- I am Abbas Jaorawala, a Chartered Accountant with over a decade of experience in the field of Direct tax (international tax / cross-border tax).
- In 2009, I qualified as a CA and started my career at a Big 4 Firm in their tax team. My goal was to work hard and become a Partner!
- However, the super hectic consulting life took a toll on my health and I soon moved to a Large Indian Firm only to get an offer from another leading Big 4 firm.
- In April 2018, despite achieving success and a bright future at the larger firms, I took a bold move and decided to carve my own path by founding a firm in my own name – A.M Jaorawala & Co.
- Here is my story.
Back Story: Why CA?
My father, Mr. Moiz Jaorawala, who despite his modest background and vernacular schooling, qualified as a CA in his first attempt in the 1970s.
As a child, I was inspired by the respect that he received because of his profession and how his guidance and opinion was always sought and valued. I too decided to become a Chartered Accountant!
Also, accounting and finance appealed to my logical mindset, and hence, pursuing CA was a natural step for me.
My practical learnings coupled with hard work helped me clear all the levels of CA in my first attempt.
(I consider myself fortunate to have found my mentor in Mr. Ishraq Contractor during my article training at CNK & Associates LLP. The learnings I obtained while working with him laid the foundation which has helped me throughout my career.)
While the road to becoming a CA was fairly straight, however, it has not been easy especially since I chose to self-study for my CA final exams. (Quite against the trend of joining coaching classes!)
I had friends genuinely concerned that I would fail…fortunately it all worked out well.
Changing lanes: From a Big 4 to a large Indian Firm
After becoming a CA, I was offered an opportunity with one of the premier Big 4 firms in Mumbai, India.
This firm ticked all the boxed – best tax firm in India, best remuneration policies and the timeline for attaining leadership positions was quick for well-performing individuals!
All of this matched with my “ultimate aim” of becoming a Partner at Big 4 and I took up the opportunity.
However, the hectic consulting culture and overworking took a toll on my health…I realised this is not what I want from my career!
After 11 months, despite working well and creating some life-long bonds and memories, I left the firm.
I later joined a large Indian CA firm ‘Sudit K. Parekh & Co’ in their ‘International tax team’ – which was a rare focus area amongst Indian firms.
The warm working culture at the firm nurtured my technical and leadership skills and helped me excel in my career…and within 10 months of joining the firm, I was promoted.
Specializing in Taxation, juggling between a Big 4 & Indian firm
After a few years at the Indian Firm, I was approached by another Big 4 Firm.
They offered me a better-remunerative role which also gave me an opportunity to work with one of the best professionals. Also, the Big 4 firm had a reputation for being people-friendly!
Since I was doing very well at the Indian Firm, my decision to move was not easy. However, as a young professional, eager to learn and explore – I took this role and started my career yet again at a Big 4.
My dreams of becoming a Partner in a global firm came alive, yet again!
In the meanwhile, I got engaged and married. This time again, the hectic work life at a BIG 4 firm, made me question my decision ‘if whether this is what I actually wanted from career and life!’
During this period, I felt that the stress of building a career in consulting at break-neck speed was artificial. To add, dealing with constant competition, internal and external, was not good for my physical and mental health!
Against the general norm, while I was nearing my promotion to the role of a manager, after 2 years here, I decided to quit the Big 4 firm and starting my own firm/practice.
However, as luck would have it, I was offered to re-join the large Indian CA firm (Sudit K. Parekh & Co) I had worked for earlier.
I was offered to be an important part of the integrated tax team which would work on taxation matters without being restricted by industry sectors or the nature of assignments (M&A, BFSI, etc.)….seemed perfect and I took the opportunity!
(Having worked with this firm in the past, I was very comfortable with the working culture and believed that in addition to my professional satisfaction, my work-life balance would improve too.)
Leap as an entrepreneur
My second stint at the large Indian CA firm was no less than running my own practice as I operationally headed one of the specialized practices of the tax team.
My specialized practice grew multi-fold, which not only brought internal and external recognition but also underlined my belief in my entrepreneurial abilities.
I felt I had to take the risk of starting on my own at this juncture of my career or otherwise my comfort zone would never permit to!
(The thought of starting my own firm crossed my mind when I was contemplating leaving the second Big 4 firm.)
Based on this, I resigned from my role and started my own firm in 2018…and it has indeed been a fruitful and rewarding journey till now.
Starting my CA Practice from scratch
Having developed the ability to work remotely on my laptop throughout my employment days across firms, I started my CA firm basically with a laptop! (I prefer a lean operating model that does not involve high fixed overheads.)
I refrained from the trend of renting a high-end office space which tends to impress potential clients and results in a large fixed overhead/cost of operation. For the occasional meeting, I use my father’s office.
