Anirban Ghosh had set out to pursue CA from ICAI but due to various reasons had to quit the same. However, he did not give up on his dreams and chased what he wanted in life – To Be Successful.
Purpose of the article
If someone is feeling stuck in CA, pls. explore other options. While CA is the most powerful accounting qualification in India, it is not the be all, end all of your chances. There are MULTIPLE CHOICES out there which can make you successful.
One of the most difficult things for anyone is to discuss their past.
It becomes all the more difficult if you are discussing parts of your life that were probably not your best. But I guess my story is important to share as the initial struggles were followed with a lot of success purely based on some of the ALTERNATE PATHS that I have taken.
I was an average student throughout my schooling years. I would get the marks to reasonably pass the exams but nowhere among the top scorers in the class. But I was very passionate about doing really well in life!!!
When in college, I came across the big question – What do I do after B.Com?
The usual options those days (2001) in India were – MBA or CA, CWA, or CS. I wasn’t great at math so CAT was ruled out.
CA stood out in terms of marketability and overall opportunities. So I decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy from ICAI.
I registered for CA and started with my articleship. Those days you would start articles immediately and take your intermediate exams after around 1.5 years or so.
I joined a leading CA firm for articleship and with dreamy eyes, started out on my journey. This was a good firm but the stipend was very low at 450 rupees – 600 rupees pm. Although I didn’t need the money for myself, around the same time my dad had just started a business and there was a lot of instability. As the eldest son, the pressure soon came to me and I realized that I had to step in, to support my family.
Mentally I was not prepared to give up on CA, but continuing with articleship with no salary was leading to a lot of stress. After a series of difficult conversations, I finally decided to give up CA, with only half of my articles completed.
In fact, I had already given the CA – Intermediate exams Group 1 and cleared the same.
Leaving CA was the hardest thing to do especially after clearing the exams.
Life after leaving CA Studies midway
I got into a leading BPO and started out in an operations role. Having seen much bigger aspects of finance and accounting during my articleship days, I knew this is not going to take me anywhere far.
I moved to another team which was doing ‘Investigations of payments and transaction anomalies‘ where we had to use ‘Data Analytic Tools’ to detect anomaly payments. The AUDITOR in me was supercharged.
Coming from an auditing background helped me to see the big picture when compared to others. The other thing that really worked well is, I learned to use ACL Data Analysis Tool, purely by accident, which was not known to everyone else in the team. As you read further, this was a turning point in my career.
My department head, who was also responsible for running the Global SOX program, offered me to join that team. But he had a condition, I had to get some certification to be part of that group.
Being an American company, I knew that some of the international certifications like CISA or CIA could get me through the door.
My boss said, do CISA as that was a niche area in IT Auditing which even many qualified CA’s take up additionally as it is a rigorous exam, with a good market standing and strong demand.
Just 3 months to go for the exam, I enrolled in the course and toiled hard (after work) to prepare. I passed CISA in my 1st attempt and my boss kept up his promise to move me into the SOX Testing Team.
I was now part of a team that had only CA’s with many of them from past Big 4 experience. I was smitten by their background and felt that someday I should try to get into a Big 4 myself.
Fortunately, I got a call from one of the Big 4’s to join them in their ‘Forensic Accounting‘ practice. I was perplexed as that had ‘nothing to do with my qualification in IT Auditing‘.
However, I was wrong. The only thing they were interested in was my ‘EXPERIENCE of using the Data Analytics Tool ‘ not my ‘QUALIFICATION’. This was a HUGE LESSON in my life – People will hire you for your skills and how you express yourself and not merely your qualification.
Getting into this team opened up a new career path for me. After spending some time, I joined another Big 4 as a senior consultant in their forensic practice. Again, qualification didn’t matter as much as the experience that I had gained in the earlier firm.
My Desire to pursue CA Continued
But I must admit, being around CA’s and not having any relevant qualification was affecting my confidence. I was regularly meeting clients who were very senior finance leaders and I always worried if one of them would ask – When did you qualify as a CA?
Eventually, I felt that now with forensic auditing experience, I should pursue some qualification in this domain.
