If You Quit CA Midway, You Can Still Succeed By Taking Alternate Career Paths. Here's My Story.

The Finance Story

  • 'CA is the most preferred or respectable accounting qualification but it’s not your ONLY option to succeed. There are multiple alternatives out there that can make you successful in your career'.
  • Hi! I am Anirban Ghosh, a senior professional at a large Information Technology company.
  • I had set out to pursue CA but due to some reasons, I had to quit CA. It was a very tough decision. However, I did not give up on my dreams and chased what I wanted to be in life.
  • Today I am a qualified ACCA, CPA (US), CFE and a CISA. And the best part 'I achieved all this while working full time'.
  • Here’s my story How I grew in my corporate career choosing alternate career paths, realizing early in life the importance of good communication, presentation and interpersonal skills.

Tracing Back Roots – How I Began My Career In CA?

It’s difficult to discuss the parts of your life that were probably not your best. But I guess my story is important to share as the initial struggles were followed with a lot of success purely based on some of the ALTERNATE PATHS that I have taken.

I was an average student in school. I would get the marks to reasonably pass the exams but nowhere among the top scorers in the class. But I was very passionate about doing really well in life!

When in college, I came across the big question – What do I do after B.Com? The usual options those days (2001) in India were – MBA or CA, CWA, or Company Secretary.

I wasn’t great at math so CAT was ruled out. CA stood out in terms of marketability and overall opportunities. So I decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India).

I registered for CA and started with my articles. Those days you would start articles immediately and take your intermediate exams (now IPCC) after around 1.5 years or so. I joined a leading CA firm for articles and with dreamy eyes, started out on my journey. This was a good firm but the stipend was very low at 450 rupees – 600 rupees per month.

Although I didn’t need the money for myself, around the same time my dad had just started a business and there was a lot of instability. I am the eldest son, the pressure soon came to me and I realized that I had to step in, to support my family.

Mentally I was not prepared to give up on CA, but continuing with articles with no salary was leading to a lot of stress. After a series of difficult conversations, I finally decided to give up CA, with only half of my articles completed.

I had already given the CA – Intermediate exams Group 1 and cleared the same and thus leaving CA was the hardest thing to do especially after clearing the exams!

Leaving CA Midway and Making A Leap Into The Corporate World

I joined a leading BPO and started out in an operations role. I had seen much bigger aspects of finance and accounting during my articles days, I knew this is not going to take me anywhere far.

I moved to another team that was doing Investigations of payments and transaction anomalies. Here we had to use ‘Data Analytic Tools’ to detect anomaly payments. And the AUDITOR in me was supercharged.

My auditing background helped me to see the big picture when compared to others. The other thing that worked well is: I learned to use ACL Data Analysis Tool, purely by accident, which was not known to everyone else in the team. As you read further, this was a turning point in my career.

My department head, who was also responsible for running the Global SOX program, offered me to join that team. But there is a condition, I had to get some certification to be part of that group.

Being an American company, I knew that some of the international certifications like CISA or CIA could get me through the door.

Pursuing CISA

I needed to do CISA as that was a niche area in IT Auditing which even many qualified CA’s take up additionally as it is a rigorous exam, with a good market standing and strong demand.

Just 3 months to go for the exam, I enrolled in the course and toiled hard (after work) to prepare. I passed CISA in my 1st attempt and my boss kept up his promise to move me into the SOX Testing Team.

I was now part of a team that had only CA’s with many of them from past Big 4 experience. I was smitten by their background and felt that someday I should try to get into a Big 4 myself.

Starting a Career in Forensic Auditing

Fortunately, I got a call from one of the Big 4’s to join them in their ‘Forensic Accounting‘ practice. I was perplexed as that had ‘nothing to do with my qualification in IT Auditing.

But I was wrong. They were only interested in my experience of using the Data Analytics Tool, NOT my Qualification. This was a HUGE LESSON in my life – People will hire you for your skills and how you express yourself and not merely your qualification.

Getting into this team opened up a new career path for me. After spending some time, I joined another Big 4 as a senior consultant in their forensic practice. Again, qualification didn’t matter as much as the experience that I had gained in the earlier firm.

Eventually, I felt that now with forensic auditing experience, I should pursue some a qualification in this domain. I was aware of the CFE certification which was the leading qualification for fraud investigators globally. I decided to pursue it while working and eventually cleared it (4 papers) a year later.