(I had realized much before Covid-19 that most clients are happy to connect and meet over calls and emails or at their own premises.)
With regard to team members, when you start out collaborating with other professionals on assignments is more efficient than permanently hiring staff. This not only is cost-effective but also enables leveraging on domain expertise across independent professionals.
Why not join my dad’s practice? I wanted to create my own identity. Also, I wanted to work in Specialised areas and with MNCs. My Dad’s practice is a traditional CA Practice.
- Direct tax and exchange control regulations are my core areas of experience and expertise
- Now able to provide services in the fields of audit, indirect tax, accounting, etc.
- On account of my experience across firms and well-known clients, in addition to routine compliance (tax filings, etc.) and representation assignments (assessments, appeals, etc.), I am also approached for my opinion and advice by both clients and other practicing CAs.
- Work on various stages of transactions involving Indian inbound/outbound investments including advising Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) / Foreign Direct Investors (FDIs) and start-ups, and being part of crucial transaction/deal planning and negotiations.
Getting ‘Angel’ Clients
I have personally experienced that even though potential corporate clients recognize your competencies, they prefer branded / global firms that can demonstrate the history and heavy credentials.
So, it is true that getting clients is challenging for smaller firms!
Nevertheless, due to the goodwill and reputation that I built over the years, I was blessed that some dear well-wishers approached me for services.
Just like angel investors for start-ups, I call them “angel clients” for a start-up CA firm!
Challenges building a CA Firm
- One must acknowledge that a start-up CA firm requires “patience” and “track-record” before being appointed by larger clients for non-routine / challenging assignments which are remunerative.
- There will be times when clients will prefer branded firms over you.
- If the operating model is lean, there should not be many challenges on the cost front.
- The main challenge would be to get clients. Many times, potential clients expect work to be done at very low fees (as good as free) with the promise of more work in the future without any concrete assurance or roadmap.
- Also, if there is a sudden overload of work, managing the same on a lean operating model can be challenging in terms of turnaround times.
Timeline of my growth journey to present
- The major time of 2018 was in fact spent in supporting my ex-team and practice at the large Indian CA firm to enable a smooth transition of operations and clients to a colleague.
- My first fully independent year of practice was 2019.
- It has been a learning process – angel clients gave me the opportunity to work on both tax and non-tax assignments by believing in my ability.
- At the same time, clients have taken fee proposals from my firm but ultimately appointed ‘branded’ firms.
- Was expected to be a year of growth. However, just like many other professionals and businesses, Covid-19 has turned 2020 into a year of survival, let alone growth.
- With cost-cutting measures adopted across industries, there has been an impact on cashflows, although fortunately not very significant in my case till now.
Questions I get asked often.
“Do you need to save a lot to start your own practice?”
If one is to adopt a lean operating model, starting a CA firm as such does not require a lot of financial commitment.
However, there can be a gap between starting and initial cash flows.
I would advise that one has financial security in terms of savings or client commitments before starting their own firm. An adequate buffer needs to be maintained for personal expenses, EMIs and emergencies.
Being financially secure would not only keep the entrepreneur focused and at peace, but also positively impact approach towards potential clients.
“Factors to be taken into consideration when starting your own?”
- Your core expertise and skill-sets and the demand for the same (e.g. generic or specialized?);
- Whether the expertise/skills are tied to services which can only be provided by large firms or can have independent existence (e.g. standalone or supporting other service functions?);
- Expected impact on income and personal finances – both immediate and in the future (e.g. potential for future partnership/equity, bonuses, retirement benefits, etc.);
- Willingness and flexibility to take professional assignments outside comfort zone or core domain expertise (e.g. a tax professional undertaking core internal audit assignments, etc.);
- Whether a network of like-minded professionals is available to collaborate and provide all-round services to clients under one umbrella/roof akin to a large firm (e.g., I regularly receive inquiries from other CAs for advice on tax matters especially international tax and similarly make inquiries with other CAs for other domains where I am not an expert).
Starting my own firm has given me greater control over my time.
I have full freedom of operation to work on various assignments across direct tax, indirect tax, audit, etc.
I am also able to contribute more to the profession now – for instance, I am a part of committees of a premier voluntary association of CAs and a lot more.
I believe that each professional is best suited to understand what works best for them. Some excel while working in larger firms, while some excel at smaller firms. There is no right or wrong.
I feel that the trend of professionals leaving large firms and starting on their own is on the rise. This is a good sign to my mind as it creates a more diverse pool of available talent that can freely collaborate to provide feasible alternatives to clients.
At the same time, there are also cases of small specialized firms merging with larger firms to build synergy and efficiency.
With enough Patience and Persistence, you can succeed.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Are you looking at starting your own? Or have you already started your own?
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