Rahul K. Mitra
When I started out as a chartered accountant (CA) many moons ago, life was much simpler. There werent that many opportunities available and sheer hard work could help you get wherever you wanted to go. The hard work is still a part and parcel of a CAs life. You still need to go through piles of books to come up with the answers your client seeks, but now a whole range of opportunities are available to students. That has actually complicated things because now you have to decide early on in life just what you want to do — whether you want to join the industry, that is, take up a job with groups such as the Tatas, or become a consultant.
Becoming a professional, like I am, demands much more work but is also more challenging. To become successful, it is necessary to decide on the area of your expertise early on. How do you decide? Obviously you take your aptitude into account. Also, by the end of the three-year articleship, you should be able to realise which particular area interests you — audit, tax or management consultancy.
We had the luxury of meandering through all of them before making a decision but that is a luxury aspiring CAs cannot afford today. And it is imperative that you like your area of expertise. We have to spend long hours going through dry books — looking for loopholes in a law that a client can exploit or figuring out exactly how laws of all the involved countries will affect an international merger such as the Tata-Corus one — which is very hard if you do not like what you are doing.
Also, some areas of a CAs work now overlap with that of an MBAs. I specialise in transfer pricing. I have been able to succeed in this because Ive gone through the grind but a fresh CA would have to get an MBA degree before he or she could hold her own in transfer pricing. In fact, if a candidate is good in studies and has sufficient ambition, it would be a good idea to get an MBA degree after completing CA. If I had been born a decade later, I might have done it too.
The basic qualities required to be a successful CA are, however, still the same —diligence, perseverance, and an affinity and aptitude for the subject. And, of course, a head for numbers.
Ernst & Young India Pvt. Ltd, and past president, Institute for Chartered Accountants of India
The concept, earlier on, was that chartered accountants took care of the accounts. But plain vanilla accounting is something chartered accountants do not do any more. In fact, ICAI will soon launch a course to train those who now do accounting.
The bit that remains from the original job profile of CAs is auditing. That isnt likely to change anytime soon because CAs are the only people in India who can certify balance sheets. The accounting language is called GAAP or generally accepted accounting principles. There are various types of accounting languages such as Indian GAAP, IFRS GAAP and US GAAP and one has to specialise in one of these. There is a huge opportunity for IFRS GAAP experts because India is going to change over completely to the IFRS system by 2011.
We have a huge shortage of CAs in India. Just to give you an idea, in a developed country like the UK, there is one CA per 750 people but here we have one CA for about 10,000 people. Incidentally, Indian accountants are considered the best in the world and are in high demand in places like the UK.
To be a successful CA you do need numerical and logical skills, but you also need strong language skills because you have to understand and interpret the language of the law. The most important thing, however, is to plan your career well. You should make up your mind, preferably before the three-year articleship, about which branch you want to specialise in — the traditional audit, tax work or one of the newer things like risk management. One of the most lucrative aspects of tax law is transaction tax, where you have to work on mergers and acquisitions. Smart candidates also ensure that they have maximum exposure to sunrise sectors such as telecom and insurance, where the demand for CAs will be really high.
(As told to Paromita Sen)