“If you’re a social outcast who’s emotionally numb and creatively challenged, you may well be on your way to becoming a chartered accountant,” thus began the speech of a high achiever at the gold medal distribution ceremony of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) last October.
But what lies in store for chartered accountants once they enter the job market after completing numerous modules and articles? How much does a fresh chartered accountant make after at least six years of academic and practical rigour?
“A qualified CA can expect a starting salary of up to Rs150,000 a month in Karachi. But even in the northern region, the first salary a fresh CA draws is never less than Rs100,000,” said ICAP President Rashid Rahman Mir while talking to The Express Tribune.
According to Yasir Ghouri, 28, who qualified in 2010 as a chartered accountant and now works as a partner in Ghouri & Co, an auditing firm, most fresh ICAP graduates receive multiple job offers upon graduation. “I’m still getting job offers, and they’re all in six digits.”
Although industry sources say ICAP graduates still grab the highest salaries when it comes to accounts, auditing and finance jobs, their monopoly seems to have been dented recently by a strong presence of the UK-based Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in Pakistan.
According to Rehan Uddin, who heads ACCA in Karachi, global recognition and acceptability make its members different from graduates of other institutes of accountancy. “ACCA has been around (internationally) for over 100 years,” he said, adding its members possessed skills, which were relevant both locally and globally.
ACCA affiliate Murtaza Naqvi, who works for one of the largest auditing firms of Pakistan, says fresh ACCA members receive on average Rs50,000 a month after certification. “It can go up to Rs80,000 a month in some cases,” he added.
Where do they end up?
The ICAP president says almost all chartered accountants end up working for companies with over Rs1 billion in annual turnover. “Only big companies can afford to hire a CA,” he said, adding ICAP graduates preferred to work for multinational companies, the financial sector and manufacturing sector in the same order.
Although about 20% of ICAP members have traditionally been working in auditing firms, Mir says the number has decreased recently. “Stringent regulations” discourage fresh ICAP graduates from entering public practice, he said.
Ghouri believes just about 5-10% of fresh ICAP graduates join public practice these days. “They’re mostly those people who’ve family-run, established auditing firms. It’s tough because one has to start from zero all over again.”
According to industry sources, about a third of ICAP graduates leave every year for foreign countries, particularly the Middle East. In case of ACCA members, they said more part-qualified people had moved out of the country than full-fledged members in recent years. That is because ACCA enjoys a strong reputation as a global body of accounting professionals, especially in Europe, the sources added.
It is common to hear students complain ICAP maintains its ‘hegemony’ by consciously controlling the pass rate, thus ensuring the job market does not get overcrowded. “It’s a wrong perception that we pass one out of every 100 students. Last year, our pass rate was 16%,” Mir said.
Similarly, Rehan Uddin rejected the allegation that ACCA practised a lenient admission policy and a strict examination policy. He said pass rates for the most recent June 2011 ACCA exams for the professional level were 30% to 52%.
According to Fuad Zakaria, who graduated from ICAP last year and now works at Chase Up, a chain of department stores, ICAP needs to strengthen ties with international professional bodies like the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
“ICAP should ensure its members get exemptions and equivalence globally. It follows high professional standards. But it needs to document and streamline its departmental structures and guidelines to become a truly international body,” Zakaria said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2012.