Aawesh Agarwal shares with us the exact strategies he used to go from an average student in school to a Chartered Accountant to moving to China.
He also shares tips on Industrial training and how Industrial Training helped him find an opportunity in the worlds growing economy of China.
A must-read article for those Aspiring to ‘Top the CA Examination along with Industrial Training’.
Aawesh is a qualified CA from India (ICAI).
Presently he is a Senior Finance Analyst at Proctor & Gamble, Guangzhou (China).
My Journey Becoming a Chartered Accountant
I am Aawesh Agarwal, a qualified Chartered Accountant from India now living and working in China.
I cleared my CA exams from ICAI all in the first attempt.
But this was not always my story. I had my own challenges in life and worked on them to reach here.
Here is my story:
In school, I was a very average student.
The continuous guidance from my brother helped me create my own path and approach life in a different way.
The way I have approached life is:
- To design goals and gradually proceed towards them through step by step efforts.
- Backed by two principles I inherited from my family –“hard work” and “never give up”.
Emerging from an average student till Class X to scoring great marks in Class XII was a part of these step-by-step efforts.
My level one goal was to get through a prestigious commerce institution Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi, away from my hometown in Kolkata.
I knew living by myself would be my first step to learn virtues and be independent which no book can teach.
I toiled myself to score great marks and get through admission in SRCC.
Once I got through SRCC, I also focussed on co-curricular and not just typical school/college study curriculum.
I actively participated in: Case study competitions, organizing & managing business/ cultural events, etc.
This helped me inculcate analytical, leadership & managerial skills which I would have lacked in regular CA curriculum.
At the same time, I enrolled for the CA course from ICAI and started appearing for examinations.
To become a CA from ICAI, one needs to clear 3 levels of exams:
- CPT: This is mostly MCQ’s
- IPCC: This consists of 2 groups – Group 1 and Group 2
- CA Final: This again consists of 2 groups – Group 1 and Group 2.
- Along with 3 years of articleship which one can start after clearing IPCC. The first 2 years of articleship has to be done in a CA Firm while the last year can be done in an MNC (this is known as Industrial Training).
- You can get more details from the ICAI website.
I appeared for CA Level -1 (CPT) and CA Level-2 (IPCC) during my college days and joined BMR Advisors, Delhi for articleship in taxation.
During my first year of articleship, I realized core taxation/auditing and working in a CA firm culture/ environment for a lifetime is not my cup of tea.
I wanted to work on the business side – more on business analysis & planning.
Industrial training was one such opportunity area where I could enter this world.
During my 2nd year of articleship, I started reaching out for industrial training through the company’s website, ICAI enrolled companies, etc.
I got through Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and joined industrial training with P&G, Mumbai.
CA Final Exams
One cannot clear CA exams in one attempt during Industrial Training is a myth.
Yes, for sure, one should expect less exam/study leave days when doing Industrial training.
I always heard multiple feedbacks that students don’t get appropriate exam leaves to prepare during industrial training. But I was ready for such a situation.
I started CA Final preparation right from my first year of articleship so that I can cover 100% syllabus before going on exam leaves.
The intent was not to clear CA exams as soon as possible but to perform well in Industrial training, bag PPO & clear exams appropriately to enter the world I wanted to.
In fact, even if I had to drop an attempt for Industrial Training I did not mind.
Eventually, the two principles “hard work” and “never give up” helped me achieve my goals along with clearing CA Final in the first attempt.
On a simple reading, the journey looks like a smooth ride but that’s never the case.
Everyone faces and will continue to face challenges in each phase. It’s how you prepare for those situations and overcome them.
Rejection from Big 4s during my articles despite a securing Rank
As mentioned, I secured good marks and got into SRCC.
I appeared for IPCC (CA Level 2) during my graduation days. I secured All-India Rank (AIR) 50 in the exams.
I had Rank plus I was good with analysis & communication. This made me pretty confident to get articleship into Big 4.
However, the very first application was turned down by one Big 4.
I applied to another Big 4 Accounting firm and was opted out after the first round of Group Discussion.
The other two big 4 firms rejected my application after the first round itself.
This was a nightmare as I was left with no articleship position in hand even after securing a rank.
What went wrong! I realized what did – it was over-confident and that let me down and did not prepare well for the interviews thinking I would easily pass through.
Once I realized the mistake I made, I gave my best and prepared for the other interviews lined up. I went through all HR questions & technical stuff and prepared myself. It was then just a matter of time. This helped me bag opportunity in BMR taxation, Delhi.
