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Accounting for good

23 July 2021

Corwin Kwong uses his skills as a CPA to make a positive impact in his job at The Salvation Army.


Planning to help


The non-governmental organization (NGO) sector is one that has long interested Corwin Kwong, Internal Auditor, The Salvation Army.


“When I was studying for my degree, I joined a volunteer tour with my church,” he says. “We spent 14 days in Cambodia, visiting poor and sick people, and a lot of NGO service centres who were helping them."


“I asked myself what I wanted my life to be: just being an accountant and helping my company to make more money, or can I do more to help people? I planned to work in a CPA firm and get my qualification; I wanted to join an NGO, but not too early – not before I was 40. I wanted to gain some experience and equip myself with technical knowledge, and also to save some money for myself,” given the generally lower salaries in the NGO world compared to the practising and commercial sectors.


His plan, however, didn’t entirely work out as expected.


Kwong had chosen accountancy as his university course, reasoning that the subject would be both comprehensible and tangible, after specializing in science at school and finding it too abstract. He undertook his degree remotely, at the UK’s Edinburgh Napier University, via a partnership with City University of Hong Kong’s CityU Scope continuing education school.


After graduating, he worked at medium-sized Hong Kong CPA firm, Morison Heng, as an external auditor from 2013 to 2017, mostly for clients outside the city, some in Europe and some in mainland China.


“It was very relevant to my current role,” he says. “I had to handle auditing, compliance and internal controls – all the things I have to do now. It was really good experience, to apply the theories and knowledge, and implement them practically. In the audit field, it’s good to get lots of chances to apply theory to practical work.”


Kwong also studied for the Institute’s Qualification Programme (QP), completing the course in 2015. “In Hong Kong, the QP is the most direct way for an auditor to obtain a practising certificate. You don’t need to do any conversion programme. And the resources provided are very good: when you enrol in the programme, you’re provided with a big learning pack – you could just read the whole thing and do the exams. It’s also good that it’s an open book exam, so you can take your notes into the exams.”


He also undertook further education with a Master in Corporate Governance at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which he completed in 2017.


“I enjoyed being an auditor, but I found that we were only working on an annual basis,” he says. “The clients are more concerned about you signing the audit report; after that, they don’t need to act on your recommendations. In the following year, I usually find the same mistakes again. I’m a person who really likes continuous improvement, and studying corporate governance took me in that direction. It also taught me about how to manage a company at board level, rather than just thinking about the figures. I learned about high-level management decision-making theory.” Completing the course within two years also saw Kwong gain the chartered secretary qualification.



Mr. Corwin Kwong
Internal Auditor,
The Salvation Army.

Making a difference


In 2018, Kwong joined The Salvation Army as an internal auditor. “After working in an audit firm for almost four years and finishing my corporate governance degree, I wanted to change jobs. I wasn’t targeting an NGO at that time. But then I saw that The Salvation Army were hiring and I sent my CV to them. I thought: if I want to spend my life helping people, I should start to do it sooner. The Salvation Army asked me to go for an interview after hearing about how my experience in Cambodia had changed my life.”


The job involves auditing units including social service centres, schools and social enterprises; the latter, he says, can make it challenging for an organization to prove to the authorities that it’s still an NGO for the tax purpose. He also provides invaluable support and assistance to the organization’s frontline staff, including teachers and social workers.


“When you work in auditing in an NGO, you don’t directly provide services to people in need, but you provide back-up to those who do; we help them streamline their procedures and workflow so they can focus on their services. This goes beyond the usual business of auditing. For example, when a teacher organizes an overseas trip, we help them ensure that they are complying with rules, regulations and funding requirements.


“Working in an NGO as an auditor, you must be a very responsible and disciplined person. Unlike in the commercial world, you don’t have performance targets and tight deadlines. However, it does not mean joining an NGO will be relaxing. The salary you are receiving comes from resources provided by the government and donors; if you waste money, you are wasting the money of poor people.


“You also need to be very focused on details. With large donations, the donor will usually make an agreement with the NGO. My job is to ensure that we follow the terms of the agreement; if we breach it, there is a very high reputational risk. Similarly, if government audit teams find out that you are not in compliance, they may not give you the funding next time. You need to be very accountable.


“At the end of the day I feel like I’m helping a lot of people,” Kwong says.


Interview and reporting by Richard Lord