From a rough start to becoming the CFO of UAEs First Digital Bank. Learning agility and tech skills cannot be ignored.

 why modern CFOs need to upskill in technology says CFO of UAE digital bank

  • Meet Pratikk Dalal, a Chartered Accountant who had a rough start post-qualification.
  • He scouted for a job 3 months straight, but there was no luck.
  • Applying for a job in Oman was nothing but an experiment for him that hit the jackpot.
  • See how, as a CFO, he is helping UAE’s first digital bank, Al Maryah Community Bank, navigate through the change financial institutions are undergoing.

Back story

I was born in a middle-class Gujarati family where the words “luxury” and “flamboyant expenses” were taboo.

I spent my entire childhood in a South-Bombay chawl (similar to a tenement). But my dreams were big.

The seed of becoming a Chartered Accountant (CA) was sown when I was 6; thanks to the inspiration sought from an uncle who was a CA.

In the absence of a mentor or a career guide, I had limited knowledge of the avenues that life had to offer, but my determination to become a CA was steadfast.

The path to becoming a CA was challenging, as I had to juggle college, apprenticeship and tuition every day.  

My Life’s Mantra is “Life isn’t easy to live, But I don’t believe it to be difficult

It all paid off once I qualified as a CA in 2001.

Foray into the world of banking 

The journey post qualification was anything but a cakewalk. First of all, the job market was tight.

I had to run from pillar to post to find a job. I was jobless for 2-3 months despite being qualified. 

At some point, I thought, maybe I should start teaching Commerce students, as tutoring business in India provided handsome pay. I even went for an interview to become a tutor at a coaching class, but that didn’t work out well.

After a while I went to attend the campus recruitment program of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. While waiting for the lift, a fellow CA informed me about an opening at Hathway Cable (a listed cable TV service operator in India).  

I was not too thrilled about it as I was keen on joining the banking industry. But, then with the thought that something is better than nothing, I said, “Sure, I'd be happy to seek the opportunity!” as it would enable me to kick start my career & gain experience.

I joined the Company as an audit manager, which was not half bad.  

I headed the Due Diligence team for Business acquisitions, where I did the financial analysis, profitability review and management reporting.

After working there for over a year, my prayers were answered. Surprisingly there was an opening at ICICI Bank - a leading private sector bank in India, which I applied for through a newspaper advertisement.

I didn’t get my hopes too high and applied without any expectations. I was pleasantly surprised as luck favoured me and I got a call for an interview.

After a grueling session at the interview, guess what? Yes!  I was selected.

Moral of the story: Patience & Perseverance does pay off. Have self-belief as things happen at the right time.

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A game-changing interview call from Bank of Muscat

In 2004 I shifted to ABN AMRO bank as an Accounting Controller. Working for an MNC was an enriching experience and I made the most out of it.

After approx 2 years with ABN, I casually kept exploring my options. Having an opportunistic personality, I chose based on what life offers.

In early 2005, another opportunity came my way to go abroad. I was not so sure about it, since I was in my comfort zone and happy working in India, being with my parents.

With no real intention of settling overseas, I casually sent an e-mail to a recruitment agency, for an opportunity at Bank Muscat, Oman.

I even went ahead and attended the interview on a weekend, (the placement agency forced me to attend it). The interview was given casually in a calm and composed manner with no expectations. 

Post interview, a few days later when I was boarding a local train to go to work, the HR manager called me from Oman and said, “You’re shortlisted. Would you like to join?”

I was taken aback and didn’t know how to react!!

Everyone around me said that Oman is a wonderful country, filled with positive vibes and a perfect work-life balance. 

I decided to take my chances at last and joined Oman’s No 1 Bank in 2006.

As the Head of Reporting, Capital Planning & Business MIS, my areas of work included FTP, financial and regulatory reporting, Business MIS, Tax compliance, core banking implementation, investor relations, rating agency function, capital raising activities and due diligence.

The work experience at Bank Muscat was enriching, as it provided a dynamic and multi-area exposure, which was fast-track learning. Also on the financial front, it helped me to raise my standard of living and reap benefits.

As I hailed from a middle-class family, Oman showed me what a good lifestyle looks like and gave me much-needed comfort and support.

And the best part was that, it helped me achieve a work-life balance and spend quality time with my family.

CFO at UAE's first Digital Bank

After 12 glorious years in Oman, it was time for a change, not just in terms of geography but the job role too.

The time came when I got an opportunity to move to  UAE and work with Al Masraf bank.

I had initially joined as Deputy to CFO and three years down the line I took over the role of CFO, which was a turning point in my professional career.

I later chanced upon an exciting opportunity for the role of CFO at Al Maryah Community Bank (AMCB), UAE.

There has been a paradigm shift in banking. Seeing conventional banking undergo a radical change with the advent of fin-techs, I knew digital banking would be a game changer.

This was an opportunity for me to lead the new era of digital banking which is completely technology driven. It adopts the mission to treat banking as a service (baas) ensuring hyper-personalization of offerings to meet customer requirements.

A shift in the role of a CFO: Go digital or go home

The way the world is evolving, there is a continuous need to develop new skill sets and enhance one’s expertise.

The role of a CFO no longer revolves around number games, MIS preparation or financial reporting. The traditional banking system has been and is maturing on the digital page.  

Now the BAU activities are well taken by state-of-the-art core banking systems which have embedded all these elements by default, and support finance function more on the analytical front. The role has forayed into using technology to its advantage, to carry out strategic planning.

Business is no longer measured just by Net Profit. The proposition of value creation has surfaced in creating wealth through satisfying consumers’ needs and binding them with the organization, showing brand loyalty.

This is where the role of finance has broadened and demands partnering with businesses, to maximize the value of a business through effective financial planning, resource management and organic growth, being mindful of risk, control and profitability.

Learning agility (knowledge upgrade), thinking out of the box, and digital upskilling are the key skills needed to add value to the business.

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Skills chartered accountants should have...

You may think, ‘I’m a chartered accountant and this degree will get me everywhere.’

But that is no longer a reality today. In today’s world, a Master’s degree is considered a bare minimum requirement and add-on skills in a specialized function and your USP to be selected for a job.  

If you mention through your resume that ‘Yes I am a Chartered accountant and I also have obtained certification in AI, data analytics, and data mining' then you stand out from the sea of applicants.

Apart from the above, here are some key pointers, which I believe are essential:

  1. Technological Alignment to Finance skill sets.
  2. Measure not just Profits, but also intangible Growth in Business through customers.
  3. Set short to medium-term Goals with the option of dynamic changing, based on the environment you operate in.
  4. Always ensure Risk, Security and Controls parameters align with the business.
  5. Partner with business and support functions to derive and deliver maximum value.

My career journey may seem perfectly aligned, but I have had my fair share of roadblocks and have learnt the way to deal with them.

My philosophy when selecting a career opportunity is that even if 7 out of 10 criteria are met, go for it. Hard work and dedication shall take you from 7 to 10.

Believe in yourself! The Experiences of Life are invaluable learnings and rewarding!!  


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