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CAs Today Must Tackle Three Ps – Profit, People & Planet: ICAI President

As the chartered accountant profession moves towards newer areas including non-financial reporting, Dr Debashis Mitra, President, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), states that in addition to ‘profit’, a CA’s dictionary must now also focus on ‘people’ and ‘planet’ in this conversation with BW Businessworld on CA Day

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Dr Mitra, how would you describe the growth of the ICAI over the years especially when it comes to aspects such as nation-building?
There are three words very important for the ICAI -- excellence, independence and integrity. These have been used in connection with the institute from the time it was formed on July 1, 1949. The term ‘a partner in nation building’ was first used by the former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam to describe ICAI. Since its formation, the institute has grown manifolds. Let me explain how we contribute to this today. The ICAI is the second-largest accounting body in the world with five regional councils and 166 branches in India. 

Throughout the length and breadth of the country, we are spreading finance and tax literacy, teaching housewives and senior people the very basic things. We have jingles in different languages to popularise tax, creating awareness of things like life insurance, what should be the interest rate one can get for a fixed deposit etc. 

Today is also GST Day. The Prime Minister came to the platform of ICAI way back on July 1, 2017, and spoke about GST. Two years back the PM wrote a letter saying the success of GST would not happen without the contribution of CAs. In that instance, we first learned about the new law, spread knowledge about it and helped our clients to comply with it. This is one example. We had worked with the northern railways as well where we helped them convert their accounts from cash to accrual, which is still a work in progress but we are doing that. These are some examples of how we partner with the government in nation-building.

What ICAI and CAs per se did during the GST adoption was also very structured in approach. Are there any steps you take to ensure that you can work with the likes of the MSME sector for example in a similar structured fashion, especially as we speak about the Atmanirbhar India movement?

In fact, on June 27 at MSME Day, we launched 75 MSME-related programmes as this is Atmanirbhar India@75. We built incubators in various branches. The CAs advise various MSMEs on compliance, setting up a company, how to access funds, requirements of project reports and the like. We are trying to do this in fact across India.

The 21st World Congress of Accountants 2022 will be hosted in India for the first time. What can be expected at the Congress?
The World Congress is considered the Olympics of accountancy because it is held once every four years. It began in 1904 under the aegis of the International Federation of Accountants. This is the first time India as a country will host this conference. It will be held at the Jio International Centre in Mumbai. This is the first World Congress that will be in hybrid mode. We are expecting about 10,000 people in virtual mode and about 6,000 people attending it physically. 

We are expecting delegates from more than 135 countries and more than 75 international speakers. This conference hopes to deliberate on the latest in accountancy, finance and related areas. The theme of the conference this year is ‘Building trust and enabling sustainability.  The conference believes that if the accountancy profession as a whole does not enjoy the trust of the stakeholders, it becomes difficult for the profession to survive. 

We, as Indian CAs, must act in a manner that we enjoy the nation’s trust. Sustainability today, whether climate or environment, has become very important. The profession is moving towards non-financial reporting. Two decades ago, the only P in a CA’s dictionary was profit. But now there are three Ps to tackle – profit, people and planet. We realise that in the future CAs may be required to comment on non-financial data as well. We are pushing the profession into newer areas of sustainability, which is an important word in the whole world’s accounting dictionary. 

ICAI has set up a sustainability accounting standards board to ensure we do enough research and get the profession ready to face a changing world, in which sustainability becomes very important.    

Were these changes among the reasons that ICAI looked to revise the CA course, where you already have the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in-principle approval? How does this assist you in training the right kind of talent for an uncertain world?
Technology is going to be omnipresent in the future. The new syllabus does speak about technology a lot and we believe it will be a very important aspect. We are getting the whole profession ready to face the challenges of technological changes. We believe that tech should not be treated as a disruptor but as an enabler. We are positive about the challenges of these changes. 

As we move forward, what is the most important is compliance with ethical standards. If you are not ethical in your business and conduct, it will be very difficult to survive because as I mentioned earlier, you cannot enjoy the stakeholders’ trust. 

The course curriculum is such that we can look to make our students ready as global accountants. They can walk into any country in the world and still be relevant and wanted. For example, we are teaching them global financial standards and international taxation as well. This is how we are trying to ensure that the new generation of CAs is globally ready. 

We must remember that challenges bring new opportunities. It is up to us to grab these and ensure we are successful as a profession.

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