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From a Big 4 to CA in Practice: How this CA launched his career in forensic accounting after changing career paths and embracing challenges

  • Meet Arpit Kabra, a Chartered Accountant, Company Secretary and a practicing CA.
  • He qualified as a CA in 2009 and as a Fresher joined Deloitte in their Tax team and then moved to Ernst & Young.
  • Whilst working in the Big 4 was tempting, he had the desire to start something on his own in an absolutely new and unconventional area of practice.
  • After 8 months of struggle and waiting patiently, he got a breakthrough, and eventually found a niche for himself in Forensic accounting and Investigation. Starting with just one assignment to tackling over 300 forensic assignments, he has come a long way.  
  • As a part of the CA Chronicles Series Powered by Tally, we spoke to Arpit to share his story of how he patiently earned a breakthrough and created his own luck with expertise!

 

 

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The dilemma of pursuing science and moving to commerce 

I was born in Kishangarh (Ajmer) in Rajasthan however while still in school my parents moved to Mumbai, the city of dreams.

Hailing from a humble middle-class family, my father struggled a lot while transitioning to the new way of life in Mumbai despite being a CA. 

In the beginning, we lived in a chawl in Ulhasnagar and grew up in a very humble Sindhi neighborhood where everyone took great care of each other like one big family.

Fast forward, with hard work and a dose of luck, we later moved to a 1 BHK flat at Kandivali. We had to learn the hard way of making the most with the available resources at our disposal. The message was to “share them and enjoy them in every way possible.”

So, growing up, life wasn’t easy but it was comfortable and I count myself to be remarkably blessed to have received the best of all the world including education, companions, and culture.

On the academic front, being labeled as one of the notorious students, I was pretty average in terms of academic performance. But in grade 10 after being subjected to teaching discrimination I took a vow to prove myself.

As a result of that taken vow, I scored almost 88.13% (amongst the top 5 students of the school)  in the SSC Boards examination back in 2003. It was really unexpected not just for me but even for my parents, friends, and relatives.

With this good score, expectations to pursue Science from a reputed college became a possibility. On the basis of merit, I got selected at a reputed college with a Computer Science vocation (most sought after the subject). I then discovered my love for Physics and my aim was to crack IIT and do some wonders with Computers and Electronics.

Unfortunately, I did not do well in my IIT as well as the All India Engineering Entrance Examination.

I was even considering taking a gap year and then reattempting the entrance exams exam for IIT when my parents suggested otherwise and motivated me to consider Chartered Accountancy.

It wasn’t easy but I kept pushing myself only to realise the concept of accountancy a well-structured mechanism where the theme is to balance.

Thanks to the wonderful friends I made in the class, my CA Foundation exam went extremely well and there has been no looking back since then.

I later started my articleship at Bhuta Shah & Co and then switched to Haribhakti & Co and thankfully I qualified as a CA  in 2009. Woohoo!

 

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10 years of exploring various aspects of being a CA 

After qualifying as a CA, I wasn’t sure as to what to do next but I decided to choose tax over the audit. Consequently, I moved to Deloitte for taxation.

Throughout my employment in Deloitte, I acquired bits of knowledge of Direct Taxation, International Tax, Mergers and Acquisitions, and tax due diligence. 

My experience working in the tax team really helped me: 

  1. Develop good drafting skills since you need to communicate through letters and representations.
  2. Ability to represent since I met Tax authorities.
  3. Drastically improve my soft skills and interpersonal skills.  

Watching the seniors go about the various cases and consulting large business houses on critical aspects was fascinating and every day was filled with excitement and new things to learn. It was at Deloitte that I was inspired to establish my career in Direct Taxation, Litigation and Representation.

I later moved to Ernst & Young in pursuit of further specialization and joined the Financial Services (FS) Tax practice. Here I worked on enriching mandates with big names and got a global perspective of how tax is being used to optimize investments and make significant decisions.

I understood tax as a strategy and not only from a compliance angle, worked on Fund structuring and Private equity transactions. All of these involved not just knowledge of tax but more importantly drafting and presenting them to global investors and funds. One thing that I could understand was Experience is not about years but is actually about Hours! If you choose to work limited hours in your early phase of life, you will spend more years for that complete experience.

It was here that I could think of diving into various channels as a professional even beyond taxation. I was lucky to get wonderful colleagues and mentors who help me even today.

