by Nida Fatima 25 August 2020

CA against all odds and later started her own Firm while 3-months pregnant

I completed my schooling from government schools and mostly financed by scholarships. Growing up, I was an average student, who scored only 53% in Grade 10. When it was time to decide on my career path, I was clueless. However, a friend of mine told me that he was pursuing commerce and I too decided on the same. (Yes, I did not know much about the commerce stream, all I knew was that I wanted to study further!) Since I come from a small town, boys and girls do not study in the same school. And if I wanted to take up commerce, I had to enroll in a school where there would be boys too! And here’s the problem, since most girls in my town did not enroll in the commerce stream or choose to study further, I would be the only girl in my class.
After begging my father for permission to study commerce, he said to me, “what will you do after studying so much because ultimately you have to run a house”. This statement hurt me, but that was the fact with most girls in my town. But I was not going to let go of my dreams. Being the ‘only girl’ in a class full of boys in a conservative town was not easy Fortunately, after noticing my dedication towards studies, my father allowed me to move from a girls’ school to a combined one so I could pursue a career in commerce (a very bold step by my family). This was in 2005. Out of my whole class, I was the only girl, and sitting between boys in a village environment was exceedingly difficult.
Everyone was conservative, so they used to make fun of me, passing comments, and sometimes boys would put chewing gum on my seat. If I missed a class, it would be difficult to get notes. It was here that I learned to be bold and face it head-on. Around the same time, one of my teachers told me about chartered accountancy, and I decided to pursue it. However, if I wanted to study CA I had to move to a bigger city for additional coaching. This would make it awfully expensive for my dad. So, I continued with my B. Com and put off my CA plan.

Transitioning from a Computer Operator to pursuing CA

Fast forward, after completing my BCom, I decided to do an MBA. I scored well in the entrance exam and was selected in a good but expensive MBA college. My father being a farmer, could not afford the fees, so I could not pursue an MBA. I was completely disheartened. What next? My elder sister, who was living in Agra (a bigger city in Uttar Pradesh) advised me to move in with her. Once in Agra, she enrolled me in a basic computer accounting course. Fate had something for me as the owner of that institution was a CA and surprisingly, many others in the faculty too. Within three months of my course, I got an opportunity to work at a renowned CA Firm in Agra but as a computer operator. Here I interacted with a lot of CA articles (interns) and would spend my free time with them learning about the CA course and its scope. Finally, with my small saving of Rs.2500 (less than USD 50) and support from my sister, I got myself registered for CPT, which is an entrance exam for a CA course from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India). And here started my CA journey. (I registered with CPT in March 2009 and at that time there was no exemption if you were a graduate. You had to write an entrance exam to qualify.) Behind the scenes of my CA journey I was blessed with support from my loved ones, so I cleared my CPT with good marks and registered for the next exam IPCC (intermediate exams). I also started my CA articles. My fear after registering was studying with bright English-speaking students. Being raised in a small town, I studied in a Hindi Medium so, reading, writing, and speaking English was my biggest fear. I decided not to worry about what others thought as I came to learn. I passed my IPCC papers in the first attempt and only had CA final exams to pass. I got married before my CA final attempt and moved to Mumbai (the financial capital of India) with my husband. 
Managing studies and family was not easy and I kept failing. Fortunately, with encouragement from my husband, I kept giving CA final exams attempt after attempt. Finally, in July 2017, I cleared my final examination, I was now a Chartered Accountant…a dream come true. Starting my own accounting practice three months pregnant I always had a dream of running my own business and while working as a computer operator at a CA firm, my zeal of having a practice became stronger. After clearing my exam, I established my own CA firm in December 2017 while I was three months pregnant with our first child. Establishing a firm and running it successfully are two different things, especially when you are in a completely new city and without any initial support. I accepted that challenge and started to attend various seminars, group discussions, and also used social media platforms for good networking. I believe in specializing and expanding my skills, so I did various certification courses and also pursued Company Secretary.

Obstacles in my entrepreneurial journey
I was new to Mumbai and didn’t have many connections, so it was challenging to get clients. Initially, I got work on assignment basis from relatives, friends, and gradually started getting independent tasks. I soon realized how important it is to network and so I started to attend various seminars and joined various groups on social media. I had analytical knowledge, but meeting people was not easy. I wasn’t taken seriously and they asked how I will work while pregnant. I lost one client because I couldn’t travel so frequently to their place. My lack of communication skills and management skills also stretched my 10-day assignment to one month, because I could not understand my scope of work, and I was underpaid in that assignment. (So now I ask for the scope of work on email because telephonic conversations are not reliable.) All these mistakes and challenges made me stronger and wiser.
Timeline of my journey from 2018 –
  • This was my first year; I worked from home and got some assignments from a senior CA.
  • I also got clients through word of mouth and referrals from existing clients.
  • I started attending seminars and understood how important networking is.
  • This was the best year for me as I rented an office, and my family helped take care of my daughter of six months.
  • Met with a lot of new people and joined a certificate course.
  • Hired an accountant (first team member) and started taking classes on TDS for accountants.
  • I was a panelist with ICAI in a mock campus placement program.
  • I was an observer for the cost and work accounting exams and made lots of connections which helped me later.
  • I added three LLPs on my client list, two companies, and some individuals.
  • As of now, this year is not as good as 2019 for new clients.
  • I am handling the work of existing clients, but due to lockdown due dates have extended, so I used this time for my specialization.
  • I became an IICA qualified Independent Director and did a certificate in forensic accounting and fraud detection.
  • I started my research on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. (I have enrolled myself with the EC Council for the certified ethical hacker program.)

Questions I get asked most often:
How did you know about seminars and networks, and how Do you join?
I receive emails from ICAI, I have joined some WhatsApp groups, and my colleague forwards information. I’ve also subscribed to the Chamber’s emails.

Should women CAs go all out and start their own CA firms?
Yes, female CAs have a good opportunity in practice. What I find is women are not as good in networking as men, we should work on this area. The practice is suitable for women as they can manage their working hours according to their family. Specialization is vital for us, so we can decide our area of work. How do you juggle running a firm, marriage, and raising your child? I’m used to working early in the morning while my daughter is asleep and when I need to attend meetings, my husband takes care of my daughter. I believe where there is a will, there is away.
Wrapping up…
Generally, when running a practice, there is a buffer period of three to four years before you start to earn more from your break-even. You might not earn as much as an employed CA, but once you are established, you can make good money. What I’ve found in my journey is that nobody changes their CA's easily, so getting clients is difficult, but once you get one client and provide excellent service, they remain with you for a long time and refer you to other people.

My advice to you is:
  • Believe in yourself, only you know what you want from your life Nothing is impossible if you truly want it.
  • Be fearless and instead of worrying about results just keep going
  • Offer excellent service to clients and have patience during the initial years. Don’t work for money, instead add value to a client’s business
  • Time management is all we working women need to learn to give time to our kids and live our dreams
Poonam Pathak is a young and energetic Chartered Accountant who believes in providing professional services with ethics.