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S'pore prepares for a 2-tier accounting profession

Details about the Singapore QP and its impact were unveiled on Monday. -BT
Lynn Kan

Thu, Apr 04, 2013
The Business Times

SINGAPORE - With the mid-year launch of a new post-graduate accountancy training programme, differentiations will eventually be drawn between professional accountants who do it and those who don't.

The Singapore Qualification Programme (QP), conceived to raise the capabilities of the accounting profession and to open up opportunities for overseas practice, aims to confer accountants here with the title "Chartered Accountant of Singapore".

Accountants will have, however, a "transition period" of a few years to choose how they want to get there. They can attain the title by following the easier "status quo" system, or opt for the more rigorous training of the Singapore QP.

Details about the Singapore QP and its impact were unveiled on Monday by the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC), the statutory body overseeing it.

Under the current qualification system, accountancy graduates or other accounting qualification holders are recognised as Certified Public Accountant Singapore (CPA Singapore) after attending a five-day pre-admission course and sitting a multiple-choice exam, both administered by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPAS).

They must have, at that point, three years' experience.

With the Singapore QP starting in June, the CPA Singapore title will be replaced by "Chartered Accountant of Singapore".

A large group of 18,000 CPA Singapore title holders who are members of ICPAS will automatically be "grandfathered" to hold the CA Singapore designation on July 1.

SAC chairman Michael Lim said the Singapore QP will make it "a lot harder, a lot more rigorous" to gain entry into the accountancy profession.

For starters, only degree-holders can apply for the Singapore QP.

To earn the badge of CA Singapore, they must undergo Singapore QP's six modules, five of which are examinable; they must also work for three years with an Accredited Training Organisation (ATO), and be members of ICPAS.

There are now 30 ATOs, but SAC aims to raise this selected list of employers to 150 by June.

Although the Singapore QP begins accepting candidates in June, the door to the old qualification system will remain open - for some, until as late as 2021 - and lead to the same CA Singapore title.

But those who choose this easier route will not reap the benefits linked to the Singapore QP, such as the licence to practise in overseas jurisdictions.

On Monday, SAC said it inked an MOU with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)to commit to reciprocal membership.

Reciprocity opens the way for Singapore QP Chartered Accountants to practise in the UK, and vice versa.

SAC is also in talks with Australia and New Zealand for a similar arrangement.

Mr Lim said the added mobility conferred to Singapore QP CAs is "fair because they give you reciprocity on the basis of the new exam. Why would they give reciprocity if the accountants haven't gone through the exam?"

The other upshot of not undergoing the tougher QP may well affect one's chances of a livelihood: non-Singapore QP accountants may have to contend with employers preferring Singapore QP-trained candidates for their more rigorous training.

Quek Suan Kiat, country manager and COO of Barclays Bank Plc Singapore, said being an ATO would give access to the best talent in the Singapore QP.

Some 20,000 ACCA students and 2,500 CPA Australia students have until the end of 2018 to decide whether or not to follow the well-trodden existing system.

Another 3,000 accountancy undergraduates enrolled in the four universities here, due to graduate between this year and 2016, have until Dec 31, 2019 to do the same.

Already, the number of people heading for the "tried and tested" route offered by accountancy professional bodies has risen.

ICPAS said there has been a spike in the numbers registered to take its Professional Exam, meant for non-accountancy graduates who want a professional qualification, said Goh Puay Cheh, its chief operating officer.

This year, 800 have signed up for the exam.


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