The lesson I learned – “Practice, preparation & performance supersedes everything”
Got an eye infection before the exams
I faced an unfortunate incident during my CA final exams.
Just a day before the CA Final Group 2 exam started, I suffered from severe eye infection (on my left eye). It was severe to the extent I couldn’t open my eye. Every 5 mins I needed to wash out mucus.
Medicinal treatment was going through but slow. Needed 10 days to recover.
I still decided to go ahead & appear for the exams. I used one hand to wipe out mucus and other to write exams all throughout those 3 hours exam.
I hardly studied for only 2-3 hours before all Group 2 exams and still cleared it.
It wasn’t magic. It was because of: (a) Urge to not give up (b) the three tips mentioned below.
How I Cleared CA Exams with Industrial Training
Three tips I followed which helped me succeed:
1.Well-organized preparation schedule:
- How to overcome the fear of failure in CA exams is by making a proper schedule or timetable.
- I made a clear schedule for CA Final exams preparation subject-wise & topic-wise right from Year 1 to Year 3.
- Strictly following that schedule pulled off entire pressure off my shoulder and I could finish preparation right before exam leaves.
- The leaves were only for revision/ mock exams/ learning amendments (if any).
- You must have a study plan for CA Final.
2. Easy revision mode:
- It is easier to cover 100% subjects/ topics over 3 years but the most difficult portion is to cover 100% revision during exam leave or 1 day before the exam.
- To overcome this, I made my own notebook for all subjects over 3 years of preparation time.
- The notebook covered key points on each topic. I just read those notebooks one day before the exam. The key points were jotted in such manner which could help me recall the entire content. Thereby, I could cover 100% topics revision.
- How can you pass CA Final exams? By making notes or maintaining a notebook of the important points which you have to revise the day before the exams.
3. Well-structured & simple writing:
- Well, if given an opportunity what would interest you – reading a verbose jam-packed New York Times or simple well-structured pointed e-news bulletin? Obviously the latter is easy to read, understand & less time-consuming. So does any examiner prefer!
- In any examination, the examiner does score basis the content you write vs answer guidelines he has. It is always difficult for any person to find those key points in long paragraphs or story-writing. Eventually, he/she might not read the entire content. Hence, simple writing with bulletins, highlighting key points, answering to the point helps to score better.
- Try & build a structure for the answer you write.
- For eg: if a question relates to a case study where you need to evaluate: always mention (a) your one-liner opinion, (b) related laws/ guidelines, (c) relate the situation to law/ guidelines & justify the conclusion.
- Communication is taking one person from one point to another through a bridge. Your answers need to be like that bridge with well-connected pillars.
Should students take Industrial Training & how to proceed
To answer this question, one needs to be clear on their aspiration and interest.
When is CA Firm the preferable option:
- If you aspire to be specialized in core auditing/ taxation facing clients side
- If it motivates you to be in the role of CA Firm director or partner one day in the long-run
When is industrial training a preferable option:
- If you aspire to work beyond hardcore auditing/ taxation (such as corporate finance, management consulting, financial planning & analysis)
- experience a more dynamic front-end business environment
- on average you get paid higher in industry vs CA Firm
How to apply for Industrial Training
To the best of my knowledge, all companies offering industrial training need to register with ICAI. The list of such companies (zone-wise) is available on ICAI website.
You can choose the companies from that list or make your own list of companies you are interested in.
You can apply through openings in ‘career section’ on their website.
Also, better to stay connected with folks on online CA platforms, LinkedIn, etc. This is how I applied for Industrial Training.
My Journey from India to China
I cleared CA in May 2016 and joined Procter & Gamble as a full-time employee.
In fact, my industrial training with P&G helped me to secure a permanent position and join them directly.
I started my first role as a Plant Finance Manager, in P&G Goa.
I have always been open to relocate which helps in rich diversified experience across roles, culture, people, etc.
Owing to amazing results, good knowledge in one of the business units & wide visibility to Global/ Regional Leadership, I was offered a role in Guangzhou, China in August 2018.
This is my 5th location: Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa & now Guangzhou (China).
China is the fastest emerging e-commerce economy. India’s business environment is closely following China’s trend. So working in P&G, China was an opportunity of a lifetime.
It’s been an exciting journey. Moving outside India and outside my comfort zone was a difficult task for me.
