Ragavi, a finance professional with 9 years of work experience, currently working in the business planning and reporting team of Fertiglobe (an oil and gas company based out of the UAE)
In the midst of the IT revolution, with data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence being the buzz among students, one area that provides enormous opportunities, if you slog your way up, is accounts and audit, and more specifically C.A (chartered accountancy). Ragavi Venkatesan shares her experience from her grade tenth onwards and outlines the opportunities in this domain, in this interview.
ACG: What prompted you to choose the commerce group in your twelfth?
Ragavi: I didn't want to join the rat race of engineering. And I heard about the opportunities in the finance field during a career counseling event at the school, and that interested me.
ACG: What happened after 12th?
Ragavi: I enrolled in a CA foundation course with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (“ICAI”) even before my 12th results were out and commenced my preparations for the examination. Once my results were out, I also enrolled for B. Com (Accounting & finance)at Ethiraj college. I cleared the foundation course a few months after my twelfth.
ACG: Tell us about the foundation exam.
Ragavi: It consists of four papers: Business economics, Business Mathematics, Logical reasoning and Statistics, Business Law and Accounting. Majority of these topics I learnt in twelfth standard, and the CBSE curriculum covers them well, except for Business Law and some portions of all other papers. You need a thorough knowledge of these subjects and need to score 50% to clear this level. These exams are conducted twice in a year, by ICAI.
ACG: What happened after the foundation exam? And you were still doing B. Com. at this time, weren't you?
Ragavi: Yes, I was still continuing B. Com. though it was becoming difficult to concentrate. One can register and take the intermediate exam immediately after a year of clearing the foundation exam. These exams are also conducted twice a year and consist of two groups of 4 papers each (G1 – Accounting, Corporate and other laws, Cost and Management Accounting, Taxation, G2 – Advanced Accounting, Auditing and Assurance, Financial Management and Economics for finance and Enterprise Information Systems and Strategic Management). One needs to clear all the papers in each group. If you fail any of the papers, you will need to attempt all the papers in that group again unless you have an exemption (i.e. 60% in any of the papers). One can attempt either both the groups together or one at a time.
There are coaching classes that help you prepare for these, conducted by ICAI or by private institutions. I cleared them after a year, and at this point, I had to drop my B. Com.(which I completed part-time later) to join my articleship training.
ACG: B. Com. is not a requirement to take these exams, so why bother about B. Com.?
Ragavi: Note that a degree is not required to take these exams, though it is a good back-up for a variety of reasons. In case, you had to drop out of your path to C.A. or you want to pursue higher studies in India or abroad, a degree is necessary. Students have also found gainful employment after a B. Com. as several companies do hire them for some low or mid-level accounting tasks. Some of them have pursued M. Com. or have gone on to do economics or statistical research.
ACG: Coming back to C.A., what after the intermediate exam?
Ragavi: You can take the final exam that earns you the C.A. certification (note that it is only a certification, though recently it has been recognized equivalent to a PG degree) after two and a half years of articleship training with an auditor / audit firm. One can enroll to the training after clearing at least the 1st group of the intermediate exams. A C.A. candidate needs to complete 3 years of the training, the remaining half year could be completed post the final exams.
The final also has 8 papers in two groups:
G1 – Financial Reporting, Strategic Financial Management, Advanced Auditing and Professional Ethics, Corporate and Economic laws,
G2 – Strategic Cost Management and Performance Evaluation, Direct Tax Laws and International Taxation, Indirect Tax Laws and an elective paper to choose between 6 available options.
ACG: What after final?
Ragavi: In India, there are a number of multinational companies which specialize in Audit, Advisory and Taxation. The top 4 among them also known as Big4 are PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst and Young and Deloitte, that are sought after for employment as well for articleship. In addition, you can start your own practice or join any organization in an Accounting & Finance role. Every company has mandatory statutory tax and audit regulations they need to fulfil, and C.A.s are sought after. There are a number of services within Accounting, Audit, Advisory and Taxation which are being sought after providing opportunities across verticals.
ACG: Tell us about other certification programs: ICWA and ACS. Who conducts them? What are their differences and career options (including for CA)?
Ragavi: There are a number of certification programs offered by various institutions in India and abroad, the most common in India being Cost and Management Accountancy offered by “The Institute of Cost & Works Accountants of India” and Company Secretary Course offered by “The Institute of Company secretaries of India”. ICWA specializes in Cost and Management Accounting (in nutshell improving profits by reducing costs) and a CS specializes in Company Law (fulfilling legal, regulatory, risk and compliance obligations for the company).
ACG: What goes on in these professions on a day-to-day basis?
Ragavi: This is not a straightforward answer as the scope of a C.A. is extremely wide and you can see a C.A. in various different roles these days. A traditional C.A. is largely involved in performing statutory audits and signing the financial statements, tax audits and tax returns, financial consultancy, internal audits, management and business reporting, financial planning & analysis to name a few. The fields which involve a C.A. has tremendously increased in the last decade and continues to evolve. The latest opportunities include mergers and acquisitions advisory, forensics advisory, carve-out advisory, business valuations, capital markets advisory, investment advisory and asset management, credit risk evaluations, financial transformations, risk consulting etc.
ACG: A final comment. It is perceived that these courses are not for the faint-hearted as they are quite tough. How can an average person get through these exams?
Ragavi: These courses are indeed not very easy as I have seen top performers in the school taking multiple attempts to complete the course and some also leave it mid-way. At the same time, I have also witnessed average scoring students during their time in the school clearing the exams in their very first attempt. I would advise the aspirants to not get bogged down with the previous results of these exams and give their best, after all this is not a rocket science but just an examination which requires your 100% focus and determination. There are several private coaching institutes which can help you in exam-oriented preparation. Also, ICAI for instance provides exam kits (covering previous attempts’ question papers and answers, revision test papers and mock exams) which can help in assessing your preparation. Time management during the exams is the key. Lastly, your articleship training can help you immensely in understanding the concepts practically, so make sure you get into a good audit firm and make the best use of the 3 years’ time.
ACG: Thank you very much.