’
The ACCA training has not only familiarised Chung with tasks such as preparing management accounts in accordance to the international accounting standards; the knowledge gained from the audit module has also taught her how to smooth the audit process when liaising with auditors to provide relevant and sufficient information to them.
‘Although I don’t do audit work myself, it’s helpful to understand the process when I’m negotiating with the auditors during annual audits,’ she explains.
Chung’s commitment to her ACCA studies has paid off; in September 2017 she became a global P1 prizewinner.
‘It was quite a surprise for me to learn that I had won the P1 prize; I never expected that,’ she admits, adding that the keys to her success were preparation and practice. ‘There are a lot of resources on the ACCA website and in tuition books,’ she says. ‘Making good use of those were a major contributing factor to winning the prize.’
Chung intends to stay in the private equity sector and, in time, acquire a more senior role to lead her own team. ‘My career plan would be to continue my development within the private equity industry,’ she says. ‘The experience I have gained is very specialised and the industry is growing quickly so there are a lot of exciting opportunities here.’
Chung’s advice for people considering their career options is simple. ‘What helps you decide what to do with your career is your skills and your interest; you need both to be able to excel in your industry and workplace,’ she says.
‘Stay open-minded as there is a lot to learn – not only from the daily tasks and work but also from your colleagues and clients.’
Becoming confident is also vital when dealing with clients, who are usually in senior management roles. ‘It could seem a bit daunting at the beginning but these are definitely very invaluable experiences,’ she says.
Chung also makes sure that she enjoys her downtime – vital for finance professionals in a fast-paced environment like Hong Kong’s. She unwinds by listening to music and playing piano – ‘it helps to put aside my worries and thoughts and just relax’ – and she enjoys watching cookery videos and cooking.
Ultimately, the curiosity that led Chung to embark on a career in private equity is, she says, a vital tool for any finance professional.
‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions; each fund has its own unique structure, investment focuses and strategies. Therefore, you could be facing different problems every time,’ she says. ‘Never be afraid to ask for opinions or advice as colleagues are always willing to share their experiences to help.’
Cornelia Zou, journalist
"The industry is growing quickly so there are a lot of exciting opportunities here"