How This Chartered Accountant Switched from Finance to Brand Management (And Was It Worth It!)

  • Hi, I am Prerna Sangal a seasoned professional with 6 years of cross-functional experience in consultancy and brand management. I am also a content writer (@ThatDramaticWriter on Instagram).
  • I am a qualified Chartered Accountant from India and a Brand Manager (yes, you heard correctly!) with an FMCG company based out of – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • A couple of years ago I took a leap of faith and made a life-changing decision that could either make or break me - I decided to move out of Finance to start a career in Marketing.
  • Moving from the field of Finance to Marketing was both risky and exciting. And here I am sharing my journey 'Switching gears in career, from CA to a Brand Manager – And all that happened in-between.

The question I have been asked the most – Why CA?

I was a very hyperactive kid (and have grown up to be an equally hyperactive adult) who wasn’t that academic till say the 5th standard. But then something changed and I started consistently topping my class like scoring 99/100 in Maths and Science kinda by Indian education standards, I was hitting it!

I had a wonderful childhood and sort of idealized my mother growing up...and that is probably why I chose to become a 'Chartered Accountant' because she is one! I didn’t know what it meant, what it entailed but I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant since I was 14.

Fast forward to my undergrad, during which I took the first level of CA exam and cleared it. Everyone was so excited but not me! It was at this point I realized “everything about the CA course screamed 'This might not be my thing!'". All I knew was - I wanted to 'quit CA and figure out what I really wanted to do'.

Around the same time, my father was chronically sick and I felt like I’d burden my parents with additional stress if I told them this...after all my life all I wanted to be was a Chartered Accountant!

So, what next? What should I be doing? Unfortunately, the burden was too much to handle so I told my parents about quitting and pursuing a non-finance profile! They were disappointed with my decision and thought it was a decision I made at the moment!

Emotionally we were all in a very rough situation and my dad had this wish that he wanted me to become a CA. So for the love of my family, I decided to ‘give it a shot’ and thought I’ll do what I really want to only after becoming a CA...and it paid off, more on it later! 

Pursuing CA After Knowing Marketing Is my Area of Interest 

I had narrowed on Marketing as my area of interest during undergrad itself. In my head, CA was a means, something to build my profile further...can you believe I was studying to be a CA knowing I wanted to get into Marketing!

2011-2014. Coming to my CA journey - It was not very challenging. I got through PwC for articles in Audit, met great people, build a good network (something I personally value a lot and feel everyone should start early on) and worked in profiles that gave me great exposure. However even though I was excelling at work, I was not enjoying it much.

But one thing that I really enjoyed was studying and what really benefitted me personally was self-study and discipline. However, I didn’t expect to NOT clear my CA Finals in one go. When I failed that too in Accountancy (this subject was my strength!) it came as a shock to me. I remember crying to my mother and saying "this will delay my MBA plans". The next attempt I took it as an ego blow (almost) and cleared my CA Exams.

2015. I was now a Chartered Accountant...ready to make a career transition to Marketing! 

The Next Step – Quitting my job to do an MBA in Singapore

After qualifying as a CA, I continued working at a Big 4 Firm in Taxation. One of the major reasons I decided to work in Taxation was to learn GST as it was newly introduced in India and I believed it would set my profile apart.

Also, my desire to do an MBA and get into Marketing was very much alive. So, I decided to prepare for my GMAT (entrance exam for an MBA) while still doing an extremely hectic day job.

Around the same time, a friend of mine was launching his fashion start-up and he requested me to contribute to the marketing and content side as he had read my writings (@ThatDramaticWriter on Instagram) and knew about my interest in the marketing field. So, I juggled both my job and this side gig, with almost no time to study for GMAT.

Also, I cut myself some slack in preparing my GMAT thinking I had just cleared one of the toughest exams (CA) in India and so I should just chill a little. But when I did take the GMAT I scored only 620 which is very low for an Indian Chartered Accountant applying to competitive MBA schools abroad. The exam was much tougher than I imagined...I paid a heavy price for this chilling! 

Sep'17. I knew it was time to focus and give my 100% and that’s when I decided to quit my hectic job and anyone reading this, please don’t quit a job in hand, ever. I was at home, with no job and studying was all I was focusing on for 5-6 months. I woke up and slept in anxiety.

After quitting my job, taking the test twice and prepping for MBA rejections was a super tough phase. If I had to go back in time and change a few things, I will keep my job and not take the GMAT lightly and prepare well in advance.

2018-2019. I was rejected by a lot of colleges, I think I got over 13 rejections within a span of 15 days. I used to cry after every rejection but still fill the next application with the same level of hope and enthusiasm. Luckily, Nanyang Business School (NTU) was the last application that was pending result and literally the last reply I got was a YES!

I just had 20 days to pack everything, say goodbye and move to a new country. Singapore seemed like a great option because I wanted to be close to home, but still, give myself a different environment.

Switching gears from Finance to Marketing...with an FMCG in Malaysia!

