The success or failure of a business transaction, whether it is an acquisition, a strategic investment or a private equity deal, depends on a systematic and thorough analysis of target companies !

Shreya Singhania, our next pathbreaker, Vice President at the Transaction Diligence practice at EY, provides financial due diligence services across various sectors and helps clients make investment/debt decisions.

Shreya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about taking up the commerce stream (Chartered Accountancy) due to her interest in accounting , which stemmed from her love for Mathematics and number crunching.

For students, qualifying the CA exam is incredibly tough, but it is the gateway to immense opportunities in the financial world that rely on quantitative skills !

Shreya, what can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Calcutta (now called Kolkata). I pursued my education till the 10th grade in a convent school. Little did I know what commerce was back then. I had a fancy and interest towards art (including painting and dancing) and thought I could be an air hostess someday as I loved flying. Painting and dance are my hobbies even today which act as stress busters. 

My dad had his business and stayed in Myanmar for 4 years (when I was growing up) which exposed me to flight travel and thus shaped my interest in becoming an air hostess.

When I completed my 10th grade, I wanted to take up science due to my interest in Mathematics and Science, however, my dad had moved to Mumbai and that’s when I had to move to Mumbai. In Mumbai, train travel can be painful especially for people who are not used to it and thus I ended up going to Smt Sulochanadevi Singhania School (one of the best known schools in Mumbai) where I took up the commerce course of study as the cut offs for science were really high. (By the way I did manage to get into that as well 😛 at a later point in time but I had already started loving commerce and hence decided to stay in that field). My interest in various subjects, especially in accountancy grew, which probably stemmed from my love for Mathematics. This set the stage for my journey in the next phases.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did Chartered Accountancy (CA) in parallel to pursuing Bachelors in Commerce in Mumbai. I went to R A Podar College of Commerce and Economics. This was one of the best decisions as the college had quite a few people who were pursuing CA which helped in understanding what they were doing. Not everyone does the right thing, but the art was to pick up the best from each one of them. 

What were some of the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

As I mentioned earlier, I did not have anyone in my family who had previously taken up CA. In fact, this came up as a choice during a career session in school and the subjects in the course sounded interesting for building a career in this field. When I was studying for the Common Proficiency Test (CPT), as the 1st level of CA was called back then, I developed a lot of interest in the professional course and my interest in the profession started growing right then. Lot of people think that CA is only an accounting course, but let me tell you that it has a whole bunch of subjects which give an individual an understanding on various aspects of business, when you look at it from a bigger perspective, be it tax, law, financial management, cost, etc.

My parents were always a great support to me in whatever I was taking up. My friends who were doing CA along with me as well as my seniors from articleship were the mentors I had during the course who used to give tips on how to study smartly. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Am I doing the right thing? Will my investment in the course (time / money) give me great benefits? Will I be able to achieve what others are achieving? I think these are questions every student thinks of when they pick a career. So did I. But once I had picked it up which was driven by my interest, there was no looking back. I knew if I put in the hard work and effort I would excel in it. It was not over confidence (as some would call it), I would call it just confidence, which is believing in yourself and what you are doing.

I have always loved learning new things and always hunting for something new to learn, be it a different way of looking at the same accounting problem / working on different kinds of assignments. People in the CA fraternity who have contacts, go to the big 4 for articleship and some go to mid size CA firms and the balance take up dummy articleship. I took up an articleship in a mid sized CA firm “M/s G. M. Kapadia & Co ” as I wanted to give importance to the CA course and had heard that those who do articleship at the big 4 firms do not end up getting enough time to prepare.

At M/s G. M. Kapadia & Co, I was aligned to the audit practice. Audit could be monotonous if the same process is followed again and again. To make sure I was not stuck with the same client, I made sure I was working in different kinds of audit and getting an experience all round which helped me understand what part of it interests me. One last thing I would like to mention is that working in a mid sized organization helped me independently work on audits for companies which otherwise only qualified people work on in a Big 4.

