How this CA went from Audit to Corporate Finance & now runs a successful investment banking boutique firm
- Meet Gopal Maheshwari, a Chartered Accountant by profession and the Managing Partner of GM Corporate Solutions, an investment banking, and strategic advisory firm based out of New Delhi. They also act as trusted advisors to their clients in domestic and cross-border M&A deals across diversified sectors/industries.
- In 1995, he started his career in Auditing with EY. Over the years, he got the opportunity to work with PwC as well as KPMG. He was also the CFO of a UK-based company for some years.
- Transitioning from auditing to taxation to corporate finance gave him a wealth of experience for starting his own corporate finance consulting firm GM Corporate Solutions in 2012.
- In this interview, he is going to share what it is to have a career in corporate finance and how can one transition from Audit/Accounting to Corporate Finance.
Can you tell us why did you decide to become a Chartered Accountant?
Interestingly, I was a Science student until Grade 12 and I aspired to be an Engineer. I prepared and gave the engineering entrance exams, but somehow could not crack IIT.
At that point in time, with little information on other career options for science students, my parents encouraged me to pursue commerce stream and eventually to become a Chartered Accountant.
Fast forward, in 1999, I qualified as a CA from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India).
How did you go from being an Auditor to a Corporate Finance Specialist?
Fortunately, I was able to do my articles at one of the Big 4 firms, Ernst & Young (EY).
My early days profile was built up by auditing large corporations, which played a huge role in my career. However, after qualifying as a CA, I wanted to get an overall exposure in other domains including taxation.
I knew an internal move from auditing to taxation was not going to happen anytime soon. So, I consciously decided to move out from the Big 4 environment to a medium-sized firm. My intention was to acquire on-the-ground hands-on experience.
Here I worked in Tax Compliance & Litigation for about a year and a half. This was a really extensive experience where I learnt a lot about the practicalities of compliance and tax litigation.
Thereafter, I shifted to PwC, another Big 4 firm where I worked in the International Tax division for 3 years. ( My move from a big 4 to join a mid-sized firm to get hands-on experience in taxation really paid off!)
After 9 years in consultancy, I wanted to sit on the other side of the table and gain industry experience in the finance division. I took up a role as CFO of a UK-based company.
During 4.5 years of working as a CFO, I was involved in setting up the India-based operations of the company, which entailed undertaking all the corporate finance functions, doing a number of acquisitions, managing the commercial operations and reporting to shareholders and the board of the listed company.
I also got the opportunity to work on a large transaction of selling the whole of the operations of the company to another UK-based company.
In short, I had gained good introductory industry exposure and immense experience with respect to handling the complete finance function of a mid-sized company, corporate finance, banking and treasury, etc.
Post that, I returned to the consultancy world and joined KPMG as an Associate Director. Here the role was just focusing on tax but I wanted to be in the forefront where I handle the entire process of transactions.
So, after 4.5 years at KPMG (2008-12), I decided to establish a consulting firm that would be equipped with a large spectrum of services to our clients. The practice I started was in a totally new field - transaction advisory and corporate finance, of-course with the inbuilt service support of tax and compliances at the same time.
What exactly is corporate finance? How is it different from audit and accounting?
In layman’s terms, accounting is all about recording the financial transactions undertaken by a company.
Auditing is all about obtaining reasonable assurance that the financial records of the company are fair and reasonable.
These two disciplines (accounting & auditing) are interlinked as they collectively seek to ensure that accurate quality of data is available for corporate finance purposes.
On the other hand, corporate finance is about the provisioning and management of the funds of the business. This is a wide term.
In simple words, companies need funds to thrive in business; looking into every aspect of funds needed by a company is referred to as Corporate Finance.
How different is the finance team of a company from the corporate finance team?
Sometimes there is an overlap and the finance team is seen handling corporate finance functions in mid-sized companies. However, most of the mid to large-sized companies have a dedicated finance department.
The function of the accounts/finance team is typically recording and reporting the transactions, whereas the corporate finance team does the fund management or fundraising.
Corporate Finance involves taking day-to-day decisions on finance functions; discussing, planning, and strategizing for the restructuring, acquisitions & mergers, and fund-raise for future growth; and advising the board of directors on the generation of funds for growth.
Do people specialize in one specific area in Corporate Finance?
This depends on the scenario, but yes, people do specialize in one area.
