It will be difficult for you to believe me but passing the CA Final exams is only the first hurdle, and a relatively small one, that you will cross while you set sail for the professional journey of your life. I say this because; your results in academics solely depend on your hard work and talent. Luck, market conditions, opportunities, contacts, location, field of interest and 'being at the right place at the right time' will play a very insignificant role. But all these factors will have a major say in determining the direction and growth of your career.
After we clear our exams and complete our articleship, we are often left shrouded by confusion. What to do? What profile to pick? Which sector will give me the best job satisfaction and professional growth? Whether and where to relocate?
It's hard to believe, but this confusion is actually a good thing. Confusion is created by choices and options. Arguably, no other profession gives such versatility to you career. Each subject in your CA Final exam can be a career choice in itself. Further, each subject offers you multiple career choices, e.g. under Audit you have Statutory Audit & Internal Audit, under Taxation you have Direct Taxes, Appeals, International Taxation & Transfer Pricing to name a few. Accountancy and Financial Management offer an array of options in the corporate sector and service sector. Again, all these avenues are open to you as a sole practitioner or as an employee. The possibilities are endless.
So let us evaluate and understand some of the conventional and upcoming career options available for Chartered Accountants.
Audit and Taxation:
Like we discussed earlier, Audit and Taxation have numerous sub-branches. Under Audit, you can go for Statutory Audit, Internal Audit, Tax Audit, SOX Audit, Information Technology Audit, Certification related work, etc. Taxation is again divided into Direct Taxation and Indirect Taxation. Under Direct Taxation, there is Tax filings & Compliances, Appeals & Proceedings, International Taxation, Transfer Pricing, Taxation Advisory with respect to Mergers & Acquisitions, etc. Those interested in Indirect Tax can explore the areas like excise & customs, service tax, M&A Advisory, valuation for duty purposes, IDT Compliances, Appeals & Proceedings, etc. In terms of opportunities, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Each branch will have its own areas where one can specialize. Further, one can go for industry specialization in all the above fields. These avenues are open for practicing CAs and also for those seeking employment.
Audit and Tax are the most conventional of all CA professions. These fields are evergreen and the demand for qualified professionals seldom depends on market factors (although market factors may affect pay scales). These are the areas through which CAs carved a niche and build the repute for the profession. Auditors and Tax advisers command a significant amount of respect from their clients. On the flip side, professionals often complaint that Audit tends to get monotonous over a period of time and that there is little room for creativity and innovation. Taxation requires you to be updated with all the latest amendments, notifications and judgments that keep coming on a daily basis.
Project Finance/ Financial Advisory/ Mergers & Acquisitions:
Although these fields are not exactly alike, there are many similarities in the work you do and thus we will discuss them together. These fields, along with Investment Banking, are popularly considered to be the most glamorous of all profiles a CA can have. Also the fields are very rewarding in terms of job satisfaction and remuneration. A lot of networking needs to be done to generate business. Employers looking to recruit in these areas often look for professionals with additional qualifications like CFA.
However, these fields are heavily dependent on market conditions, both, in terms of recruitment and business. There is no guaranteed or recurring business from the same client. In periods of recession, these areas will grow at a very slow rate. Companies have had to let go of employees due to lack business in times of market depression.
This is the 'dream job' for many fresher CAs. This job requires high level of proficiency in Financial Management and MS Excel. Again, a CFA goes a long way in developing you career in Investment Banking. This too has many sub-branches viz. Private Equity, IPO Support, Investment Banking, Portfolio Management, etc. Of the above, practicing CAs are less active in the field of Investment Banking. The performance based remuneration in this field is arguably the highest compare to any other field. But again, this field is heavily affected by market factors. Several of the investment banks have gone bankrupt in times of severe recession. This has resulted in thousands of professionals losing their jobs. Also, this profile has been infamous for very challenging working hours.
Banking and Financial Services:
This industry is possibly one of the biggest recruiters for CAs. Financial services include Insurance Companies, Mutual Funds, Valuation Firms, etc. Opportunities exist in banking operations, credit management, loan processing, treasury, financial product development & management, market & equity research, valuation, fund management, forex management, compliance, etc. just to name a very few. Careers in this industry are often rewarding and challenging. A CFA degree here will add a significant amount of value to you CV. But often, the profile mobility in this sector is limited. This is not the ideal industry for those looking for diversity in their profile.
Whenever we come across the term outsourcing, the first thing that comes to our mind is a call center or BPO. But at times it is surprising to see the level of awareness we have regarding the size of the KPO industry and numerous opportunities there are for CAs. The KPO sector is a significant recruiter for CAs. It also provides employment to a lot of students who have completed their articleship and are waiting to clear their final exams. Accounting, taxation, legal, compliances, research, financial data management, documentation, ERP implementation, etc are just some of the processes that are outsourced by companies in developed countries to outsourcing companies in lesser developed countries. This is a multi-billion dollar industry and is increasingly recruiting more and more CAs. Certain of the Big 4 firms also have their own outsourcing units. This industry known for paying handsomely but not for giving an enriching experience in terms of knowledge development and job satisfaction as most of the work is repetitive in nature.
For those who are not interested in taking up a desk job and want to stay in touch with academia, this sector is one of the very good options. One can take up teaching jobs in educational institutions for CAs, commerce graduation coaching classes, certain post graduation institutes or ICAI. Also, this need not even be a full time thing. You may get into academics along with your job/practice. There is also the option of starting up your own coaching institution with very reasonable investment. Several of my batch mates are either working in the institute we studied at or have started their own institutes. If I share their experience, the job satisfaction in this sector is tremendous. It may not be financially rewarding in the initial stages, but in the long run it is at par or at times even better than any other sector.
Apart from the service sector, the corporate sector is also a major recruiter for CAs. CAs have undertaken wide variety of roles in the corporate sector. The Boards of Directors of many large organizations across all industries are largely populated by CAs. Senior CAs have been known to take up leadership roles in many non-conventional roles such as Production, Marketing, Operations Management, Logistics, etc. But to be realistic, such roles are not very common. More conventional profiles for CAs in the corporate sector are Finance & Accounts, Corporate Finance, Internal Audit, Book-Keeping, Treasury, Restructuring, Business Development, etc. Remuneration in the corporate sector in different industries is widely different. Again, many CAs find it difficult to move out of a particular profile or industry in the corporate sector.
What we have discussed here are just some of the popular opportunities available for CAs. Like we read in many of our books, 'this list is just illustrative and not exhaustive'. I would like to end this note with one final piece of advice. Don't take up a profession only for the remuneration or the glamor attached to it. Do something that interests you. A job or practice is something that you will be doing day in and day out. If you don't enjoy what you are doing, it will become difficult to sustain yourself, let alone grow.
The Author, Pulin Doshi is a Chartered Accountant and an all India ranker with experience in large scale IFRS implementation projects across various industries