Managing Partner of Mazars India says that Blockchain won't replace auditing but AI will replace 75% of the tasks done by CAs

Kartik Radia, Managing Partner Mazars India LLP

  • Kartik Radia, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Mazars India believes that finance professionals have many opportunities in the area of technology and security assurance.
  • In fact, over 60% of his practice deals with technology like AI, Robotic Process Automation, Data Analytics, Cyber Security, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Implementations.
  • For our Finance: 2022 and Beyond Series powered by Qapita - an ESOP Management Platform, we spoke with him to understand his stance on how AI, blockchain, and automation are going to change the face of the finance industry as well as how to retain staff in the wake of The Great Resignation.

 

You could have easily continued as a Senior Partner at another firm. Why did you go through the challenging path of co-founding Mazars India?

From 2005-08, I worked with a Fortune 500 Company in the USA.

I got first-hand experience implementing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) for one of the Fortune 500 Companies when I lived in New York, USA. 

When I was doing that I realised that in the US, after the Big 4 firms, the Next 4 Firms had already started emerging. And then there was a host of other firms that were emerging. 

After coming back to India in 2008, I joined EY, one of the Big 4 firms only to realise that the same US trend of the Next 4 accounting firms is emerging here as well.

I saw an opportunity and in 2009, I moved away from the Big 4 and joined BDO Haribhakti wherein BDO and Haribhakti collaborated to become one of the larger firms in India, after the Big 4.

In fact, I was one of the few people who decided to move away from the Big 4 and be a part of the Next 4 trends starting in India.

At BDO Haribhakti, I saw real entrepreneurship that enabled me to grow fast. And I made it to National Leadership for Risk and Advisory Services.

Fast forward to 2013-14, after BDO split from Haribhakti, I returned to PwC as a Partner, and in 2017, I once again joined  BDO as a National Head for Business Advisory Services (BAS).

Finally, in 2019, we as a Group of First Generation Partners decided to start our own firm that is led by Entrepreneurial Partners and not Families.

We wanted to do this with a multinational brand and in 2019 we collaborated with Mazars Global.

We started Mazars India LLP in Consulting and Advisory Domains – largely into Consulting and Financial Advisory Services.  

You co-founded Mazars India in 2018, right before COVID-19 hit us. How tough was it running a new firm in the middle of a pandemic?

After we started and things were falling into place with respect to our new firm, we were hit by Covid 19, on the eighth month of starting up. 

It was not easy and we had to take some real hard steps.

But the whole idea that kept us going, evolving, and also thriving in the recent past was the concept of entrepreneurship, the basis on which our firm was formed.

This enabled us to stick together in difficult times and that helped us to build a stable foundation for a next-generation accounting and consulting firm.

Recently at the Bahrain Chapter of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), you mentioned that artificial intelligence (AI) would replace 75% of the tasks that financiers and the CAs carry out. How soon can we expect the transformation?

This is a very interesting question and if I go back as to what has led me to incline towards Technology, is one of my credentials – CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor). 

For us as functional leaders in finance, it has become a lot more about keeping records, documentation, and compliance even at a senior level. 

For instance, many financial professionals implemented goods and services tax (GST) a couple of years back. Now there will be sustainability reporting, so they just keep taking projects after projects related to reporting. 

Hence, there is little time left to focus on business strategies, return on investment (ROI) evaluations, financial framework, and even larger evaluations around Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). 

These are high-impact and intuitive areas that ideally should deserve a higher level of time involvement from Senior Functional Leaders. 

While we are using a qualified and skilled workforce to perform routine business processes, we can program machines to carry out those processes.

AI will help Finance Professionals to focus on high-impact strategic areas for formulating Key business strategies, policies and taking positional decisions; therefore, the organization could be very well set for a higher level of growth.

Right now, most Indian companies are at a nascent stage of implementing AI, but it is just a matter of 3-4 years before we automate most of the routine, mundane, and repetitive business process activities.