In fact, its’ always difficult to step out of your comfort zone.
I was skeptical and a bit frightened about how I will manage life in China. It needed mental adjustment and lots of research in the background to be acquainted with the place, people & culture.
With time, it has only improved and I gained more confidence.
Moreover, the company takes care of stuff such as housing, banking activities, visa documentation, etc. So that’s not a headache. With time, people, organization and overall place are more familiar enabling ease of life.
Getting acquainted with working in a new country
From a work standpoint, the issue doesn’t persist. People are helpful and always ready to offer support when needed.
No one expects you to be technical experts from day one.
The major challenge which expats generally face is ‘language’ difference.
People in China are well-versed in Chinese/ Mandarin vs English. This is driven by their education system which is predominantly in Chinese. However, employees in Global MNCs/ large firms do speak English.
If you are a CA or CPA moving to China or for that matter any new country, you need to be acquainted with the Tax laws of that country as Tax laws vary in each country. You need to do understand the tax laws if the role demands so.
For audit and accounting, the basic standards are usually similar given most countries laws’ are influenced by the international governing body’s principles. However, brushing a little about the Accounting standards specific to the new country your moving to will do you no harm.
Accountants can apply for opportunities in China through the following:
- Hongkong Chapter of ICAI: ICAI has its own branch/chapter in HK. You can refer their website/ social media page for contacts. In case you look to move to HK, you can be part of HK ICAI Whatsapp group. Job openings & requirements are regularly posted in this group. For HK, routing through ICAI group is most helpful for CA/CPA or even semi-qualified.
- LinkedIn: You can refer for job opportunities in LinkedIn. Global MNCs and Chinese companies & firms are now resorting to posts job openings on LinkedIn.
- Current workplace: You may apply to move to China for expat role through your current company/ firm (if it has footprints in China.
- Job openings on company websites if you have no direct contacts/ referrals.
- If you are a Chartered Accountant from South Africa or the US, there are many finance expats here who have a large community. You should get in touch with them.
Sectors in China which hire expat Chartered Accountants/CPA’s
There are a plethora of sectors to explore.
The opportunities for a Chartered Accountant / CPA is not only in audit & taxation. In fact, my role is a lot about financial planning & analysis (FP&A).
I have seen job openings right from financial analysis, financial reporting, taxation, corporate finance, due diligence, research associate (for qualified CA/CPA/ other professionals) to account executive role (for semi-qualified).
Emerging areas on International Taxation & Transfer Pricing are good opportunity areas if you want to move to China or any international country.
These are generally Global MNCs and local trading companies or Indian trading companies with branches in HK or Mainland China.
CA as a profession is great, it can help provide the best technical finance, audit & tax skills vs other sources.
However, by virtue of the curriculum format, it is a time-consuming platform to learn key values such as analytical, leadership, communication, managerial skills. Mostly these are on-the-job learnings in the long run.
Well, I personally believe Chartered Accountants need to be much more than technical experts.
Technical skills can be acquired with time but the key aspects are Analytical skills and clear communication.
Lack of communication skills tends to result in a misunderstanding of information with clients.
A quality finance professional is more than an accounting master, an audit expert and a law interpreter. They need to be business leaders guiding their company or clients to meet their goals.
BONUS: Here are Some Advice From Accountants Living Abroad
Abhishek Bajaj, Chartered Accountant
“My journey studying to be a Chartered Accountant was not easy. I took almost 4 attempts to qualify as a CA.
In fact, even before qualifying as a CA, I started working in Bangkok as a Finance Manager.
Today I am working with Indorama in China.”
Taran Kaur, PwC Middle East
“Coming from a below-average middle-class family, I lost my dad when I was 16.
Being raised by a single mom thereafter was not easy.
I discovered Transfer Pricing career, primarily because I ruled out the possibility of pursuing a CA/CPA degree.
Once I made up my mind that CA was not for me, I started looking out for other opportunities that were available.”
Khaleel, Chartered Accountant
“To be honest it was NEVER my intention to pursue Chartered Accountancy.
I come from a somewhat humble background and prior to moving to Dubai, I traveled abroad only once.”
Now It’s Your Turn…
Are you a CA/CPA wanting to move to China?
Or are you already in China?
I have also always been interested in teaching, sharing knowledge or my experience/ learning with others. Do comment below and let me know if you have questions for me.
I could be reached on LinkedIn at – Aawesh Agarwal