How this CA chose to be SAP-certified and explore the tech-driven corporate world instead of typical CA roles

  • Hi! I am Prakash Gopalakrishnan, a chartered accountant (CA) with a solid tech background, working as a Senior Finance Controller in Dubai.
  • Before qualifying as a CA, I did not know what I wanted to do and I recall that my father brought me a brochure titled “Become SAP-Certified Today”. This was in 2011. 
  • With all the technological advancements and digital transformation, I thought it would be wise to align my career with tech and I do not regret that decision.
  • Today, I vouch for SAP/Oracle certification and I am open to mentoring aspiring as well as fresher CAs who are still unsure which path to follow.

I chose the world of numbers

I would be lying if I said I always aspired to be a CA. As a slightly-above-average student, my favourite subjects were Science & Maths.

However, Science was a complicated subject and I remember that if I were to choose the Science stream in college, I would end up on the bandwagon of IIT-JEE aspirants, which would have been a grueling experience.

(For those not from India, IIT-JEE are engineering entrance assessments conducted for admission to various engineering colleges in India and they are very competitive!)

I had no proper guidance as all my family members had a literature background and at one point, I was at crossroads wondering what I should be doing next.

However, as a 15-year-old, all I wanted was to enjoy my summer vacation, so I decided to give science a skip and take Commerce… Leaving the rest to fate.

After enrolling for the Commerce stream, I developed a keen interest in accountancy and aspired to be a CA since the profession dominated the stream.

Almost everyone wanted to be a CA and that is how my CA journey started in 2005.

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My father’s vision – CA with SAP Certification

Fast forward, my CA journey was quite smooth. I cleared the first level and then started my CA articleship… like all CA aspirants!

I had some great learnings in the 3.5 years of articles. The time here made me ponder as to how I would like my career to take shape after I qualify as a CA.

I figured that I would not want to start my own practice because I had seen the hectic life of CAs in practice.

My favourite subject in the CA curriculum was Strategic and Financial Management, and that made me lean towards exploring opportunities in Investment Banking, Private Equity, and so on.

My father knew that I was trying to figure out what next to do. One fine day, even before I could qualify as a CA, he brought me a brochure titled “Become SAP-Certified Today”.

To me, SAP was just one of the accounting software, which I had come across while auditing large companies. I am talking about 2011 where there was not much knowledge as to how CAs could progress in their career with SAP certification.

Despite my indecision, my father enrolled me for SAP (FI-CO) certification through Siemens Learning, an SAP-authorized Training Institute.

It was a very expensive course but my dad insisted I should be well acquainted with this whole area of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

And yes I did! 

The gamble paid off

After completing my SAP certification, I got my first job as an SAP Finance Consultant at CMC Ltd. (a subsidiary of Tata Consultancy Services), an Indian multinational information technology services and consulting company headquartered in Mumbai.

To everyone’s surprise, I was the only SAP-certified CA under the age of 24 who knew both the languages of finance and technology.

I interacted with several engineers who did not understand concepts like eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), classification of accounts, the provisions of the Companies Act. These concepts were like Hebrew to them, but I managed to explain things in simple terms.

I remember when corporates were undergoing changes in IFRS and Schedule 6 of the Companies Act, I displayed my deep understanding of the changes such that they gave me the opportunity to go and speak to the CFO as a 23-year-old CA fresher… An opportunity of a lifetime.

The company made me the face of end-to-end implementations, interacting with Chief Experience Officers (CXOs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) of the different companies we were consulting.

That is when I learnt a lot, developed the confidence to talk to people and grew my professional network. I am grateful for the opportunity. This knowledge and opportunity helped me land jobs at two of the Big 4 accounting firms, Deloitte and PwC.

I wish my father could see my growth, the product of his sacrifices. Unfortunately, he is no more, but his legacy lives on.

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Furthering my career in finance and IT 

During my early years as a qualified Chartered Accountant, I have come across so many seniors and experienced professional CAs who may have the best-in-class knowledge in the world of finance, but were complete amateurs when it came to IT systems and processes.

I was determined to bridge this gap and I was motivated to pursue my career in this direction (a niche combination of Finance and IT).

ERP systems produce valuable data that CAs need to critically analyse for decision-making. Decisions can range from the company’s level of spending to the company’s marketing strategies and techniques.

At this point, I started exploring the world of Data Analytics and Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) using tools such as Tableau, Alteryx and Jedox EPM.

These tools are useful because they aid in timely decision-making, reducing costs and boosting revenue. When used effectively, CAs can definitely add value to overcoming a variety of corporate challenges.

At the time of my father’s untimely passing, I was determined to start my life afresh in a new country.

I was exploring various options like Exec-MBA, enrolling in the Ivy League colleges, PR applications for Canada and Australia, etc. However, the moment I received an offer to work for a renowned conglomerate in Dubai, UAE; I grabbed the opportunity with open hands.

Right now, I work as a Senior Finance Controller (Deputy CFO), implementing Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) and data analytical tools for my current company here in Dubai.

I am glad to have taken the decision to relocate; it was worth it.    

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Technological advancements bring endless opportunities for CAs

The IT landscape is forever evolving and we as CAs must sail this ship to remain relevant and on top of other professionals.

Look at it this way, there was a time when SAP and other ERP systems disrupted the accounting and operational landscape. Many tasks have become automated and that has been going on for the last two decades.

Now, when most organizations are already using ERP systems, the next challenge comes - What do we do with so much DATA in our systems? Therefore, the next big thing is DATA and BIG DATA. This is where data analytics will play a big role. A domain that I am currently working with.

In the years to come, all these manual activities are expected to be automated with the concept of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Therefore, the horizon is still far away, and we should continue to sail in that direction.

Imagine a world with ‘One-click Consolidation’, ‘AI-driven credit rating’, ‘AI-driven (accurate) stock price forecasts’, ’Robotic Invoicing’, ‘Automated Make-or-Buy Decisions’, etc… The possibilities are endless, so why wait!

Closing…

In the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), there is a need for artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain technology and automation.

As CAs, we need a solid understanding of these concepts to be able to apply these revolutionary technologies in our day-to-day processes and operations.

However, I must mention that CAs do not need to code, but (with sufficient IT knowledge) they can definitely make suitable recommendations to solve a company’s challenges (in this digital era).    

We must not limit a CA to only accounting, recording and reporting the transactions.

Gone are the days where a CA is carrying his ‘precious PEN’ for signing reports and financial statements.

Now we CAs are the torchbearers of the digital future. For this reason, the role of CA is endless. So, we are here to stay.

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