- Hi, I am CA Harsh Punjabi, a Finance Transformation Professional with over 10 years of experience.
- In 2023, I made a bold move to relocate to Dubai.
- It took me nearly 6 months to prepare for the move, weighing various factors.
In 2008, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant (CA) while pursuing my industrial training with Bank of America in Mumbai.
Much like many other graduates at that time, I was looking forward to a career in Investment Banking.
So, in my mind, everything was sorted. However, the global financial crisis hit, and my goal of becoming an Investment Banker was crushed.
Fast forward to a few years later in 2012, I received a call from PwC offering an opening in their finance transformation team.
Given my passion for business improvement and technology, I gladly accepted the role. This decision completely altered the trajectory of my career.
I progressed through the ranks and eventually reached the position of Director.
Naturally, becoming a Partner was next in my career progression had I continued.
Deciding to move to Dubai
For a finance transformation professional, seeing your ideas turn into reality is a big win.
In India, the process of transformation is remarkable but it moves forward gradually, one step at a time.
However, while having conversations with fellow professionals in Dubai, they would express ideas that meant a significant change and not just a slight improvement; “We currently operate manually, but we aspire to transition to a fully touchless process.”
Not just in Dubai but throughout the GCC region, there’s a vision and desire to leap from 0 to 100.
I was doing very well in my career at PwC India and the logical progression would have been to aim and work towards becoming a Partner.
But I was attracted to this boldness and wanted to be a part of it.
And that’s how Dubai happened…
However, my transition didn’t happen overnight.
Prepare for the move to Dubai
When you move countries you are leaving a lot of things behind that you will now have to work towards.
You have to build a new network and a support system once you arrive in a new country.
Often, when you reach a certain stage in your life, you don’t want to start from scratch. You desire to remain in the same lifestyle since you have become accustomed to it.
You have to make sure that you are utilizing the right opportunity, at the right career level, as a stepping stone to enter a new territory and don’t compromise on many aspects.
When it comes to relocating to Dubai, there are three main aspects that I considered.
- Firstly, my focus area has always been finance transformation, so it was important for me to continue in that field.
- In the consulting field, you often propose various ideas to clients, but you may not have the opportunity to witness their implementation all the time. That’s why the second most crucial aspect for me was seeing my proposed ideas come to life.
- Yes, career aspirations are important, but when you are shifting to a new country, it’s not just about you. It affects your entire family as well.
- I had to make sure that everyone was on board and comfortable with the decision that their life would change, i.e. my spouse’s career and my kids’ education.
- Dubai offers a better quality of life.
- I could also spend more time with my family.
- Sometimes in the grind of your daily life, you forget to pursue your hobbies. I needed to nourish that individual side of myself.
It was a lengthy decision.
It took me around 6 months to finally reach a stage where I could confidently say ‘Yes, I’m ready to relocate to Dubai now.’ Ideally, such a decision should not be rushed.
During those 6 months, I was also trying to get familiar with the neighbourhoods in Dubai, researching the top schools, and learning about the transportation system in the city.
Google and my connections in the UAE have been extremely helpful.
My job search process
Here is how I went about it strategically,
Join relevant groups
- I joined numerous WhatsApp groups comprising finance transformation professionals, for apparent reasons.
Active on LinkedIn
- I regularly posted on my LinkedIn, be it my work experiences in finance, business partnering, finance technologies, finance transformation, or the challenges that I overcame in those areas.
- This has helped me immensely in securing a job in Dubai.
Respect the recruiters
- Remember that thousands of individuals are applying for the same job in the Middle East. So, how can you stand out from the crowd?
- Don’t send a generic message to a recruiter. Instead, mention, “I came across the job opportunity that you had posted. Here are 3 projects which I have contributed to and made a great impact on and believe that I would be a great fit for your company.”
After careful consideration and relentless job hunting, I finally found an opportunity.
In October 2023, I accepted a Business Transformation position in a reputed company and relocated to Dubai.
Moving to Dubai has its share of challenges
Overcome impostor syndrome
I suffered from impostor syndrome for a brief moment. Yes, I was seen as an expert, but I couldn’t just start advising from the get-go.
So, I took this as an opportunity and even asked some basic questions to clear any doubts I had. I learned a lot and it was refreshing.
Since I shifted from consulting to industry, adjusting to the pace of work in the new organisation seemed difficult, at first.
A new work environment
Someone shared this on LinkedIn and it is extremely relatable – ‘When you transition into a new job, in a different country, it feels like joining a TV series in its fifth season. Many plot lines have already been developed, and now it’s up to the audience to determine if you’re good enough to continue in the series.’
Dubai is a diverse cultural hub, with different points of view.
If you have a different idea, discuss it with your team members privately, right after your transition.
As a new member of the team, people will likely be more patient with you, and you need to be patient with them as well.
Build a network
When moving to a new country you will have to establish a new network and support system from scratch.
Networking is key.
I recently attended a Finance event organized by The Finance Story to expand my network.
High cost of living
One of the main motivators for me to consider working in the UAE was its income tax-free nature… But there are some cons.
Certainly, while the pay might seem attractive, it’s important to understand that saving 30% of your salary in India doesn’t necessarily translate to the same in Dubai.
You need to shift your perspective to relative terms and take into account purchasing power parity.
You don’t receive any social security benefits as you would have in your home country.
But, if you can maintain a decent lifestyle, then achieving your savings goal is possible.
In my opinion, it would be optimal to strive for a salary that is 2.5 to 3 times higher than your current Indian salary.
However, times change and you have to roll with the punches.
Currently the UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are experiencing significant economic and social growth.
Exciting developments like Mohammed Bin Rashid (MBR) City, Etihad Rail (Emirates Railway Project), and Jubail Island in Abu Dhabi are taking place.
It’s an incredible time to become a part of this thriving region.
If you have the opportunity to visit Dubai, make the most of it because many employers prefer candidates who are already in the country.
That being said, I wouldn’t recommend leaving everything behind, especially if you’re at a pivotal point in your life.
Take the time to do your research and ask yourself important questions like, “Is this the right place for work?”, “Is this the right role for me?”, and “Will this role help me achieve my career goals?”
And lastly, don’t rush into an opportunity.