Home' A Plus Magazine : May 2013 Contents countries attended, including 300 from Australia. The governor, Sir
Murray Maclehose, opened the conference and the financial secre-
tary, Haddon-Cave, gave the closing address.
The year 1976 was also notable for the departure of Henry Yuen
as registrar, who returned to the legal profession. Joseph Fok was ap-
pointed registrar after a brief interregnum in which the 28-year-old
assistant registrar, Louis Wong, ran the Society office in an acting
In October 1977, Hong Kong sent a 20-strong delegation to the
International Congress of Accountants in Munich. That conference
resulted in the foundation of the International Federation of Accoun-
tants, an organization which the Society is a founder and would play
an active role.
The Society also contributed to many early accounting standards
in the 1970s, drawing on resources firstly at the major firms and then
from its own technical department. (See “High standards set from
start” on page 33.)
While the Society was assuming a higher international profile,
one country remained signally absent from its sphere of influence.
China’s economy was opaque and seemingly negligible.
Even in Hong Kong, it remained largely a great, poor and mysteri-
ous land to the north. In the first half of the 1970s, the Cultural Revo-
lution continued to roil Chinese society. “ The Mainland was pretty
closed,” Morrison remembers.
Hundreds of thousands of people had fled the Mainland for Hong
Kong during the turmoil, straining the colony’s housing resources
and social ser v ices. In 1974, the government implemented the Touch
Base policy, allowing Mainlanders who had reached relatives in ur-
ban centres to apply for Hong Kong identity cards. Others would be
repatriated. (That policy would last until 1980.)
When the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, cracks of light
were visible through the previously firmly closed door of China. At
the time, the world was focused on the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping,
the first vice premier.
In 1977, Deng oversaw the introduction of a new economic model –
the Open Door Policy – to be inaugurated the following year. Chinese
foreign trade with non-Communist nations began to expand sharply,
while trade with traditional partners such as the Soviet Union and its
satellite states in Europe stagnated or grew very slightly.
In 1977, China signed or renewed trade agreements with Japan,
Australia, West Germany and Canada. Trade with the U.S. reached
DAY IN THE LIFE
OF A 1970s AUDITOR
Given advances in technology since the 1970s, accounting might
be a little less personal these days. “There was more direct
involvement by walking the client’s factory floors to check the
stock,” recalls T. Brian Stevenson, who became president of the
Hong Kong Society of Accountants in 1996 but in the early 1970s
was a young auditor at Lowe, Bingham & Matthews.
Otherwise, he muses, the role was not too much different than
it is now. “I think the daily life in many ways was the same as it is
today. Basically, for most staff working on audit clients, you were
usually at their premises [and spent] minimal time in the office.”
Travelling around Hong Kong changed dramatically in 1972 with
the opening of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, enabling Kowloon-based
workers to catch buses and taxis to work on Hong Kong Island,
where the large accounting firms were located. Another transport
revolution occurred at the end of the decade, with the first Mass
Transit Railway line opening in 1979.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the long hours. “It was heads
down, tails up, all the time,” Stevenson recalls. “It was nothing but
work because you were building a business,” he recalls, referring
to his decision to leave Lowe Bingham in 1974 to open the Hong
Kong office of Turquands Barton Mayhew, a predecessor firm of
Ernst & Young.
Stevenson says one major difference in terms of working
life was less reliance on technology. There were no personal
computers back then – a few mainframes had been set up in Hong
Kong in the early 1970s – and the fax would not be popular until the
end of the decade.
However, accountants were early adopters of technology in
the Crown colony: In 1974, accountant members of the Hong Kong
Computer Society formed the Computer Audit Club.
Of course, the 1970s saw the pocket calculator emerge as
the business accessory of choice for accountants, even though
Chinese-language trade publications featured advertisements for
abacuses (sometimes with training courses thrown in) throughout
Expatriate accountants were lured to Hong Kong by salaries
that could be double that of their home countries and taxed at less
than half the rate. Ken Morrison, now chairman of Mazars but then
a Coopers & Lybrand auditor, remembers renting a 2,000 -square-
foot flat for HK$2,000 a month in the mid-1970s.
Some sole practitioners remember the 1970s fondly. “Life was
so much easier,” recalls Patrick Wong, who left Coopers & Lybrand
to found his own firm in 1975. “Standards were not so high and
competition was not so keen.”
The main issue for SMPs was finding clients. “It was not
permitted to advertise or canvass for clients,” says Wong. “You
could only sit in your office and wait for them.”
Wong said he earned about HK$70,000 in his first year as an
SMP. It might not sound like much, “but you could purchase a flat
with a year’s salary back then,” he says. “Now, 12 months’ income
wouldn’t buy you a toilet.”
Institute at 40
32 May 2013
Louis Wong in his office at Belgian House, an office
of the Society from 1983 to 1998.
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