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ICAI constantly markets CAs as 'partners in national building', 'trusted business advisors' etc. I guess if we discharge the audit/certification function properly, help the Governments switch to accrual accounting and help in monitoring public schemes properly, the nation building part come. But we should pause and think, can CAs still be 'trusted business advisors'?
I think this phrase goes back to the early era of consulting in the USA(and here) where the CA firm(single practioner/big firm), thanks to its audit inroad with the client, leveraged that client relationship and insight, to provide value added services beyond audit and taxation. While I still feel that CAs in practice is best equipped to perform that role, the statute does not agree with me. Audit Committees scrutinize any non audit/tax services performed by auditors, and increasingly even to their affiliate firms. And regarding CAs in industry, the ones in internal audit/finance do have a birds eye view of manufacturing companies, but not so for financial companies. From those whom I spoke to in global/top Indian banks, compliance/audit/finance function is not seen as a leadership source (unlike how ITC/others see internal audit).
Coming back to 'top finance roles', I mean the Indian roles with base CTC>10L(conservative), typically given to MBAs from IIMs/XLRI/SP Jain/FMS etc. By the way even top consulting firms match these figures. The job profiles are less of corporate finance and more of equity research, investment banking, trading, relationship managers, structuring etc. The roles in which you are the front office in your role, instead of the support roles which CAs typically are in (even finance/audit IS a support role in most companies nowadays and seen as a cost centre). And think logically, even those articled trainees among you who have seen multiple aspects (audit/tax/bank dealings), had responsibility (upto signoff) and dealt with corporate clients(so what)? Even IT guys with 2-3yrs experience would have similar profiles (except the multiple aspects part). In non corporate finance roles, the experience in audit/tax/law etc is good to have, but not essential. In fact, quant skills/analytical skills do count more there.
The way forward
This article does seem gloomy, but after reading some of the classic CA vs MBA comments on this, and other forums, I could not help but write this. Underestimating the competition is a cardinal sin, which no one should do. CAs have, despite the articleship/exams, cleared the course and people respect them for that. But remember that work ethic/hard work is NOT unique to CAs. People from IITs/NITs probably have that much or more, even if they have let it rust during their stay there! To the credit of ICAI, few people leave the CA course thinking that they hate it, but many engineers do leave engineering with the resolve never to work in engineering. But this fact is not considered by recruiters. For a great perspective on investment banking, read this site (www.mergersandinquisitions.com). While framed in the Western context, plenty of it applies to Indian firms as well.
Another CAclubindia member has kindly mentioned some learning resources in his article, which are quite helpful (http://www.caclubindia.com/articles/chartered-accountants-a-career-in-financial-services-10104.asp). Also, doing CFA/FRM is quite useful to get the practical aspects of finance, as is investing your own money in the markets (with proper stop loss/limits etc). Thirdly, develop a business enabling perspective instead of policing the client.
As the offers from Olam, ITC etc show, companies do value CAs highly. But these are few and scattered.
PS:-Those of who love the traditional and emerging fields like IFRS, XBRL, forensic accounting etc, have my total respect, and this article is NOT meant for you. This is targeted towards someone who wants to become a highly paid corporate warrior on par with the famed top MBA placements.