I was aware of the CFE certification which was the leading qualification for fraud investigators globally. I decided to pursue it while working and eventually cleared it (4 papers) a year later.
With two international certifications after my name (CISA and CFE), I felt somewhat better. I had also progressed to becoming a manager in a leading IT company in their internal audit department by this time.
While I was doing quite well and got another promotion in a couple of years, I was getting into more areas of finance and accounting and leading qualified accountants as part of my team. I realized that to build a career in more higher finance roles within the company or even outside, I had to have a strong accounting qualification, come what may.
The CA dream was still burning somewhere in the heart I guess. Eventually, I made up my mind that I am going to go after a ‘CA equivalent course‘ and it wasn’t going to be the Indian one (as that required articleship of 3 years which I couldn’t afford), I would try the international options.
Pursuing CPA (US)
I had read a lot about CPA from AICPA, the largest accountancy body in the world.
With a majority of top American multinationals setting up offices in India, it made sense to pursue a course that they recognize in their own country.
Although the exam format was largely multiple choice and I felt it would be easy, I soon realized that it was not just the exam but the logistics of travelling to a foreign country to write the exams was not all simple or cheap.
The passing requirement was also not easy. We had to score 75/100 to pass the papers and not 50 like what we are used to in India.
Further, the American system required 16 years of education whereas I had 15 years in the Indian system. So I had to first take an additional tax course to gain the required credits before becoming eligible for the CPA exam. But I went ahead and decided to take the plunge, as my options were limited.
Around 2 years later, I passed the CPA exam, while being fully employed in a large IT MNC!
My confidence was soaring as I had a CA equivalent certification plus 2 more certifications in specialized fields.
I got a promotion again.
Pursuing ACCA (full time)
Meanwhile, IND-AS / IRFS was in the news. When I started looking, I found that ACCA, UK has a Certificate course and a diploma course on IFRS.
The diploma course on IFRS was more extensive and I found that the exam paper was the same as their professional ACCA final paper on Accounting.
I just thought, why not look at the exemptions I am entitled to if I take up the full ACCA qualification (rather than just a diploma in IFRS). And to my surprise, I noted that I was eligible to claim 8 exemptions out of 14 papers due to CPA.
That meant I only had to pass just 6 additional papers to have a full-fledged UK professional Chartered Accountancy qualification!
What I also liked was their exam format of ACCA. All the questions were detailed case study based and it meant that I would not just do rote learning but had to really apply the concepts in business scenarios.
Having done it once with CPA, I was not worried about my chances. I decided to go for it and in about 3 years or so, I had QUALIFIED.
Again, ACCA was done while being fully employed at a Senior Management level (Director – Finance) in the Company.
Importance of qualifications
Now I was a CPA, ACCA with 2 international certifications (CISA and CFE).
While it may seem that I took a longer route to reach the same destination as any of my friends who would have continued with CA, the point is, I could have also got lost in the way, which I didn’t.
Do I think it’s only the qualifications that got to where I am? NO! But at the same time, not having the qualifications would have drastically reduced my negotiating power at the table for greater responsibilities as well as remuneration!
I would like to stress 3 KEY TAKEAWAYS from my journey:
- There is LIFE BEYOND CA. While CA is the most powerful accounting qualification in India, it is not the be all, end all of your chances. I carved a particular path. Others may choose a different path altogether. BUT IT IS WORTH CONSIDERING OTHER PATHS.
- There is NO AGE LIMIT FOR STUDIES. The limit is what we define ourselves. But one has to have a plan in mind and work in alignment to that.
- The CA certificate is a great starting point early on in our careers. But remember, it’s just the starting point. It is your PERFORMANCE at work, your COMMUNICATION and PRESENTATION skills, your ABILITY to solve business problems and BUILD RELATIONSHIPS at work that equally matter.
I would like to end this long note by wishing all the reader, especially young students a bright career. As the Nike saying goes – JUST DO IT.
Anyone wanting to find out basic information about how to pursue some of the courses should first do their research online and later on write to Anirban at email@example.com for further guidance.