During our school days, I am sure each one of us would have surely encountered this question – ‘what do you want to become’. I don’t know how many of you would have said chartered accountant, but whatever our answer would have been, am sure none of you would have ever been asked the follow up question – ‘Beta kiss company mein kaam karoge?’
May be, if this question would have been asked, our thoughts could have got triggered in this direction. The only time we start to think about any particular organization is perhaps when we either know someone there and heard a lot about it or when we start to do research about companies, particularly those which hire people, either trainees or qualified chartered accountants.
As qualified chartered accountants we can work in any organization, since finance professionals are required by all organizations. The choice generally has to be made between:
1. Consulting firms – like EY, KPMG etc. and if you get lucky then in management consulting firms like McKinsey or BCG etc.; or
2. Industry – which typically gets classified into manufacturing companies like Reliance, Tata, ITC, HUL etc. or retail companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Shoppers Stop etc., or banks like Kotak, ICICI, Citibank etc or a services organization like aviation, back offices etc.
This question is more likely to come to people who have spent some years of their career in either of the entities and are now thinking of a switch. The switch is sometimes very difficult to gauge and taking an action becomes quite a challenge mentally. For newly qualified chartered accountants, this question may not be very relevant because in your early career, I have seen youngsters more in the mode of picking whatever comes in their way, rather than seeking their wishful career path.
Through this article, I will try to share some insights on what’s in it to work in consulting firm vis-à-vis working in the industry. You can also check my articles on ‘how’s it to work in direct tax’, ‘how’s it to work in indirect tax’, ‘how’s it to work in investment banking’ etc to understand deeply how these functions work.
Which are the famous consulting firms
Ernst & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte and KPMG commonly known as the BIG4 consulting firms are the most famous and most desired organizations to work for a majority of chartered accountants and other professionals. These BIG4s are global organizations with offices in more than 100 countries and jointly employing a million plus people. These are generally headquartered in the US with offices all over the globe including India. In India, the BIG4s are located in all the metros and in satellite cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Chandigarh.
In addition to the BIG4s, there are few other global and Indian origin firms that are still good enough to work with, albeit not as big as the BIG4s. These include global firms like Grant Thornton, BDO, Mazaars and Indian firms like BMR Advisors. These smaller organizations also jointly employ thousands of people and have their offices in various countries, rather in almost all the countries where all the BIG4s are based. The difference between them and the BIG4s is their size, the type of clients they offer services to, their culture, their pay packages and the working environment. Each organization has its own style of working and the entire culture and environment gets flown from that style.
In addition to the big consulting firms, each city has some good regional players, which are typically the home-grown firms started many years back and have done well with their Indian and to an extent even with foreign client base.
Pros of working in a consulting firm
While no job comes without its cons or consequences, the pros seem to be more for a consulting job. Here are some of the reasons you should try your hand working in a consulting firm:
1. Build great client skills
One of the key benefits of working in consulting is the benefit of getting enough client interaction, where you get opportunity to interact with various clients and sometimes even lead the client meetings (depending on your position in the firm).
Client interaction is a great intangible skill-set that lot of companies desire and therefore, a great opportunity to improve your CV. By interacting and showing your skills, you also open the window to jump off to a client organization, should there arise any good opportunity.
2. Variety of work
The wide variety of work consulting firms offer, tremendously boosts your professional and personal growth. Working on a number of clients and on a number of projects help you develop and hone your skills on multitasking and networking.
Typically, in BIG4s and all other good consulting firms, you get a wide exposure to various facets of taxation, audit and advisory. For instance, on a single project involving supply, installation and commissioning of equipment for a foreign client, you would have to deal with issues surrounding customs duty, VAT, service tax, withholding tax, transfer pricing and FEMA. Just imagine the kind of exposure one would get in working on such a project. Similarly, if you happen to work in the advisory practice, you can expect to get exposure on how companies are valued, how to conduct due diligences and then being part of negotiations in sale/purchase of organizations.
All this knowledge gives immense confidence and makes you feel much better professional.
3. Build strong networking skills
Taking ahead the above example, whilst dealing with various taxes, you as the project in-charge would have to deal with all the other teams including those handling indirect tax, transfer pricing and regulatory issues. This kind of atmosphere is fairly common in a consulting firm.
If you were working in direct tax team, there would surely be instances where you would be asked to work along with the indirect tax and transfer pricing teams on one project. As part of a team, you would be expected to brief the other teams about the client and the project and then co-ordinate all aspects of it with the client. Consequently, you learn how to interact with other people in the organization and thus, build a strong network.
4. Develop strong analytical, communication and influence skills
The wide variety of work you do, the level of interactions you would have with various stakeholders including clients, senior partners etc and the complex projects you handle will help you develop strong analytical, communication and influence skills.
There would be situations when you would be asked to give presentation to your team on any technical issue on which you would have worked. The presentations are also made to the clients proposing a new solution to them. To design that presentation you would also have to do a thorough research of the legal provisions or the issue around which you would be talking. All these would help you build a strong analytical base coupled with good communication skills.
