Professionals have a long and honoured tradition. Doctors, lawyers and accountants arose from self-regulated guilds. Modern institutes of directors and officers such as corporate secretaries promote continuous professional training.
Hong Kong regulations have long recognised this public interest role of securities practitioners. General Principle 1 of the SFC's Code of Conduct clearly states that all licensed or registered persons should act “in the best interests of its clients and the integrity of the market”. Furthermore, the SFC Code of Conduct recently codified the Hong Kong Stock Exchange listing rule requirement that sponsors exercise “professional scepticism” in the exercise of their due diligence in preparation of IPO prospectuses.
Traditionally, one did not learn professionalism at university. Apprentices traditionally learned the exercise of professional judgment on-the-job under the tutelage of their masters, with their collective professional peers and elders to look to for guidance.
A service professional whom society bestows a degree of trust and latitude in his or her judgments and actions generally possesses three main attributes:
First, a professional possesses acknowledged expertise and competence in a specialised area of knowledge on which others rely for his or her expertise.
Second, a professional exercises critical judgment after analysis of the factual circumstances honed through practical experience, and whose judgment may not always be what the client likes to hear. Yet, how does a corporate finance professional acquire the ability and courage to exercise “professional scepticism” as required by the Hong Kong listing rules and Code of Conduct when conducting due diligence for prospectus preparation, and advise issuer clients on what they need to hear but may not want to hear? How do corporate disclosure professionals similarly analyse and communicate information that may need to be publicly disclosed to minority shareholders in circumstances where owners of many of Asia’s family and state-controlled listed companies may be resistant to such disclosure?
This is linked to the third element, namely that a professional has made a personal career commitment amongst its peers to collectively serve the best interest of the client and the public interest, which is and should be a source of pride in career and calling.
Yet, how does it mean to be a "professional"?
The global equity and debt capital markets allow companies to raise capital for growth that in turn benefits the broader economy. Capital markets integrity and transparency facilitate liquidity for capital allocation and pricing, and so the broader financial services industry ranging from sellside brokers to buyside institutional investors managing investments and long-term liabilities, and private equity firms seeking investment exits, ultimately rely on timely and accurate diligence and disclosure of material price-sensitive information. A financial capital city supports employment in many corollary businesses, but most importantly, transparent capital markets allows ordinary folk to have confidence to invest and save, directly and indirectly, for their lifestyles and retirements.
ACMI serves to provide a practical platform that facilitates important peer modelling and learning to promote professionalism of institutions and individuals and to bring to the forefront the important public interest role of the capital markets as part of the current ongoing discussions by organizations such as the World Economic Forum who are re-examining the role of financial services in society.