June 18, 2012

The Great Indian CA Post (Finally)

Children, gather around. When I was doing CA (many many years ago, you weren't even born then), I always imagined that someday, I would sit down and tell the world all about it. But not until I was done. Because like every paranoid Indian, I thought the ICAI might just turn out to be following the blogs, timelines and Twitter feeds of all students, waiting for a reason to increase attempts and break hearts.

To those of you not in the know, CA is Chartered Accountancy, one of those finance-y things. It's a professional course, there's no college, there's a central Institute (ICAI for short),you're expected to pass 3 exams over a period of 4 years, each exam's purpose is to keep you out.

Some finer points:

One, if you are a CA, you can be an auditor (red pens, calculators and terror all around), or an accountant (which you really don't want to be), or go into banking/finance (which you will likely want to, but nobody there wants you), or do something finance-y at a company (eventually aiming to be CFO, but the CFO will likely still need an MBA).

Two, unlike other courses such as engineering or medicine or law (I won't count faux degrees such as humanities (JK, Lulz)), where your task ends at getting into the college, in CA, the challenge, really, is to leave. Fresh-faced youngsters have been known to come in, expecting that they'll be done in the minimum 4 years, and then staying for the next 10.

Three, the reason you hear CAs are well-paid is not because they're better or smarter than anyone in the world. It's just because someone finally applied the law of demand and supply to education. The world needs x number of auditors every year. Good good. We'll provide them with x/10.Needless to say, every time the equation is disturbed even a little, the payscales swing wildly on either side.

Why do people sign up? Various reasons:
1. Minimal investment, promise of high returns.
2. In commerce, there really isn't much to do. Really.
3. Parents are always in favour. Who can blame them? If you're a parent who sees a way to make something out of a good-for-nothing 18-year-old who's in commerce, by simultaneously chaining them to office and study tables for 4 years (thereby eliminating the worst teenage years), wouldn't you jump at it?
4. Everyone's always raving about how tough it is. This gets a fair number of egos riled up and roaring "Challenge accepted", in what will probably be the worst decision of their lives.

Why do people drop out? Simpler reasons:
1. Found something better.
2. Reality check.

So how does the course work?

Take a bunch of kids who're just done with their 12th standard exams. By this time, they've been asked "Beta what next?" enough times to not be thinking straight, out of pure desperation.

(Who is your target group? Good question. Anyone in commerce, and anyone who's done 2 years of science only to realise that they absolutely cannot stand the thought of playing with Java, circuits, or bones for the rest of their lives.)

The ICAI does not advertise. This is because word-of-mouth publicity is enough. The attractions of good pay, work experience (such as it is), an actual career and the ability to understand WTF happens to the Sensex everyday, are too difficult to resist.

Kids sign up and take a test. This is Level 1. You pass this and you start working (at the age of 18). When we started, the ICAI was so desperate for worker ants that they'd pass nearly everyone in Level 1, and then do a mass KLPD in Level 2. This strategy is usually subject to market forces.

You work for the next 4 years. In the middle somewhere, you take Level 2. If you pass, you go on. If you fail, you take Level 2 again. And again. Till your patience wears out, or they pass you. There's also some nonsensical skill-building courses to be taken along the way.

At the end of the 4 years, you take Level 3. Same rules apply.

Like every *attractive offer*, this one also comes with its set of caveats, loopholes and carrots. It's complicated, but the important thing is, it's cleverly engineered to keep you hooked. The endless hope of "I'm almost there" is what turns people into junkies. 

As with other courses, CA has its fair share of detractors. The arguments are such:
1. Outdated material
2. B-o-r-i-n-g.
3. Sea of paper to be waded through and understood in a brief span of four months.
4. Compulsory internship.

To which I say, right on all counts. Because this course isn't meant to teach, or make you a good professional, or ensure you have a work-life balance. It's meant to prepare you for life.

(Whoa, deep, right?)

Because let's face it. MBAs can do everything we can. Give any person with a reasonable intelligence some training and access to the right resources, and they can do what we do. It's not open heart surgery. So what's the average CA's competitive edge (if he even has one)?

Just this - your articleship. Those 4 years of work experience where you likely cursed the world and yourself for having taken on this nonsense willingly, and your angst would've set fire to the rain. (Okay, getting carried away here.)

After having spent 4 years of your life having no social life, splitting a 16-hour day between work and studying and finally understanding what they meant when they said that thing about an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object (you vs ICAI, every exam ever); let's face it, it can only get better.

Because realise it or not, at the end of those 4 years (provided you spend them at a worthwhile firm), the *resource* entering the corporate world:
1. Is fully able to understand the world of cubicles, cabins and coffee machines.
2. Doesn't display any angst. All angst has already been replaced by jaded cynicism from having seen enough offices over the course of various audits and having observed that, at the end of the day, they're all going to draw up org charts to explain how someone else should've done it.
3. Doesn't wail about the loss of summer vacations, and is in fact happy because this is the least multi-tasking he has done in the last 4 years.
4. Treats corporate trainings and seminars with the right mix of amusement and deference, and has a plan on quiet self-entertainment ready - thanks to ITT and GMCS and whatever other soft-skill training he has done simply to get a piece of paper.
5. Can use MS Excel without using a mouse.

These, children, are the only things companies expect from you when you join them. Happy ending.

June 10, 2012

Of aunties and their lives

I can't count the number of times a lady somewhere has said something on the lines of, I have to go home because X can't eat / be served / cook / be woken up / work without me. What's more interesting is that there's always a sense of pride behind this. (We all know the exasperated-but-smug "Mere bina toh kuch hota hi nahi iss ghar mein". Look, I'm indispensable.)

Is this an Indian thing? To be proud of the fact that your grown male (usually a husband or a son) is incapable of achieving the simplest of tasks by himself? Somehow, I've never heard a woman be proud that her daughter can't microwave her own dinner. That kind of thing would be remedied quickly... So that, I suppose, the daughter can then be indispensable to her husband and son in the future. :P