World Beyond Chartered Accountancy – An Evening with Mr. Shehzad Dhedhi

Written by: Huzaifa Usman

A few days ago, I had the opportunity of meeting with Mr. Shehzad Dhedhi, FCA to discuss how the financial industry and our profession has evolved over the years. Among many other things that were considered, our conversation revolved around how the accounting profession will change in the next decade, the role of technology and how chartered accountants can play a vital part.

Before moving forward, a brief intro about Mr. Dhedhi – he is a chartered accountant with an admirable portfolio. He qualified in 2005 after completing his articles from AF Ferguson and Co. He has served as the CFO of multiple companies and has worked in Singapore as well. He is the Co-Founder of the CFO Club and Cyber Security Forum. He also runs his own show by the name of CelebTalks. 

Currently, he is working on his own enterprise, Business Risk Consultants Pvt. Ltd, as the Strategic CFO and Executive Director. He is also the CEO of CXO Pvt. Ltd. You can find him on LinkedIn at where he has been providing career counseling and mentoring individuals.

Since the season of inductions is upon us, we talked about what the students need to look forward to in their interviews, how to prepare for them and how the induction process has changed since he went through one in 2000 for his inductions. He said that back in his days, the interview was majorly focused on IFRS, provisions of law, etc. He mentioned that firms and employers are now focused on testing of cognitive abilities so your knowledge of IFRS, Company Law, etc. will not be substantial enough to guarantee placement. He indicated that students should focus on their soft skills i.e. public speaking skills, solving business cases and scenarios, etc.

Ever since ICAP allowed students to do their articles from industry, students always find themselves in a place where they cannot decide whether they should pursue firms or industries. When asked about what should be the deciding factor to make a decision, Mr. Dhedhi replied, “See, if you are looking for exposure and vast experience, you should pursue a firm but if you have already made up your mind about a sector where you want to work, the industry is a better bet for you. For e.g., if you spend four years in a firm for your articles and then decide to join the industry, you will have to start afresh. Of course, you will have the advantage of your qualification but say you wish to work in the banking sector, you have an option of doing your articles from HBL and you start gaining experience from day one. So my opinion is if you have made a firm decision to work in the industry, then do your articles from the industry.”

While we were at the topic of articles, I asked Mr. Dhedhi if the hype for Big 4 is justified since students who do not make it to Big 4 end up getting depressed and demotivated to which he said that the Big 4 firms and QCR firms have their own pros and cons. He mentioned that the biggest advantage of Big 4 firms is their clientele and the opportunities for technical and professional development. However, it is expected that a trainee’s interaction with the partner of a Big 4 firm is limited which is not the case for QCR firms where the partner, who is groomed as well, is more inclined to benefit a trainee who can learn by shadowing the said partner. He said that it is in the hands of a trainee who wishes to gain experience further adding that learning does not stop, be it a Big 4 firm or a QCR firm.

Moving on, we talked about a culture prevalent among not just students but also qualified accountants. The majority of qualified CAs spend their entire careers in the finance department where the most they can be is become a CFO – and yes, that is an excellent position to have but there is limited job rotation and the scope of learning is restricted to financial statements, financial controls, etc. For most, this sounds like a reasonable bet but for people aspiring to enhance their skills, they cannot stop wondering if they will get a chance to work alongside people in marketing, operations, human resource, etc. To this, Mr. Dhedhi said, “There is no such restriction or limitation imposed on CAs that you cannot change your field of work unless you yourself choose to restrict yourself. In today’s world, you will find qualified accountants in marketing, sales, even human resource. But yes, unfortunately, the majority limit themselves to finance with a view that we are accountants so finance is the only option for us. If I give my example, I worked in Singapore for five years and I noticed that in developed countries, it does not matter whether you are a CA, ACCA, an MBA, what matters is your experience. Like, if you are applying for a job in investment banking, it will not matter what your degrees or qualifications are rather it will be the experience, your aptitude that will get you the job. We [qualified accountants] believe that our expertise is only IFRS, ISAs, etc. thereby limiting our skillset.”

He talked about ICAP’s Continuing Professional Development program and that many CAs do not take it seriously. He asserted that CPD is not taking a few courses of a couple of hours just to complete the forty hours that ICAP has made mandatory. He highlighted that attending seminars to mark attendance is not what CAs should do. Mr. Dhedhi also emphasized that it is their responsibility to continue the learning process and acquire the skills required to stay competitive and in demand.

While listing the skillsets, we both acknowledged that CAs should acquire skills related to technology, for e.g. ERP. In my previous write-up, I talked about the inevitable takeover of the financial industry by artificial intelligence and how auditors and accountants will be most impacted. When asked how qualified accountants can ensure job security and what measures should be taken in the future, Mr. Dhedhi replied, “Our education system is behind by miles when it comes to technology. There is little to no literature regarding FinTech and if we look at accountancy jobs, by the next decade, many of our jobs will be redundant... But on the contrary, the role of an adviser can never be canceled out whether it comes to artificial intelligence, blockchain, etc. The role of advisers and accountants now is that of business transformation. They have to create a paradigm shift in the business environment and ensure a smooth transition to technology-adept businesses. We think low of ourselves, we are the experts when it comes to advisory and accounting and who better than us to transform the businesses and help businesses move towards artificially intelligent systems.”

Mr. Dhedhi also highlighted that even today, the education system needs restructuring. He stated that even today students are being taught topics that have no relevance in the practical world, for e.g. single entry system. He proposed that students should be taught subjects like business transformation and risk management. He rightly said that there needs to be an introduction of big data analysis, blockchain, and fintech in the CA education to ensure qualified accountants stay relevant to changing demands of companies.

At the end of the discussion, I managed to ask an age-old question that all our friends pursuing degrees ask us, the difference between a qualification and a degree. He said that he finds both at an equal level. He gave a befitting response and said, “ I previously mentioned that globally the prefix or suffix with your name holds less relevance, it is your skill set and your willingness to adjust to changing the business environment that matters now. I believe there is no comparison between a degree and a qualification like CA. You have to earn a degree by studying for three to four years, submitting assignments, giving exams, etc. When it comes to qualifications, you have to maintain them for e.g. through CPD. So you are not done learning after qualifying CA. The reason why degree holders are held in high regard is because of their communication skills which, unfortunately, qualified accountants lack. Unless you possess strong communication and leadership skills, it is difficult to get your message across and lead teams.”

As a final message for all aspiring CA students, he stressed on the need for staying humble and not letting your failures demotivate you and bring you down. He highlighted three routes that students have an option to choose from. One, you live in a world of your own and find all other professionals inferior and always think highly of yourself which takes the form of arrogance. Two, you let a few failures bring you down and start to believe that you are not made for this fast-paced world. And three, the middle path where you do not feel superior because of your qualification nor you feel inferior because of your failures. This middle path is where one seeks growth and opts for any learning opportunities that may arise. Mr. Dhedhi stated that the third path is where there is a guaranteed success.

In the end, he restated the need to realize the importance of technology and the diversification of skillset. He wished all the students the best for their futures and reaffirmed that humbleness is the way to achieve success.

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