The day I reached Singapore to do my MBA, I networked. I had an idea of the kind of profile I wanted and didn’t want to geographically restrict myself. It’s easier to make geographic switches once you have relevant experience. (I can say this for the South East Asian market at least)

Aug 2019. Today, I am working at the South East Asia HQ of SCJohnson which happens to be out of Malaysia. However, I am looking at multiple Asian markets. How I Got this opportunity in Malaysia? I got this job courtesy a contact I had made on LinkedIn – a guy from another MBA school. I had been in touch with him throughout the year on LinkedIn and he forwarded my CV and fortunately, things just worked out.

Was It Easy To Get an Opportunity in Marketing After an MBA? NOPE. They say MBA is a means to a career transition but its not as easy as school brochures make it out to be. Getting this profile even after doing an MBA in Marketing was very tough. I can't even put a number to the rejections I got. The number of times I was told it’s impossible. I networked for months and months. But I don’t know, it sounds over the top, but a voice kept on telling me that everyone is saying its impossible, but you will manage!

Also, thanks to working with my friend in that startup I did have some experience. I also had FMCG industry experience working with a client for 2.5 years. I did marketing internships during my MBA which also helped. I just networked a lot. Get that LinkedIn Prime membership. It’s worth it.

Did my CA Qualification help me in Marketing? I think CA is the reason I got this marketing job! I joined as part of the Graduate Management Trainee program for MBA grads and I am the first female non-engineer to have gotten in. So they did value my experience and profile. The best part, I didn’t have to negotiate and have not taken any salary cut.

"Why I decided to do an MBA to get into Marketing? And was it worth it?"

After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, the first client I was working with was an FMCG company. Observing their functioning I sort of became sure that my next step would be working for an FMCG but of course in a marketing profile.

How I would get into an FMCG, would they consider a CA for a marketing role, etc I didn’t know all this? I just thought an MBA is the way to go about it, also:

  • I was very attached to the idea of doing an MBA. I just wanted to get an MBA since my undergrad. (I think I have caused unnecessary emotional stress to myself whenever I have ‘just wanted’ to get something)
  • I didn’t want to switch to a low paying marketing job and start from scratch. I did try it that for 3 months and was miserable through it. MBA felt like the next step that would not put me behind in years that I had already spent as a CA.
  • I thought it would be easy for me to get into a B school and was expecting to do very well in GMAT (after all I qualified CA exams which are considered to be tough).

Was an MBA worth it? Would I recommend working in the desired profile instead of getting an MBA?” Honestly, there’s no straight answer to this question. If you feel the work that you’re doing after becoming a CA is not to your liking, try to switch to a profile you like as early as possible. You can afford a few goof-ups early on in your career. Once you have a few years of experience in that, get an MBA if you want. It will be easier that way.

Also Read

My Journey as a Chartered Accountant from India to Canada (Calgary)

“Finance and Marketing a match made in heaven?"

I've learned that my skills are more transferable than I expected. The knowledge I got working and studying for CA is turning out to be very advantageous.

Marketing is NOT just devising strategies and campaigns to push your brand forward. It’s also continuously monitoring your market shares, figuring out what’s working out and not, being aware of what your competitors are doing, and knowing whether your plans are financially and operationally viable...At the end of the day, everything is about pushing numbers and getting the best value for the money you spend.

My earlier jobs, I would like to believe helped me grasp a lot of that quicker. So, if you’re applying to a role for which you don't have direct experience, you have to paint a full picture of why you want to make this career change and, beyond that, how you'll make an impact with your transferable skills.

"Should Qualified Accountants Move Outside of Finance?"

I’d say go for it, because WHY NOT. It won’t be easy. You would want to give up a lot but you have to keep yourself going. If you want it bad enough, you won’t give up anyway. Secondly, there is nothing as ‘too late’. It’s better than being restricted in a job you don’t like forever. The job you do makes up for more time in your life than your personal life so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t at least be trying things.

Having said that it’s also important to be realistic at times. I for one knew MBA after CA is a possibility but knew that getting marketing after it will be very difficult. To combat that I had decided to not geographically restrict myself, and was even prepared to go to a more general management based role if marketing didn’t work out.

Wrapping up...

Something I wrote and hope to live by as much as I can. It’s said too often but if you want something – go get it, or at least try - When it gets too dark, Be the LIGHT. When it gets too hard, Be the FIGHT. 

The feeling of moving into something new was very intimidating but I had a strong support system in terms of my friends and family, so find your support. As long as your decision to change is influenced by passion, drive and a love for this new career path, you have nothing to worry about.

In hindsight, I feel grateful that I went through these challenges early on in my career. It molded me into what I am today.

Your career is just one part of your life, an important part but even then not your whole life. Also, on a completely unrelated note value the people who stand by you when things get tough.

Now It's Your Turn...

Have you followed your heart’s calling? Do you love what you do? Have you considered moving to a different field to pursue your interests?

We want to hear your story. Comment below and share with your friends who need to know this: “Follow your heart.”

(Image Editing by Ankit Lodhi)

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