 

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Taking the Entrepreneurial leap - joining my dad's CA Practice 

While working at a Big4, one thing that excited me the most was engaging with clients and offering them value-added propositions, but that was not my role really. 

Deep down I knew I had to do something of my own to utilise this potential and explore my strengths. As time passed, the desire to use my skills to the fullest was at its peak.

I was blessed to have a supportive mentor at EY who made me rethink my career choices and helped me take that plunge towards Practice (or should I say a startup).

Joining my father’s firm was the most obvious choice; afterall why would I start my own firm when I had an established practice. But my father thought otherwise! He encouraged me not to join his practice as he knew the struggles and blatantly asked me to consider other options.

Adamant, my dad agreed but on two conditions that I have to pay him rent every month for using the office space and that I would not engage with his clients until I figured what I wanted to do. 

I wanted to join the firm for the comfort zone it would provide, but turned out that it was more challenging than it would have been for me otherwise. 

What next? 

Finding a niche for myself and expanding my forensic engagements from 1 to 300+ 

Some would say - Grow your father’s established practice as they have a set of clients and you can mine those clients and serve them well by doing something additionally.

But that doesn’t really help!

So I set out to explore myself with the intention to build a name for myself.

On one hand, I kept assisting CA friends in the network on their various engagements, and on the other I kept trying out my hands with things I was passionate about including teaching, coaching, and entrepreneurship.

I must say, my wife CA Avni Kabra, who herself was a faculty for Costing, played an important role in this phase of my life.

It was not easy as times were tough and I kept on getting the urge of getting back into employment or joining a Big4….but it was constant motivation from my wife and friends, that I continued this journey.

A few months down the line, I got a chance to work with a wonderful set of professionals in the MyCFO model. Here I got to learn various important aspects of consulting and administration for some of the best companies.  

In fact, it was here while engaging with one of the companies we were working for, I identified certain cost leakages where Money was paid off without the expected work.

I was challenged by the CFO there to provide an account statement for the same with evidence and I did! Based on my observations, I was offered a proposal of assessing the losses incurred from these activities. This work impressed a renowned and influential person in the banking industry who encouraged me and inspired me to take this up full time. He paved the way for conducting large forensic investigations, which started my journey. 

I even met CA. R L Kabra a senior CA and very respected personality who has been an advisor, guiding light, and mentor for many individuals. With him, I worked towards exploring this opportunity and gradually mastered providing consulting services for stressed entities.

With dedicated efforts and a focussed approach, armed with skill sets, experience and the ability to have done significant engagements, I set out to set up a separate identity purely for Business Restructuring, Forensics, and Monitoring with J C Kabra & Associates.

Starting with 1 assignment to dealing with over 300 assignments now—that’s how my forensic journey evolved. Today, am extremely passionate about forensic and I have been expanding my knowledge literally every minute.

 

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Challenges along the way and perpetual learnings 

Setting up my own practice was a huge challenge and the biggest challenge was knowing when to say yes and to whom.

After waiting for at least 8 months, I secured my first assignment and it was absolutely worth it.

In hindsight, though I became a better version of myself in those 8 months. I learnt that having patience is the key.

The purpose of doing something remarkable made me carve out a niche for myself. I have heard many people say that one has to be at the right place at the right time. But I believe it is ‘create the right place and the right time for yourself’ 

Among many challenges that I have faced, I think raising capital and acquiring resources were the major ones.

But as a CA I believe that the biggest capital is the mind and intellect and if one can utilize it appropriately, one can have a rewarding setup.

 

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Wrapping up….

Just like any middle-class guy, I too had a bunch of unclear dreams and a blurred vision of his goals in life. All I had was an undying learning attitude to hold on to.

Ability to create conversations, Ability to deliver, to work around and create solutions -that's how you create your first opportunity and get your first breakthrough.  

Lastly, I say building a strong network has bought me a long way and we have still miles to cover. I hope and pray the learning never stops and we keep Connecting, learning, and prospering! Fruits of networking usually blossom late…

I would also like to share that after having explored various aspects of being a CA i.e. Consulting, Industry, Coaching, Practice, Startup, I decided to stand up for the representation of young CAs in the ICAI Council. Luckily, I could make a place for myself in the Regional Council and later as Secretary. 

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