How this CA struggled to find a niche specialization and eventually built a name for himself in Indirect Taxation

  • Venkataramani Satyamoorthy, based in Bangalore, is a Practising Chartered Accountant.
  • After qualifying as a CA in 1988, he was determined to start his own Practice but, as fate would have it, that Practice didn’t run its course.
  • Due to his family’s financial condition, he needed to get a job to run the house. At this point, the opportunity to work at Singhvi Dev & Unni, Chartered Accountants’ presented itself. This place laid out the foundation for his career in Indirect Tax Practice.
  • In 2018, after spending 29 years at the Firm, he quit it all, to pursue his other career interests.
  • As a part of the CA Chronicles Series - a set of heart-to-heart interactions with some of the esteemed chartered accountants out there Powered by Tally Solutions, we celebrate his unstoppable journey - one which is filled with courage and self-belief to start over. 

 

From a Science graduate to embarking on my CA journey

Growing up, I was a clueless boy who had no idea what I wanted to do in his life.

My parents and my elder brothers had somehow fixated on their minds that I would be a good engineer, and so I took up the science stream. However, 5 years of Science education didn’t prove to be that interesting to me!

What next now? 

After a chance meeting with a Practicing Chartered Accountant, I came to know that since I had an average of 55%+ marks, I could directly start my Articles under the guidance of a CA.

After this revelation, there was no looking back and here started my CA journey. 

By God’s grace, everything worked out and I finally qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1988.

Starting my own CA Firm only to quit!

After I qualified as a CA, I was clear on the fact that I wanted to start my own Practice. Two basic reasons which helped me decide are:

1) In the early to mid-’80s, finding employment was extremely difficult.

2) Being someone’s employee wasn’t a dream that I cherished. I was strongly biased against signing attendance registers, writing leave applications, seeking permissions, etc.

These two compelling reasons forced me to believe that I would do well in Practice.

So, along with one of my classmates, Ravishankar, I started a small Practice within a one-room accommodation (slightly less than 100 sq ft) with a monthly rent of Rs. 200.

Finding the first client wasn’t easy at all. But we were lucky to get some outsourced work from our seniors. However, it was not fulfilling as instead of working for ourselves, we were working for others.

Infact, we were even struggling to make ends meet!

What should we be doing next?

Joining a mid-sized firm and struggling to find my niche

In those days, the Big 4s didn’t exist in India.

Since we weren’t doing well financially and couldn’t even find clients on our own, a year later, Ravishankar was convinced that this Practice won’t work!

We made a hard choice to shut the firm and decided to join a mid-sized firm and carve a niche for ourselves. (I needed to support my family and was in dire need of a stable income!)

Around the same time, we got an offer in the summer of 1989 from the firm, Singhvi Dev & Unni Chartered Accountants - a niche boutique firm that had multiple operating divisions.

When I finally joined the firm, I was still indecisive about choosing my Practice area. Hailing from a very small firm during my articleship and practicing only Tax, I had no other specialization to show off at that time. So, when I joined them, I was offered to work in Income Tax!

During that time, there were a lot of renowned Chartered Accountants who were Practicing in Income Tax and were in their early to mid-30s. And, I knew that if I wanted to succeed, I had to reach their level of expertise. 

I Soon realized that Tax practice was really competitive and crowded; making a mark for myself would take me years and years. 

I was already 28 and I knew if I wanted to carve a niche for myself in an already crowded niche it would take me a long time.  

I then dabbled in Audit midway but the difficult part was that I had no knowledge of Audit and, therefore, had to learn everything from the ground up. I learned about Internal & Statutory Audit, and Company Law which proved to be the foundation of my career.

But again, Audit wasn’t the niche for me and I quickly became tired of it.

Finally finding my niche in Indirect Tax Practice 

I communicated my position to Singhvi Sir which came with its own reproval. But it was then that he told me about Sales Tax which piqued my interest. However, my friends dissuaded me from following it because they were convinced it was a notorious field to pursue.

Nevertheless, I had finally found something that I was interested in and I was determined to uplift it to such a level that people would realize it’s one of the best areas to be in practice. But that didn’t happen without its own challenges.

For two years, I just spent time studying all about Sales Tax (indebted to the Firm who supported me here). I also took up some of the Tax & Audit work just to cover the costs.

Soon after that, I started practicing in Indirect Tax and my career just took off! This was in the early '90s. 

In the mid-90s, the MNCs started trickling into Bangalore.

When the first MNC, Digital Equipment (India) Ltd. came to the firm, I was the one who met the Finance Controller and stated the terms for Consultation in a clear manner. This confidence stemmed from the fact that we were the only CA firm in Bangalore which dealt in Indirect Tax practice.

Soon, Sales Tax moved to Value-Added Tax and pushed the firm into a completely new dimension. And this continued on for 24+  years.

Overcoming Challenges

Throughout the 29 years at Singhvi Dev & Unni, I had the satisfaction of working in a professional environment while I also faced innumerable challenges.

One of the challenges that we faced was retaining talent. But I am glad that we could provide young students with an elbow space to hone their skills as CAs who now have gone on to work with Big 4s or became Partners.

The next biggest challenge was delivering on our promises, timelines, schedules, expectations of the clients while keeping the costs low.

When a person climbs the career ladder, the expectations also increase. The challenge for me was to find time to work and also pursue all my other aspirations such as public speaking, writing, etc., along with my studies within a 24-hour daily timeline.

But the most challenging of all was to beat the competition. In those days, competition was measured in terms of intellect and the frequency of recommendations a person would receive for the advisory role rather than money and position.

Moving out of CA Practice & Starting all over after 29 years

In 2016-17 I made up my mind that it was time to leave and start all over from scratch. By now I had completed 29 years in Indirect Tax Practice. 

I had committed to the firm that I’ll exit the firm only after delivering GST. So, the moment GST was implemented in 2017, I informed my Partners that it was time for me to leave.

So, finally, in 2018, I left the firm and wasn’t too sad about it since the firm had grown over the years with 200+ people, over 70+ CAs & other professionals working in the firm, and 12 Partners. I was glad to have played an important role in the Firm’s success and was confident that my younger partners would take the firm to the next level.

So, just like I had entered the firm without anything, I left the firm without anything except for all the knowledge that I had gained.

After that, I went on to co-author several books, background material on GST, and audit manuals for Government officials of a few states. I have also been instrumental in recommending changes to the Goods & Service Tax Law in several of the committees.

I had a brief experience working at a Company in 1987 but didn’t pursue it since I was stubbornly passionate about joining a CA firm. But at present, I have finally gotten the chance to expand my Industry experience while at the same time continue my passion for education and delivering public lectures.

My message for you is: Never be afraid of exploring yourself. You’ll never know what’s best for you if you always stick to the known.

Be unstoppable and do not let anything stop you.

Now It's Your Turn...

Have you struggled to find your niche? What makes you unstoppable. Comment below and let us know. 

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