Once I qualified my CA, I joined EY in the audit practice and did that for 2.5 years. I had started finding audit extremely by the book and wanted to do something different then. I started looking for opportunities and started reading up and spoke to people of opportunities post audit. That is when I came across Transaction Diligence. Back then, moving between practices was not as simple as it is now. So I applied in KPMG and moved there. Given that I had spent a few years in EY audit, my heart was asking me to go back to EY and my mentor who had been the audit partner at EY (who I was in touch with), told me to do what my heart says. The best thing is to be at a place you would want to be at rather than just think about it. That is when I made a move and joined EY back in 2016.

How did you get your first break?

As I have spoken enough on my articleship at M/s G M Kapadia & Co, I will speak about my 1st professional break. I completed my chartered accountancy in November 2011 and had 6 months of articleship remaining and it was compulsory to complete articleship before taking up a full time job. I had the likes of Goldman which had approached me in the month of Feb 2012 and I had to turn them down due to the ongoing articleship.

I got my 1st job at Ernst & Young LLP (one of the Big 4) through a placement organized by CA Institute for newly qualified CAs. I knew I was now in the right place to embark on a great career.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenges in a Big 4 / corporate world could be multi-fold. There are set procedures and one has to follow them to provide exceptional service. Don’t mistake me for saying that you cannot think out of the box, but there are certain documentation and admin procedures which take around 6 months to get used to. Give it those 6 months and it’s something you will get used to and will run in your own system.

Another challenge could be difficult bosses. It is well said that “People leave bosses and not organizations”. One has to learn to deal with all kinds of people and learn to live with them. One of my seniors used to love working through the night and I remember working till 3 am everyday (of course, by taking power naps in a separate room) on an outstation audit. These naps helped. The other senior used to scream for minor mistakes and made sure the entire floor could hear it, but I learnt to ignore them beyond a point.  

So, you learn and move on. You will get into situations which will make you think, but what one needs to think is, move on only if you think what you are doing is not something you want to do.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

Currently, I am working as Vice President in the Transaction Diligence practice at EY. I have been with this team for almost 6 years now. The role is quite interesting. Audit ends up getting monotonous with doing the same kind of work year on year or even quarter on quarter. In diligence, we understand the company’s performance in the past and help investors in the entire transaction deal process. The client (investors) gets value-added benefits by looking at the numbers which helps them understand the realistic performance of the company in which they are investing. I have come to learn and how our findings help our clients even draft certain clauses in their transaction documents and protect themselves from consequences in the future.

Any typical day involves speaking to clients, understanding where they are in the ideal process, teaching and educating the newbees on the diligence process and delivering quality deliverables to the client’s satisfaction. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Being a chartered accountant helps me in understanding the client’s business not only from an accounting standpoint but also from the perspective of the environment in which the business is operating. The growth prospects are immense. Sometimes people contemplate the value of being a CA. Being a CA teaches one to be hard working by studying for CA exams, by attending college, and doing articleship, all at the same time. There are tons of opportunities which open up in all folds, be it tax, audit, finance or business profiles.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

There are so many amazing memories and people I have made connections with that it is difficult to pick one such situation. 

But, if I had to pick one, I would pick this one. I was on a project which I was leading and had been through crazy days putting all the details and issues together. Given this was a high profile client and an extremely important engagement for EY, it’s usually the partners who get to present the reports to the clients. However, this time my partner put his trust in me and asked me to present. Initially I was nervous, but as usual I took up the challenge and presented it to the client with great confidence. The effort was well appreciated by the Client and the partner for the detail in which the work was done and the level of confidence in presenting.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

For students/ aspiring CAs reading this, do not feel demotivated when you fail one exam, or get rejected in an interview. Always remember the successes which you have had and the other companies which are just waiting to hire you, and be confident that you will do well. This is easier said than done, especially on my part because I was able to clear all the levels in the 1st attempt, trust me there were times when I did feel like giving up, but I had the right people telling me “never give up”!

A few takeaways:

Never give up

Believe in yourself, hard work always pays off

You can always move jobs, your 1st job need not be your dream job

Future Plans?

I have currently not planned anything, though I am on the lookout for courses which will help me sharpen my skills further and help me provide additional value in the work I am currently doing.