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Thursday, September 15, 2011

How ICAI is fast cutting the learning curve for new members

Veteran practioners have often recounted their war tales to me-of how they came to Mumbai from mofussil places to set up their own practice. Those days, unless you had a family history in the profession, setting up from scratch was quite difficult. I’m not donning rose tinted glasses and saying that entry in the profession is much simpler today. In fact, even old non Big4 firms are facing challenges to retain their growing clients and staff aspirations. Still, the ICAI is now doing a yeoman’s task to roll out a red carpet for its new members in practice, and to reverse the trend of new CAs preferring practice to service. Some examples are
·         Publications:- ICAI has published and allows free downloading of many industry guides, audit manuals, checklists etc(http://www.icai.org/post.html?post_id=6623). That facility allows net savvy CAs to download the manuals, read at their leisure and purchase only the manuals they wish. In fact, they can get entire documentation from scratch.
·         Loans:- Though open for all, it benefits newbies the most. The scheme(http://www.icai.org/post.html?post_id=6623) does not insist on collateral and is quite liberal compared to the other options out there.
·         Free  Software:- This independence day(16 Aug 2011), ICAI launched free office management software to help the firms prepare returns, ROC work, bank projections, manage correspondence etc. While there are other commercial solutions out there, having a free official version helps a lot
·         Subsidized software otherwise out of reach:- Areas like transfer pricing are not rocket science but they do require access to expensive databases. Same holds for litigation support practices(need Excus/TIOL etc). ICAI has arranged subsidized access to Tally ERP 9, transfer pricing software and other initiatives.
·         CPE Programs/Training:- While many CAs send their articled assistants to sign proxy in lieu of benefiting from it, some of these programs by industry stalwarts are really great and informative. If people go with some background knowledge, they can really learn a lot and also network with other attendees. For specialized areas like IFRS, Intl Tax, IT Audit; there are courses for  Rs 15000-30000 which do seem worth it, given the faculty profile and certification aspects of it.
·         Encourage networks:- For years, the ICAI would turn a jaundiced eye to networks of CA firms, but now it is actively encouraging its members to collaborate more and more, to be able to compete with the Big4. While few have succeeded, ICAI has spared no efforts in this regard to pave hurdles in its way.
Other reasons not quite attributable to ICAI are
·         LLP practices permitted:- These will allow CAs/CSs/CWAs/LLBs/consulting engineers to collaborate as individuals within a LLP framework, and specialize in their niche to give competition to bigger firms. While the older firms hesitate to induct other professionals, beginners can steal the march in this front, especially in new areas like cost audit(of which scope is now huge).
·         Increasing online governance/business:-Everything from corporate e-filing , tax payments, returns etc can now be done from the humble desktop. The need to suck up to the lowly departmental officers is now lesser(no chai pani for routine online work!) and now competition can be more on intellectual brainpower/experience than on decades old networks and contacts within the bureaucracy.  Softwares + cheap storage solutions allow for nearly 100% digitization, and lesser need to have huge bulky files eating up office/godown space. Hence, if not for the image, small offices are perfectly ok. 

I’m the first one to admit that ICAI is not perfect(far to the contrary) but we should admire and support its good initiatives.  So will all the above benefits induce me to enter practice? Probably not, but then that would not be for want of opportunity/support infrastructure.

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