“Hmmm” my 10th standard Math teacher frowned. “Commerce?” he enquired. His brows had joined and the wrinkles in the forehead showed. It was an obvious sign of dissent, not happy with what he heard. I had gone to him to inform my 10th results and my plans for the group I inteted to pursue in my 11th and 12th standard. It is the most decisive point in my life, I was told. The tension was obvious. Parents and teachers were anxious to get their kids or wards into the “right” group, lest repent later. ‘The decision you take here will go on to charter the course of your life’ was heard invariably by every student standing in my shoes.
Computers were considered as the safest option, a job was always there to be taken after graduation. “Every computer needs a computer engineer” I had heard before. With the western markets opening up, the prospect of Indians earning in the every ballooning Dollars were a very tempting. Every parent wanted to have their kid in U.S.A. Dollars, dollars and MORE dollars were the magic words. “He earns lot of money”, was how the neighbors and relatives knew of this foreign driven computer engineer. No one actually cared or knew what the poor guy went through in those worlds. Next came biology. I always thought ‘Biology Group’ suited kids who have parents who were doctors. Parents who wanted their kids to become “great” doctors and carry their legacy forward. Not to mention the thought of blood, that sent shivers down my spine. It was a rat race, and I was no rat.
The other group was Commerce. Treated more like P.O.W, it was meant for the less intelligent. ‘If you don’t get into Computers or Biology you were given Commerce’ was the popular misconception. “You guys just add numbers” my science friends used to tell me. True, but you still have to do it correctly. Numbers are very important. No one likes a zero at the wrong end of their subject scores.
”Then what” my math teacher continued. ”CA.. Chartered Accountancy” I managed to utter. ‘Humph!’ he signed and turned away. Did I say “Suicide” I wondered. What he just heard had definitely not pleased him. I had never seen him so animated. The title of being his favorite student was weighing on me. Can’t let him down, I thought. “Viswa is writing his 17th attempt in CA exams” he told. Viswanathan was this ‘happy go lucky neighbor’, who seemed least interested in anything he does. Working in a government office for the last 10 yrs, I wondered if CA meant anything to him. ”Droopy eye”, was the only phrase that came to my mind in the mention of his name.” “Does he still write” I wanted to ask, but dint have the courage to. “Why become a Chartered Accountant” he continued. ”Eh, what.. what sir “ I stammered, recollecting myself . “WHY BECOME A CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT” he asked again. “Money.. To earn Money in India.. lots of `em” was the only thing in my mind then. “Less investment, lot of returns” was how the course was described. The course fee was negligible, which can be covered by the stipend that was earned during practical training itself. “Every citizen of the country was a potential client”. “Everyone earns money, everyone accounts it, but you always need Auditor to authenticate it” were some of the phrases I had come across, which bended my interest towards the course. Also there was always this option of taking up employment to make a career. “No looking back once you become a Chartered Accountant” was another encouraging dialogue.
“It’s my dream sir’, I told.
After completing my graduation in commerce I enrolled for CA Intermediate and practical training with an Auditor. I became the first earning member within my science friends group, who were still in college. The money was not much, but atleast I dint have to ask at home for the Saturday afternoon movie ritual, or the latest detective novel from the grey market. I was proud of being self sufficient. Saving money was by itself an achievement. “I`m already the richest” I used to tell my self, not that it was completely right.
Life for a chartered accountant student is very demanding. The day started at 5:00 a.m. After a quick shower and steaming coffee, the wait for the 5:30 bus was the only unhurried part. The bus ride to the class was invariably utilized in going through the lessons that was planned for the day, which included preparing mental notes of problems to be solved or referring to similar illustrations to get an idea on how to make a beginning in solving the problem. The morning classes were a two and half hour affair that would go on till eight thirty a.m. Then was the half an hour breakfast stops at the neighborhood tiffin centre. There was always an eatery near a CA class. ‘Chartered Accountants also seem to have had a good appetite’, I used to imagine. Next was office at ten a.m. Practical training at the Audit office went on till 6:00 p.m, which totaled to 8 hours. The evenings at home was usually spend revising problems done at morning class or solving assignment problems, all this considering there are no classes in the evening. Evening classes meant another session from six thirty p.m for two hours until eight thirty p.m. This was the routine during the weekdays. Weekends were no different. The first half of Saturday in office was spent discussing latest developments in the financial world. This would range from introduction of any new accounting standard, to new case laws in Direct or Indirect Taxes or Latest forms or procedures introduced by the Income Tax Department. There was also an interactive section when everyone had to share what assignment they had done during the week and the problems or peculiar situation they had faced in completing it. There was complete flow of information. This meant everyone has an idea of what the others did. We were also encouraged to suggest new or efficient means of doing the same task. It always kept us thinking.
The final session in these Saturday meetings were a presentation by a group of Article students. We were spilt into groups of two and take turns to make presentation every week. The topics were picked by lots and every one knew their topics one month in advance, which gave us enough time for research. Saturday lunch was a traditionally affair with people from office. It was catching up time. Time to meet colleagues who are at clients’ location or away from office on tours. This gossip session would range from outstation audit experiences to politics to sports to the latest filmy romance rumors doing the rounds. The occasional reference to classes or studies was considered as a serious violation. Saturday late afternoons were the time to catch up with the lost sleep of the week and with people at home. Sunday again meant full day classes from nine a.m to six p.m.