For example, some of the firms work on debt syndication services, raising startup or expansion capital, or financing joint ventures, some work on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), due diligence, and valuations. There are a variety of fields of specializations.
My practice, a boutique investment banking firm provides a wide range of services under the umbrella of corporate finance. This is all because we have a vast pool of resources & opportunities and we are sector agnostic at the same time.
In your opinion, how can CAs make the jump from Audit to Corporate Finance?
Honestly, the transition can be a difficult one.
Here are my suggestions:
- I would first suggest an early transition, preferably within 2-3 years of post-qualification and experience in audit.
- Second, be 100% focused during your articles when performing audits. Audit background candidates can always leverage their skill set of deep understanding of business functions and strong accounting knowledge. The additional advantage is that audit background candidates get to review a number of industry segments, which helps in building up their understanding quickly while analyzing businesses in corporate finance.
- Third, go with your experience. This means you can start with the industries in which you got exposure during audit, as you will have a good understanding of the audited field - since you have analysed these businesses, verified their processes, executed work on them, and so forth. This makes the transition much easier.
- Alternatively, the audit professionals can begin by joining a corporate finance consulting firm in the early days of their professional career, say to start with diligence services and move on from there.
- Fourth, take up specific executive courses such as CFA or reputed international corporate finance certification courses. These internationally acclaimed courses will help one grasp the basics and fundamentals of corporate finance.
What kind of skillset and traits does one need to excel in corporate finance?
1. In-depth knowledge of the industry and current affairs are vital traits. Keep up with the trends and never fall behind.
2. Strong business acumen will play a huge role. Remaining inquisitive about businesses and understanding the business models from a commercial perspective is the key.
3. Critical analysis of data and presenting it objectively and succinctly is a must in this field.
4. Strong networking and interpersonal skills. One has to be able to network with business leaders and be able to maintain the relationships for a longer-term. This will always go a long way in achieving success in this domain.
5. Discipline, perseverance, hard work, passion, ability to cope under pressure, and willingness to work for long hours as we are required to work on weekends and public holidays at times. These traits are the bedrock of this profession.
6. See the role as much larger than the finance function and develop an all-round business perspective. This will allow you to provide relevant inputs to the firm’s strategy and growth. Think about it, whoever comes with limited thinking will not add value to a firm compared to someone with a comprehensive approach.
7. Most important trait is effective communication, both verbally and in writing. Listen to understand and not just to answer. Unless you understand the requirements of the client well, you will not be able to deliver properly.
Is Corporate finance a rewarding career financially? Does it pay more than auditing etc.?
Corporate finance is definitely a financially rewarding career.
As such, it attracts a large number of very talented people and is, therefore, quite competitive. This is not to say that it should deter one from joining this exciting field.
The takeaway is you have to keep pushing yourselves towards excellence.
Other than Big 4s what kind of companies hire for this role?
There are also many consulting firms, investment banks and corporate finance advisory firms other than Big 4s in this domain.
These firms could be boutique IBs, or mid-sized corporate finance advisory firms handling a full spectrum of support services for any transactions.
How did you climb your way up this complex field?
Fortunately, I led M&A transactions when I was acting as CFO, followed by transactions tax and due diligence at KPMG. This gave me sufficient experience to start out on my own in the ever-developing field of corporate finance.
In addition to this, I developed my skills by consistently reading and enriching my knowledge about the field. This helped me understand that the area is all about analysis of business, understanding the needs of the client and applying your knowledge and experience to deliver pragmatic solutions.
Further, having a dynamic approach helped me in establishing this advisory practice, since each client is unique and presents its own requirement and challenges.
Please tell us about your workforce. Do you recruit CAs at GM Corporate Solutions?
In our firm, we have MBAs, CAs, and articled trainees as we run a CA firm along with it.
However, our firm specializes in M&A transactions. We primarily work in cross-border transactions: both inbound and outbound.
These are supported by due diligence review, valuation, and debt syndication services. We also assist international investors for review their joint venture investments and unlocking latent value.
So anyone joining us gets exposure to corporate finance and investment banking, not audit as such.
A role in Corporate Finance is forward-thinking, strategic, proactive and entrepreneurial in nature, and if you have good commercial awareness and a natural interest in business, it could be the right career path for you!
Take up roles in boutique firms, do pursue recognized certification courses, and be prepared to work hard!
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