My Hidden Desire to Pursue CA Continued

But I must admit, being around CAs and not having any relevant qualifications was affecting my confidence. I was regularly meeting clients who were very senior finance leaders and I always worried if one of them would ask - 'When did you qualify as a CA?'

With two international certifications after my name (CISA and CFE), I felt somewhat confident. I had also progressed to becoming a manager in a leading IT company in their internal audit department by this time.

While I was doing quite well and got another promotion in a couple of years, I was getting into more areas of finance and accounting and leading qualified accountants as part of my team. I realized that to build a career in more higher finance roles within the company or even outside, I had to have a strong accounting qualification, come what may.

The CA dream was still burning somewhere in the heart I guess. Eventually, I made up my mind that I am going to go after a ‘CA equivalent course‘  - but an international option, not Indian one (as that required articles of 3 years which I couldn’t afford), I would try the international options. That is when I decided to pursue CPA USA.

Preparing For CPA (US) While Working Full Time

I had read a lot about CPA from AICPA - It’s the largest accountancy body in the world. With a majority of top American multinationals setting up offices in India, it made sense to pursue a course that they recognize in their own country.

Although the exam format was largely multiple-choice and I felt it would be easy. But soon I realized that it was not just the exam but the logistics of travelling to a foreign country to write the exams was not all simple or cheap. As there is no exam center in India to give CPA exams. The passing requirement was also not easy. We had to score 75/100 to pass the papers and not 50 like what we are used to in India.

Further, the American system required 16 years of education whereas I had 15 years in the Indian system. So I had to first take an additional tax course to gain the required credits before becoming eligible for the CPA exam. But I went ahead and decided to take the plunge, as my options were limited.

Around 2 years later, I passed the CPA exam, while being fully employed in a large IT MNC!

My confidence was soaring as I had a CA equivalent certification plus 2 more certifications in specialized fields. I got a promotion again. :)

Clearing ACCA While Working Full Time

Meanwhile, IND-AS / IRFS was in the news. When I started looking, I found that ACCA, UK has a Certificate course and a diploma course on IFRS. The diploma course on IFRS was more extensive and I found that the exam paper was the same as their professional ACCA final paper on Accounting.

I just thought, why not look at the exemptions I am entitled to if I take up the full ACCA qualification (rather than just a diploma in IFRS). And to my surprise, I noted that I was eligible to claim 8 exemptions out of 14 papers due to CPA. That meant I only had to pass just 6 additional papers to have a full-fledged UK professional Chartered Accountancy qualification!

What I also liked was their exam format of ACCA. All the questions were detailed case study based and it meant that I would not just do rote learning but had to really apply the concepts in business scenarios.

Having done it once with CPA, I was not worried about my chances. I decided to go for it and in about 3 years or so, I had qualified. Again, ACCA was done while being fully employed at a Senior Management level (Director – Finance) in the Company.

"What’s the Importance of Certifications?"

Now I had a CPA, ACCA with 2 international certifications, CISA and CFE. While it may seem that I took a longer route to reach the same destination as any of my friends who would have continued with CA, the point is, I could have also got lost in the way, which I didn’t.

Do I think it’s only the qualifications that got to where I am? NO!

But at the same time, not having the qualifications would have drastically reduced my negotiating power at the table for greater responsibilities as well as remuneration!

"What Lessons I Have Learned in my Journey so Far?"

I would like to give you 3 key takeaway  from my journey:

  • There is Life Beyond CA. While CA is the most powerful accounting qualification in India, it is not the be-all, end-all of your chances. I carved a particular path. Others may choose a different path altogether. But it’s worth considering other paths.
  • There is No Age Limit For Studies. The limit is what we define ourselves. But you have to have a plan in mind and work in alignment with that.
  • The CA certificate is a great starting point early on in our careers. But remember, it’s just the starting point. It is your performance at work, your communication and presentation skills, your ability to solve business problems and build Relationships at work that equally matters.

I would like to end this long note by wishing all the readers, especially young students a bright career. As the Nike saying goes – JUST DO IT.

Now, It’s Your Turn...

I hope you love the story. You can connect with Anirban Ghosh On LinkedIn.

Do you have any queries? Or do you want to find out basic information about how to pursue some of the courses and certifications? Just drop your thoughts in the comment section.

(Image Edited by Ankit Lodhi)

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