The scramble for CAs is becoming a mad rush

Rising compliance requirements in a growing economy are fuelling demand for those well-versed in goods services and tax (GST), corporate taxes, initial public offerings (IPOs) and audit work.
Rising compliance requirements in a growing economy are fuelling demand for those well-versed in goods services and tax (GST), corporate taxes, initial public offerings (IPOs) and audit work.

Summary

  • Chartered accountants are in high demand due to rising compliance requirements and growing economy, leading to pay hikes of up to 50% for lateral hires. They are offered opportunities in consulting and training in AI-led programmes to retain talent.

Mumbai: In the engine rooms of finance, chartered accountants have always had a special place. Now, they are more valuable than ever before.

Top professional services companies and dedicated CA firms are offering pay hikes of as much as 50% for lateral hires, multiple industry executives said. Plus, on offer are options to work in consulting divisions if auditing and taxation become too cumbersome, and training in artificial intelligence-led programmes to retain CAs who are trained to sift through company details with a hawk eye.

Rising compliance requirements in a growing economy are fuelling demand for those well-versed in goods services and tax (GST), corporate taxes, initial public offerings (IPOs) and audit work.

Even as long work hours and stress prompt many to jump ship, employers cannot freely dial up hiring as in other sectors, since only a limited number of candidates qualify to be CAs every year. The result: Every industry is scrambling to hire CAs, led by financial institutions, startups and global capability centres.

“With the economy opening up, compliance needs have shot up as companies now are working on both domestic and international clients. Behind each IPO of a mid-sized firm, there is a team of 30-40 CAs working on the listing," said Ashok Shah, founding partner of NA Shah Associates, that offers auditing, accounting services and employs 100 CAs working alongside 400 trainees who are yet to get their degree. “The Big Four often recruit our talent at 40% hikes when it would have been 25% a year ago," Shah said.

Meanwhile, the ‘Big Four’—commonly used to refer to audit firms KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC—are at the receiving end as well. To retain their CAs, some of these firms are offering to move them away from pure vanilla audit roles, and open up areas of work in business strategy, AI, and financial transformation for clients.

“The role of CAs has evolved well beyond traditional domains, and they now play a role in business and financial transformation and work in strategy-related roles," said Deepti Sagar, chief people and experience officer, Deloitte India. “There are 3,000-5,000 CAs working with us, and we estimate a growth of 20-25% this year."

The audit firm noted that to retain CAs, “vertical and lateral growth" need to be on offer so that as employers, they remain a preferred choice in a dynamic environment that also includes startups. “Over the last one year, we are leveraging the core skills that CAs have, such as attention to detail, and offering opportunities in non-conventional advisory services," Sagar added.

Rival EY has seen the shift from assurance and taxation to tech consulting and management consulting domains. “Given the multi-functional capabilities that CAs carry, and their analytical and decision-making abilities, they are a high-demand workforce that must be retained. We actively encourage our CAs to build integrated functional capabilities by broad-basing their experiences in non-traditional parts of the business," said Sandeep Kohli, EY India Talent Leader and Partner.

Many CAs are also snapped up by global capability centres, which are captive innovation and technology development centres of multinational companies, experts said.

“When you are looking at global organizations who are going to lean on the teams here for planning, analytics, book closure and global reporting, they want the best skill and are ramping up their hirings of CAs," said Shalini Pillay, India leader - global capability centres at KPMG in India. “The highest demand from the GCC space is in emerging technology areas and also deep finance skills, which therefore pulls the CAs," Pillay said.

Recruiters note that among sectors, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) has among the highest demand for CAs. The attrition in CA roles is largely in junior and middle management, often fuelled by long and stressful work hours.

A senior HR executive in one of the largest Mumbai-based conglomerates noted said his employer is picking up CAs with barely a couple of years of work experience at flat rates from the Big Four as many workers complain of exhaustion.

“The CA mandates have increased by about 50-60% from previous years, specifically for the 0-5 year work experience bracket. Companies are willing to pay 20-25 lakh for just a few years of audit experience and are hiring from multiple channels," said Manu Saigal, director, general staffing at Adecco India, which is a recruitment firm.

Also contributing to the attrition is a big gap between demand and supply. According to The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), there are about 400,000 members who are registered with ICAI. This registration is given to students who clear the final exams and then take the membership of the statutory body that works under the ministry of corporate affairs.

The pace of supply is difficult to increase simply because aspirants often work over years and appear for the exams multiple times to get through. About 22,000 students clear the CA finals every year, as per ICAI.

That supply appears way too short to meet future growth in demand. 

Ranjeet Kumar Agarwal, president, ICAI, said in a conference on Wednesday that for every $1 trillion growth in GDP, 100,000 additional CAs are needed. The current vision is for India to become a developed country by 2047 with a GDP of $30-35 trillion. "So, when this country has a $30 trillion economy, India has to have 30 lakh (3 million) chartered accountants," he said.

Despite the supply crunch, companies are not yet keen to recruit chartered financial analysts (CFAs) with the same gusto. CFAs secure their degree from the CFA Institute after a study programme and after completing work experience requirements. They are trained in investment tools, valuing assets, portfolio management, and wealth planning, and are mostly employed in investment banking and portfolio management.

According to a senior executive in one of the Big Four companies, audit firms’ clients prefer CA degree holders who can work on audits and taxation, and then move to other projects. “CAs can attest, have a more generic work profile, their studies are more exhaustive, while CFAs are more specialized," said a CA who owns a Mumbai-based firm.

 

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