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The Intern: Why my job at a big four firm in Hong Kong was boring but beneficial

I have a love/hate relationship with the auditing industry; a distain for the tedium of its junior jobs and a growing respect for its ethics and accuracy.

My first auditing encounter dates back to my pre-college years, when I worked in a small accounting firm in south China. After checking invoices with digital auditing workings for two tedious weeks, I could take it no longer and quit.

Four years later, I find myself sitting in a client’s conference room with 270-degree view of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, and piles of invoices, financial statements, and auditing works bearing the logo of a big four firm.

Starting out

My one-month internship gave me and more than 100 other university students the chance to improve our accounting acumen and interpersonal skills within large multinational corporations. It also gave the auditing firm extra people during its most hectic season.

I thought the three-day training module was too information heavy. It was easier to forget than to memorise all the accounting jargon. On the fourth day, we were dispatched to the front line of different corporate battlefields barely knowing how to fire a rifle. I was assigned to a top-tier company with a team of entry-level auditors and senior managers.

Into the trenches

Expecting to dodge canons and discharge my rifle from the start, I was disappointed to realise that the interesting work was done by the veterans, leaving me with tedious, mechanical and repetitive tasks. (But the breathtaking sea view and distracting pantry made all the difference compared with what I did four years ago).

I also got a glimpse into the mystical world of auditing procedures and duties. But like a blind man attempting to touch an elephant, I fell short of seeing the whole animal – I didn’t have a full financial picture of the audit.

The technical knowledge I acquired through daily practices such as vouching and calling will wear out in time. What will benefit my career in the long run is something lying beneath the mechanical work flow.

A lesson learnt

I once asked my senior manager why mainland Chinese companies hire auditors from Hong Kong even though the local ones are cheaper. He replied that the higher ethical standards and professionalism of Hong Kong teams justify the additional costs.

I did not fully grasp the gravity of these intangible factors until I had to stay up late sifting through thousands of past-year sales invoices and bank statements, or until I saw my manager questioning clients about the reliability of accounting data without a shred of compromise.

The relationship between client and auditor is so intricately subtle that we have to be friends and enemies simultaneously. Any deviation from the highest professional standard is a butterfly that may lead to a thunderstorm in the capital markets at unexpected hours. Auditors with only one eye open not only compromise the accuracy of companies’ financial disclosures, but also jeopardise the transparency and efficiency of the markets.

I remember last decade, when Zhu Rongji, then Premier of China, was asked to write a few words to graduates of the National Accounting Institute. He only wrote, with heavy strokes, four Chinese characters: “Bu Zuo Jia Zhang” – make no false account.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of eFinancialCareers.

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