I made a lot of friends during the classes. Some during the bus journey to the class. Some at the tiffin centre and many in the class itself. Different people had different stories to tell from their offices and practical training. There were stories about statutory audits, Stock verification, Internal audits, Cash Defalcation audits (which were always listened with wide eyes) and Concurrent audits. The tiffin centre in the morning ended up as a discussion forum where we would discuss what we had come across in the audits and problems faced. The clients name was always kept anonymous, and all respected that. Everyone would throw up their ideas and some would invariably go on to solve the problem. It was impossible for a single person to come across so many problems and complex issues in a single office, discussing was the easiest way to experience all the problems, analyze them and try coming up with a solution. Solving others issues were very satisfactory. “Half a Chartered Accountant already” used to tell myself every time I came up with a good suggestion.
Practical training is the biggest positive in the process of becoming a chartered accountant. You could show a person numerous diagrams on how the car engine would function and he could still have his doubts, give him a motor and break it down to pieces in front of him, and he would remember the process for his lifetime. Articleship did just that. The experience of preparing and analyzing financial statements went a long was into understanding the flow of transactions, the problems generally encountered and appreciating the theoretical sessions.
“Put an inverse tick ... like this… it should not touch the amount”… I still remember the first instruction from my senior. Cash vouching was my first assignment. “Verify the supporting bill for every voucher.. then verify if the same amount is mentioned in the voucher … and the cash book… then the date… then tick….tick.. the amount and date and initial the bill “…..” … “go chronologically… in order”…” once a page in the cash book is completed, take a calculator and total the page….”…’it is a computer generated sheet’…”but we still can’t take chances” I remember being told. “No chances” I repeated. That was the most important lesson of the day. Chartered Accountant don’t take chances. Methodical and systematic approaches were mandatory.
People interaction was the most intriguing facet of Practical Training. One had to communicate clearly with the clients to obtain the information required. “You should not talk with clients, you should communicate with them” I was told. With ignorance of the growing procedural compliance requirements from statutory bodies a lot of structuring and knowledge transfer has to be done for the clients to make them appreciate the need to timely compliance and their benefits, or its consequences. With the advent of online technology, the onus was on the students to update the entire office on the developments. The e-learning was mainly through reading and listening into the experience of others.
Heading an audit team was the additional responsibility as one became a senior. This also included training junior article students and making them appreciate the importance of their work.” We don’t take chance” I would repeat to all. The message had to be loud and clear.
Reading financial statements was an art one picked up on the way. Interpretation of the ‘Notes to Accounts’ was the most important. These are not taught in any classroom. It is developed generally by observing how the partners of the firm reviewed accounts and asked question on the changes productivity / profitability etc.. ”Like doctors, one can gauge the health of the company by looking into its accounts” our partner would say. How true I wondered after many years. The stock market caught my attention during my second year of Articleship. It became a practice in office to follow the latest news trends and reaction of the stock prices. Research reports of various broking houses were downloaded and analyzed. Certain terms were Greek and Latin, but when there is the urge to understand them, the sky becomes the limit. The stock market became a preferred topic for discussion in our Saturday lunch meetings. No one bothered. Little were we aware on how helpful it would become in the future.
Looking back I wanted to answer that all important question, Why become a Chartered Accountant? Why not I would dare to ask. Process was the key. The path to glory should be paid no less attention than glory itself. The ‘Process’ teaches a lot.
To start off with, working for long hours became a routine. When work becomes fun, then hours do not matter. The mix of practical training and theoretical coaching made understanding of concepts much clearer. Every student had an opportunity to turn most of the classroom knowledge into positive inputs in office. Client interaction was another important art that one picked up during the course of training. The daily meetings at the tiffin centre during the mornings and discussions with office colleagues were nothing but unstructured Group discussions held in interviews. Without our knowledge we were training ourselves for the future. The Saturday office meeting meant that we were always abreast with the latest developments in the field. The presentation built a sense of team work and also went a great way in improving our presentation and public speaking skills.
The experience of working for clients in different sectors gave us an idea of how each sector is performing. Comparisons with similar companies and the performance of stock of listed companies in the sector made the process of learning a complete cycle. These were some of the aspects that could not be taught in any class room by a teacher. Theses were experiences that had to be felt in real time circumstances.
The Chartered Accountancy Course was always baptized as being tough. The exams were considered very complex, which only a person with intelligence can complete. The pass percentage was low and the institute was considered to control them. No one was interested in the process. The reason for a person to pursue C.A is the pure beauty and satisfaction of being a part of the process. A process that teaches one to work tirelessly, efficiently and intelligently. A process that combines practical and theoretical knowledge. A process where the student is not given the fish, but taught fishing.
I happened to meet my math teacher couple of years later, returning back home after filling his tax returns. “How is your CA going?” he enquired. “Very good sir, I’m enjoying it” I replied. “You know …” he continued “You can live a life without either going to a Doctor or a Lawyer or an Engineer, but a visit to a Chartered Accountant is inevitable” he said. “Funny” I wondered. Now that is a good enough reason to become a Chartered Accountant!!!