Low Weng Keong, CPA Australia president Low Weng Keong is the
second consecutive CPA Australia president to be based outside
Australia and the first non-Australian to hold the post. Weng tells
Carolyn Canham how CPA Australia is comfortably international and
shares his thoughts about Singapore’s aim to become an accountancy
hub.

 

Low Weng Keong says his election as
CPA Australia’s first non-Australian president demonstrates the
professional body is putting its “money where its mouth is” when it
says it is internationally relevant.

“We do mean it without exception in
everything we do. We do try and find the best way to do things and
we are not constrained by borders,” Weng says.

At the same time, Weng is adamant
that not too much emphasis is placed on his nationality or country
of residence.

“We need to move away from the
significance of having an Australian versus a non-Australia as a
president,” he explains. “CPA Australia has always been global and
we have always been international in our outlook, always. Not just
in the past two years, or five years, we set up in Asia in the
early 1950s, so we have been around in Asia for 60 years.

“We have had non-Australians
sitting on the board for a long time, so it is not by design that
there have been two Asian-based presidents in a row – we don’t
distinguish.

“For us, it has always been one
organisation and if it so happens that the person the board feels
comfortable with to helm the organisation comes from Australia, so
be it. If they are comfortable with someone who at that point in
time happens to be based outside of Australia, then that is the way
it works.”

 

International
beginnings

Weng was born and educated in Malaysia, before spending 12 years
in the UK where he completed his accountancy training. From the UK,
he moved to Singapore and has been there since.

Weng has worked for a number of
accounting firms, beginning with small practices and working his
way up to becoming a country managing partner of Ernst & Young
Singapore. He has also spent time in business, working for a US oil
and gas multinational as the Far East tax manager.

Since retiring in 2005, Weng has
spent a significant amount of time on CPA Australia activities, as
well as sitting as an independent director on a number of public
company boards.

Weng came about his CPA Australia
membership in a rather unorthodox way. Instead of gaining the
qualification for the sake of his career and then moving into a
leadership role, he became a member so he could take on a
leadership role.

Weng was first introduced to the
organisation by a neighbour and family friend, who was the CPA
Australia Singapore division general manager in the early 2000s.
She invited Weng to give talks and seminars to members. Weng became
a member so he could sit on the divisional council. He progressed
to the board and then the presidency.

 

Building a hub

Singapore’s government has set its sights on establishing the
city as a regional accountancy hub. Weng hopes there will be a role
for CPA Australia to play in this development. The organisation has
offered to help in any way possible.

Weng is also confident that
Singapore is well placed to achieve its goals.

“There is an advantage that we have
in Singapore,” he explains. “The country is small, but the skills
are very high. The people are hard-working and quite smart and the
government is nimble. This meant that when they recognised there
was a need to develop this sector in Singapore, they moved ahead
and gave their full support to ensure it happens. I am pretty sure
it will happen very successfully in a very short time.”

By positioning itself as a regional
hub, Singapore is setting itself in direct competition with other
Asian business centres. Weng says this competition is healthy.

“It does not stop other countries
from also having the ambitions of being a hub or providing
excellent accountancy services,” he says.

“Our ambition is like our ambition
to have first-class universities and for students from all over the
world to come here. I don’t think it has been, or should be, viewed
negatively by other countries.”

If Singapore’s accounting
profession has many strengths, its one possible weakness is its
relative youth in terms of exposure to the sophisticated financial
world, Weng says. But even this is barely a weakness as progress
has been fast.

“We have come quite a long way and
now we have set ourselves to be among the leaders in accountancy
expertise,” Weng says.

Singapore’s regional aspirations and CPA Australia’s
international leadership both reflect increasing cohesion in the
Asia-Pacific profession. There appears to be a healthy balance
between regional co-operation and competition and it will be a
benefit to all stakeholders if this continues.