5. Domain/ subject matter expertise
In my personal opinion, the biggest factor why one should join a consulting firm is the learning and knowledge repository you can build over a period of time. Generally, becoming an expert in an industry or in any particular area of tax/audit/advisory doesn’t come until you have spent many years in consulting. Because in a consulting firm you would work either in a particular department or in a particular industry vertical, your continued exposure to that particular area/industry would surely lead to you getting branded as an expert. Please note that I am not saying that there is no exposure and learning in industry, what I am trying to suggest is that because of the vibrant environment and multi client and multi tasking involved, the learning across industries seems to be more in consulting.
In my personal opinion, this aspect is truly worthy of a try in consulting firms. After a point of time, when you would have spent 4-5 years in consulting, you would feel much more confident of your knowledge.
6. Learn how to cope up with work pressure
The biggest advantage of working in consulting is the ability to cope up with pressure and stress. All consulting firms would require you to slog for long hours and work on multiple projects. This surely leads to pressure since you might be working on more than one project at a time and also with more than one manager. Eventually, you would end up managing lot of things together at one point of time, leading to pressure and stress.
7. Carry a world class brand for your life
At the end of the day, a good brand does matter on your CV and that is exactly what you would get once you join any of top global consulting firms. These brands are global and fairly strong in their value, helping you get access to various people or places around the world.
Working in any of them not only opens the doors for you to seek job opportunities, it also helps you get good clients if you are starting your own consulting firm. Organizations believe that people who have worked in good consulting firms are people of ethics, values and knowledge thereby helping you build a good client base.
8. Get paid more than the industry with better increments and bonus
Generally, the salary packages and the yearly increments and bonus are more in consulting firms than in the corporate world. This is because the consulting firms hire one of the best talent from the country. And in order to retain their people, they invest more in salaries and bonuses. Further, because of the vibrancy involved, consulting firms pay more than their industry peers.
Cons of working in a consulting firm
Though, the positives are many when it comes to joining the consulting world, I would now like to make you aware of the reasons why people leave the consulting world.
1. Maintaining a work life balance
The biggest drawback of joining a consulting firm is the work, life imbalance. Though, this statement cannot be generalized but the working hours in good consulting firms are crazy and sometimes it becomes difficult to manage work and life together.
Though this can be quite onerous, the positive outlook is the opportunity you get to manage many things together.
2. Extensive Travel
Depending on which business vertical you work in, a normal consulting job requires you to travel to different places and the frequency would depend on the type of work you are handling. For example a person working in audit or due diligence team would surely travel much more than a person who is working in taxation. The audit/due diligence staff would asked to travel extensively to client places which may be all over the country or even the world.
3. Concerns about the actual difference you add when working in a big firm
“Whether you want to become a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond” is a saying that aptly describes this heading. A lot of times when you are working in a big consulting firm you start to feel whether you are able to add any value to the entire ecosystem. This feeling is more prominent in situations when there is not enough work with you and it starts to make you feel sick. Obviously, if you were working in a large firm, you would surely take time to settle and need good enough time to start to make a difference.
4. Stressful environment
Working with hundreds of people, working with hundreds of clients, managing more than 2-3 projects at a time, managing client expectations, managing your seniors expectations, all this leads to quite a stressful environment which lot of people are unable to cope up with. And this is one of the major reasons people leave or do not join consulting world.
5. Repetitive work after sometime
Since you join a particular business vertical in consulting, after a point of time, work seems to be repetitive and monotonous. For example if you are in audit, after a point of time you may start to feel that you are doing the same thing again and again, thereby not giving you enough opportunity to challenge yourself. There is a perception that consulting makes you a master of your subject but if you want to be a jack of all, consulting may not the right place.
Pros and cons of working in the corporate world
The world outside the consulting is generally referred as ‘industry or the corporate world’. It might be difficult to precisely highlight the advantages or disadvantages of working outside the consulting because industry as such is huge. You can either work in a bank or a manufacturing company or a retail company or a services company and each of them would have their own style of working.
However, I have tried to briefly highlight the pros and cons of the industry and I hope these are useful:
|1.||Generally, better working hours||Fewer opportunities to travel (unless you are in audit department of that company)|
|2.||Expert knowledge of that industry||Generally, on an overall basis a lower pay vis-à-vis consulting|
|3.||Less pressure (except for certain specified time periods)||Boredom – if you are used to having variety of work in consulting|
|4.||Work life balance|
|5.||Ability to make a difference to the company|
My personal verdict
So, finally what should one do? Go to consulting or should join the industry. There cannot be one answer to this question because the circumstances and preferences and interests of each one of you would be very different from others.
Some of you may be completely hooked to the ‘Brand’ and therefore, a BIG4 or any other top consulting firm would be the place for you. You may also want to get exposed to various clients and work and so, in such situations consulting definitely makes sense. And surely, you want to know how is it to work under pressure and take on stress.
However, if you are looking at a more specialized field or something that makes you an expert of one particular industry you can think of joining a company or a bank. After spending a long time with any company would surely make you an expert of that industry and good industry experts are always in demand.
Authored by Nimish Goel , a chartered accountant with more than 12 years of experience and who’s passion is to coach and help young chartered accountants and aspiring students achieve the best in their life. Nimish used to work with EY and PwC in India and has also worked with KPMG in Europe. He now runs his own consulting company and runs a blog www.nimishgoel.com. He can be reached for any queries and issues on his blog.