Ah, the Big Question – are MBAs Preferred to Chartered Accountants?

question markIt does depend on your career goals – hope you have one!

The CA v/s MBA debate has been raging almost since the dawn of corporate civilisation. Each side of the fence proudly and vociferously defends its turf, providing seemingly irrefutable arguments that highlight the indisputable superiority of one or the other qualification, supported by a string of examples carefully chosen to conclusively proclaim everlasting victory.

But is there any sense at all to this debate? Is it really a question of one qualification winning against the other, forever banishing the loser to the dustbin of history? Hardly! In reality, both qualifications have their merits and drawbacks and either or both may be required depending on one’s career goals and the job roles or functions one wishes to take up. Let’s take a closer look at the issues involved.

At a conference organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India some time ago, a keynote address by industry honcho Kumar Managalam Birla stressed the need for expanding the scope of the CA course, so that budding chartered accountants can hold their own against MBAs who, he said, tend to have better communication skills and hence fare better in industry. Mr Birla emphasised that CAs have a big role to play in the burgeoning Indian economy where mergers and acquisitions are assuming increasing importance as India aligns more closely with the global economy. He felt that CAs are very sound in accounting practices, but need to augment their knowledge of finance and economics, while at the same time honing their communication skills.

If you have chosen chartered accountancy as a career because you love working with numbers and are also very good at it, there are ample jobs in auditing, taxation, financial consulting, regulatory compliance, etc, that can be very rewarding indeed. Such hard-core accounting and finance jobs would rarely be accessible to the MBA candidate, and even when they are, only MBAs with a strong commerce background would qualify. As the Indian economy inevitably expands in the coming years, there will be no dearth of jobs for CAs – in private practice, auditing/consulting outfits, the banking sector and corporate firms.

But there are also high-profile, finance-related jobs where MBAs with some finance background would probably score over pure CAs. These include jobs in financial consulting and financial management, investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, etc, where the broader based education of the MBA course is preferred. In addition, an MBA has several other job avenues open, including general management, sales, marketing, systems, operations, and so on. Furthermore, MBAs are more obvious choices than CAs for boardroom-level posts, including that of CEO.

But it isn’t as if most MBAs rise to the top. Indeed, today just about anyone can obtain an MBA or equivalent degree, what with the proliferation of management institutes in the country. Students from the topmost institutes would no doubt have an edge, but most of the rest are hardly likely to change the world merely because of their qualification.

On the other hand, the number of new CAs entering the market each year is limited. Even though the pass percentage has increased at the CA-Final level in recent years, it is still just about 15 percent. So, if you’re one of those who make it through, you’re certainly top-notch. But, to improve your career prospects, do heed Mr. Birla’s advice – work hard on your “soft skills” to improve your communication and presentation abilities, and develop a friendly “customer orientation”. Increase your knowledge of business, industry and the economy by reading financial newspapers, business magazines and journals, and attending relevant industry conferences.

Of course, if after all this you still feel that the lack of an MBA degree is stifling your career growth prospects, why not then just go out and get that MBA. After all it’s not inconceivable for CAs to add on an MBA to their qualifications, mid-career – for proof, just ask Mr. Birla!

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