Partner at one of the oldest CA Firms in India shares how with self-belief and a positive touch of stubbornness she accomplished her diverse dreams

CA Pallavi Dinodia

  • Whether it was pursuing CA or an LLB, Pallavi Dinodia accomplished her diverse dreams with self-belief and a positive touch of stubbornness.
  • Now, she is a Partner for International Tax and Transfer Pricing at S.R. Dinodia& Co. LLP.
  • Here is her journey. 

Chose to become a CA out of stubbornness

I was born into a family of Chartered Accountants. Literally, everyone from my grandfather, father to uncle, were seasoned finance professionals.  

Naturally, dinner table conversations revolved around tax, accounting, and finance - I  used to enjoy the debates.

One could surmise that I too became one to continue their legacy. Well, that was not the case initially. I chose to become a CA out of sheer stubbornness. 

My grandfather had this big chair in his room, and one day when I tried to sit on it he said that only CAs are allowed to sit on it. I was 14 at the time. 

At that moment, I told him, “I am going to sit on this chair before my brother”. And, that is how CA happened.

I qualified as a CA in 2002 and continued the family legacy. 

Building a path of my own

My grandfather was the Managing Partner of S.R. Dinodia & Co. LLP.

I could have easily joined the firm after qualifying but I decided to wait. I needed to make sure the firm was the right place for me.

I went abroad and worked in Switzerland for a year. During the stint, I learned about business development and how large organisations work.

In the era of the 2000s – like all Indian families, girls are needed to come back – the same was the case with me. I was told to return to India.

I joined S.R. Dinodia & Co.LLP.

When I started working at the firm, I noticed my grandfather’s work involved interesting succession-related advisory which I found interesting.  

I wanted to do what my grandfather was doing, but without any legal base, I was not equipped to be involved in that.

I decided to study Law and completed my Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree from Delhi University in 2007.

Soon after, I joined a law firm and worked there for a year, where I was taught how to read legal documents and interpret the law.  

A lot of people still tell me “CAs do not understand law, leave it to the lawyers”. Well, with the right training, I am living proof that CAs can also interpret the law.

While CA taught me how to understand numbers, law helped me to understand the legal-businesses nuances better.

It has proven to be beneficial for both me and my clients as they do not have to explain one of the two to me, which hopefully, saves them a lot of time.

I love the blend of numbers with the law as I can represent clients both before the Dispute Resolution Authority and the Income Tax Tribunal.

Finding my niche in Transfer pricing

Our firm S.R. Dinodia & Co. LLP began its Transfer Pricing services around 2005.

Around that time everyone else in the firm was busy with complex domestic taxation litigation, so all eyes were on me to understand this new law.

They told me that “there is this new transfer pricing law, which we do not have the time to get into. Why don’t you do it?” That is how I started handling Transfer Pricing matters for the firm.

Since it was a new law, nobody was there to guide me - this is the way it is done, etc nor was there any jurisprudence available at the time. 

Initially, this made me hesitant to get into transfer pricing but soon it drew me in with its evolving legal framework, statistics, economic analysis, and numbers. I loved every bit of it.

But then another problem emerged. Whenever I hired people, after training them in Transfer Pricing they would leave our firm for a larger organisation. I became a bit discouraged because of that.

While venting my frustrations to my grandmother, she suggested I write a book.

"Every time you hire someone, give them a copy of your book and urge them to read it while they are serving the notice period in their other firm. Once they have read the book, they would understand the basics that you would spend months teaching and they would hit the ground running,” she said.

And that’s how my first book on transfer pricing, Transfer Pricing – Demystified came about in 2013.

Over the years, I have worked with numerous multinational and Indian businesses across Europe, Asia, America, and India on a multitude of transactions. 

I have handled complex international tax issues, successfully argued issues on interpretation of Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty for the Hotel Industry and have also won matters on non-applicability of tax on Shares issued at higher than NAV for Start-ups & angel investors.

My experience in valuation, Corporate & Tax Laws with my understanding of finance and accounting has enabled me to successfully lead cross-functional teams to deliver results. 

A business-centric approach

I was lucky to have had a good mentor in my grandfather at the beginning of my career. His advice was solid. “Tax should follow the business and not the other way around.”

My one-on-one meetings are different. First, I try to understand what the business of the client is all about. If I don’t have an understanding of what he does, I am never going to be able to offer wholesome advice.

And, there is nobody more passionate about a business than the person who drives it.

Some clients veto the idea. “It is too complicated, you do not have to understand my business. Just tell me, if I do this, what will be the tax effect? 

That is not my style. I am not that kind of a consultant.

How to start off in the world of taxation? This may not be a popular opinion but for anybody who wants to get into tax or corporate law in the CA fraternity; I suggest you start with audit.

When somebody asks for a solution I say, “Okay, what is the entry that you have passed in your books?”  They just look at me wide-eyed.

Well, unless I know about the ‘debit and credit’ how can I advise, what will be the tax impact?

Spend a couple of years doing hardcore audits and then get into taxation. Taxation is like a specialization after an MBBS, where you must first be a generalist to be a specialist.

And only after being a generalist, can you become a specialist.

Millennial CAs are here to change the game

The world around us is changing at a rapid pace, if you do not adapt, it will leave you behind. 

That is why evolving yourself with the changing world is so crucial. 

In the past, if you were an expert in tax, it would be normal for you to do tax for the rest of your life, and the same goes for audit.

People could not switch between streams; people could not change their professions. They were just restricted to one single line.

Things have changed, and drastically.

Earlier, we used to hire young people and tell them what they should be doing. But the millennials are different – they are an outspoken generation.

Nowadays, when we hire millennial CAs they tell us what they would like to do. They say, “I want to do tax for six months and see if it is something I am really going to enjoy.”  

My response is usually, six months is too short a time span to know if you will enjoy a branch of law, you need to give it a year at least.

What we fail to understand is, they do not want to spend one year doing the same thing. This new generation of CAs wants to grow quickly and do multiple things at the same time.

The challenge for us is to be able to create a challenging environment for them.

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