In fact, over 60% of our practice deals with technology like AI, Robotic Process Automation, Data Analytics, Cyber Security, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Implementations.

Because of this, I am able to take a view that around 75% to 80% of business processes in any given business function are repetitive, routine, and mundane in nature

Is blockchain going to replace auditing? Do you think firms and accountants should really consider the possibility of using blockchain?

People hold drastically different views on the subject. Some professionals believe that blockchain will replace auditing and some believe that blockchain will not replace auditing but it will definitely change the way of doing the audit. I hold the latter view.

I believe that auditing began in India 2,300 years ago, as a part of Arthashastra Niti of Kautilya Chanakya. Auditing existed at that point in time over the kingdom.

If you ask me, I can confirm that blockchain is not going to replace audit Instead, it will complement it.

I also strongly believe blockchain will dramatically change the way we conduct audits.

Blockchain will not allow to open up previous years' transactions once there is a timestamp of a transaction. 

Once a block (cluster of data) is closed, it cannot be re-opened or changed and it can only be connected to another block through a chain, which is known as a blockchain. This will bring transparency, security, and governance. 

But underlying transactions will have to be audited and validated and assurance will have to be still given.  

As a concept, there is a need for an independent assurance upon what management is asserting so that investors, regulators, and the larger outer ecosystem can rely on it.

 

What are your thoughts on the effects of Cryptocurrency and Sustainability on the finance industry? Do they have opportunities for finance professionals?

Crypto

Blockchain is based on the underlying technology of cryptography. The concepts of Blockchain and Crypto are not widely different. They are based on the same foundational principles and mechanisms of trust, transparency, and security

In the crypto world, I believe there will be some good opportunities for accounting and finance professionals in the area of Technology Assurance and Security
Assurance.

I call it by the term 'Digital Trust', the trust that can be given in the digital format. 

The entire blockchain system should be audited as to whether it is trustworthy – security needs to be thoroughly checked within blockchain systems and trust needs to be imparted in the form of assurance.  Then there is fitness for purpose that needs to be checked to decide whether this technology is fit for a given purpose or not.

Sustainability

On one hand, you are contributing financially to your financial and capital goals and on the other hand, you have to contribute to the environmental goals. And that is where I believe finance and accounting professionals have an immense role to play in terms of Sustainability and ESG Reporting. 

And this is not going to be about debits, credits, and the double-entry system but it is going to be about the measurement of non-financial parameters. And I believe that Accountants and Finance Professionals are in the best position to do the measurement because they understand the financial measurements very well. 

So here is where they have to do an ESG Measurement on some specific Quantifiable Parameters

Both Goals and even Results need to be properly measured. So that is how Sustainability is coming up as a very important way of looking at life. That is going to be the way of the future and Accountants and Finance Professionals have an immense role to play in terms of reporting and measurement for both goals and also the results.

We will need sustainability standards as to how the goals are formulated?  How Goals are thought through and reported and how results are going to be reported. 

So, we will have a whole host of Sustainability Reporting Standards that will be coming up for reporting on Sustainability in the same way as we have for financial reporting.

 

They say 2022 is the year of Great Resignation. How are you looking at recruiting the next generation of talent?

Great Resignation has already started in the US, and the rest of the world, in general, is not too far behind.

If we look back to 1929, a similar phenomenon took place after the Great Depression. This pandemic is a replica of the Great Depression.

People do not want to adhere to the traditional 9-5 working hours and bureaucratic organizational structure. They want to enjoy their life while doing something purposeful in their career.

As we go forward, different models of employment and employee engagements are emerging.

The only strategy that can bring the employers and employees together on a common plane is through entrepreneurship. That is how they can retain talent.

Both the employer and the employee have to understand the concept of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial journey very well.

Then after spelling out the results, such as value addition and long-term growth, particularly to the NextGen and Gen Z, there will be a huge difference.

For instance, if an early-stage start-up grants employee stock ownership plans (ESOP), it would result in higher employee retention and multiple tax advantages.

 

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