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CAs looked upon as decision-makers
April, 12th 2010

Chartered accountants, the nuts-and-bolts professionals in the world of finance, are scoring brownie points over suave MBA finance graduates as India Inc gets increasingly risk-averse in a post-slowdown environment.

Companies are focusing more on risk-compliance than pursuing ambitious targets as they recover from an 18-month economic downturn, paving the way for recruitment of more CAs, perceived to have core competence in financial matters.

Thus, CAs are currently being accepted as business leaders who could take up roles beyond auditing and financial management. While MBAs are being hired for purely sales, marketing or international trade functions, CAs are increasingly being looked upon as decision-makers.

They are superior (to MBAs). CAs are already groomed for three years during articleship (training with auditors) and can start working from day one, says a finance official at a top Indian company who did not wish to be named.

Further, with Corporate India getting cautious with salaries, CAs are gaining a natural edge. If a company is unable to afford an MBA from a top B-School, it would rather hire a top CA than look for a management graduate from lower-rung B-schools, says a global headhunter. A chartered accountants average salary is at Rs 6 lakh a month, while for MBAs, the figure is the minimum, says Nagesh Pinge, chief internal auditor at Tata Motors, who sees a growing preference for CAs when companies need better financial control. Loyalty also tilts the balance in their favour. MBAs, due to peer pressure, appear to constantly pursue higher salaries. CAs, on the other hand, are seen as less aspirational and stick to the job longer.

Apart from the stability factor, competence in financial matters, changing taxation regime and risk-aversion are playing in favour of CAs. These days, we are recruiting more CAs and fewer MBAs. For higher positions like senior managers, we prefer a CA, says Abhishek Tiwari, senior manager (HR) at KPMG. The global consulting firm is looking at recruiting 100-150 CAs during the current year in India. Tiwari, however, adds: We cannot say MBAs are losing their charm, but increasingly, they arent preferred for a financial job.

Compared to a two-year MBA curriculum, CAs go through a rigorous three-year curriculum. Since they understand balance-sheets the best, CAs are being hired for work other than the traditional audit, he points out. Says Vardhan Dharker, CFO of KEC International, a Rs 3,000-crore capital goods company: I think CAs are as good as anybody else in taking decisions. There has been a change in the thinking over the past five years.

While earlier, CAs were looked upon as accountants, they are now seen as business leaders, he says, adding companies are increasingly hiring CAs because they have a robust understanding of business particularly areas like costing, funding, financing, accounting, structuring and compliance. Surely, here, they are more efficient than MBAs, he says. Brokerages, who bore the brunt of the 2008 stock-market collapse, too have stepped up CA hiring.

As important intermediaries in financial transactions, CAs are seen as being more cost-effective. Angel Broking, a leading stock-broking house, has increased CA hiring from 5% to 15%. Good MBAs are expensive compared to CAs. For tier-II cities, the average MBA salary ranges between Rs 4 lakh and Rs 6 lakh, while CAs are available in the Rs 2.5-3 lakh range. Both do similar kind of work, says Dhruv Desai, senior VP (HR) at Angel Broking.

The company recruits CAs for back-office work which is more financial in nature, while MBAs are hired for front-office jobs where they have to interact with customers and use their communication skills. Though our recruitment is predominately MBAs as we are customer-centric, the ratio is tilting in favour of CAs, he says. MBAs constitute 75% of the companys total recruitments, but the share of CAs has doubled to 10% over the past two years, he says. The company employs more then 7,000 people. Changing accounting methods and introduction of new tax regime in the globalisation era have pushed up the demand for accountancy professionals.

Due to complexities of accountings and prospective taxation regime like GST and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), you need CAs as MBAs dont study these subjects, says Sanjiv Shah, who runs an accounting firm in Vadodara. He says CAs are now assuming advisory roles as well. Mr Shah, who operates in the mergers and acquisition (M&A) space, adds: If CAs have to take a decision about an M&A deal, their skills are useful during the due diligence process.

The CA curriculum too has seen some specialisation over the past decade with the development of the financial services sector, says Sandip Shroff, COO of Ahmedabad-based Anagram Knowledge Academy. He, however, feels CAs need to acquire skills in management planning and strategic thinking.

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