The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) is said to be all set to introduce a course nomenclatured Accounting Technician (AT) probably just below a CA (Intermediate) and a bit distant from a full-fledged Chartered Accountant. Irrespective of the designation, which would take a bit of getting used to, and the fact that ATs do exist worldwide (Ireland, for instance, has an Institute for Accounting Technicians), its relevance to the Indian context needs to be looked into.
Relevance in India
The CA course in India is considered to be a half-marathon. This, coupled with the fact that the pass percentage averages the batting averages of some of the tail-enders of the Indian cricket team, makes the course all the more intriguing. Despite changes in the syllabi over the last few years and a major alteration in the course too, it still remains a challenge to many.
However, the course has earned the respect of industry and the public, even a CA (Intermediate) self-styled a semi-qualified is able to obtain a decent job. In many cases, they do not have the mental strength to bend that much extra to complete the course. However, they would have a first-mover advantage over the ATs since they have a better perspective. In case it is envisioned that the ATs would be at par with such people, it is a risk for the ATs since their scope for career advancement is stifled.
The blockbuster growth of Indian accounting software such as Tally has created a separate market for Tally Accountants a direct threat to the AT. While a B.Com is considered to be only a basic qualification now, an M.Com could also give the proposed ATs a run for their money. Institutes such as the Institute of Certified Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) which teach students the fundamentals of accounting are possible competitors too.
The picture abroad
In Ireland, the course for ATs has been there for some time now. For applicants who are below 21 years of age, five passes in ordinary papers or four passes, of which at least two in higher level papers, are needed. The applicants must pass the English paper and either the mathematics or accountancy papers. Applicants who are above 21 years of age are called mature students and in case they have work experience or recommendation from their employer, they can enrol for the course. The UK has a course which enables one to get the Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) certificate. A direct comparison with other foreign countries such as the UK would not be right as we should accept the fact that their accounting history and regulators are much more evolved.
Would it work?
The last thing one would expect is that the AT should not go the way of the Tax Return Preparers (TRPs) introduced in last year's Budget one does not see enough TRPs to justify their profession being legalised. While the intent behind conceptualising an AT is good, its practical utility would depend on their passing the test that all accountants need to, namely, the test of time. The ICAI would need to do something about the AT course that separates it from the rest of the competition an USP that cannot be matched.
Mohan R. Lavi (The author is a Hyderabad-based chartered accountant.)