RACY CASES-62 The Opportunity Cost

V Pattabhi Ram

Wafers had just qualified in the May 06 CA exams. The results that were announced in July 06 saw her bag the all-India 9th rank. Naturally she was jubilant but China had wondered that if Wafers could crack it into the top 10 it spoke poorly of the CA talent pool.

For a moment Wafers was hurt but soon she burst out laughing; after all China was her best friend.  At the campus, job offers were flowing in thick and fast.  It was a case of problem of plenty and Wafers had quite a time before selecting an offbeat job that offered her a C2C of Rs. 10.5 lakh.

Today as she freaked it out at their usual joint at the Chennai coffee pub the question centered on the new education scheme that the ICAI had announced. The race to “catch them young” meant that a wannabe could take the entry level exam as soon as he finished class XII.  That would mean that months after class XII he would be in a position to take up articleship.

Wafers had passed her class XII in March 2001.  She had cracked her PE 1 in May 2002.  She had completed her PE 2 in May 2003.  Her articleship had got over in Sep 2006. So, she was qualifying a good CA 5.5 years after completing class XII.  A year and half ago her engineering friend China had qualified from IIT.  She cursed the unfairness of it all.

Now the new scheme was shortening the time span.  Had the new scheme been in vogue when Wafers finished her Class XII her life would have run thus.  She had finished class XII in March 2001.  She would have cleared CPT in May 2001.  She would have immediately joined her articleship of 3.5 years and completed it in December 2004.  It would have saved her about 20 months.   (Dec 04 to Sep 06). Phew.

Oh how nice it would have been if she had been born a few years later she wondered!

China asked her not to worry.  After all, she hadn’t paid much to do her CA.  Clearly, it was one of the cheapest courses.  The total fee across the years payable to ICAI was about 10 K.  Exams and classroom instruction included it would have been 30 K.  Who gave you a professional qualification for 30 K? Not engineering. Not medicine.  Not MBA.

Her professor had once famously explained that CA wasn’t actually all that cheap a course as it was being made out to be.  He had told Wafers that if she had taken to graduation upon finishing class XII she would have graduated in May 2004.

Between May 2004 and Sep 2006, i.e. for approximately 30 months, she could have worked in a BPO.  Given her school and college background she could have easily earned Rs 20,000 a month.  This translated into Rs 600,000 for the 30 month period not counting bonus and increments.  “That’s the cost of doing CA” he had remarked with a swish of the mane.  Wafers had listened with rapt attention.  The class had hissed, “Opportunity cost.”

Today, a transition provision in the CA program was going to place the opportunity cost at a higher plane.  Alternatively, it could throw out a few spanners.  She was aware that those whose articleship would be getting over in Oct 2007 were under the transition provisions eligible to take the Nov 2006 exams. That’s almost 12 months before finishing articleship.  If they were to crack the exams, as they would, in Jan 2007, then for 9 months i.e. between Jan 07 and Oct 07 they would continue to be in their articleship.

Now, even the best of the accounting firms didn’t pay a fancy stipend to their interns.  If a CA could earn say Rs 9 lakhs per annum the opportunity cost of staying in articleship during that final phase would be a cool Rs 9 lakhs, give or take a few thousands here and there!  Would the audit firms compensate the interns for it?

Wafers was in an animated conversation with China on the issue.  China felt that she was making a mountain out of molehill.  After all job offers were made in the 4th year even in engineering colleges.  No IITian talked about opportunity cost.

“But which IIT grad goes for a job post IIT?” asked Wafers with righteous indignation.  “They go abroad for further studies or land up at the IIMs” she pointed out.  China agreed.  Also there was the issue of the job being contingent on qualifying as an engineer whereas in the case of the CA, the intern had already qualified.

China said, “May be the intern could discontinue his articleship and take up the job offer.”  Wafers agreed.  After all there was no compulsion to continue with articleship once you qualify.  She asked, “Would the ICAI ask companies not to enroll?” China disagreed.  “That would send a wrong signal to the market; that the ICAI is not able to shepherd its own herd”.

Wafers pointed out, “If a CA dropped out of his articleship, he would not be able to get enrolled as a member of ICAI.  He wouldn’t be able to call himself a chartered accountant”.  China drove in the nail. “How important is it to get membership?  How important is it to call oneself a CA?  Are you a CA because you have a certificate or because you have passed the CA exams?”

Wafers got the point.  She recalled that not everyone in employment held a CA membership today.  It hadn’t affected them anyway.  The qualified CA could duck articleship.  After all, Rs 9 lakh wasn’t a small compensation.  And then it struck her.  Well, the CA need not duck articleship for employment.  He could actually grab the job and garb it as “industrial training” if there were enough CA in the industry to sign for industrial training.

She wasn’t sure how things would pan out.  “Why do you want to break your head over it?” China asked Wafers.  Fair enough, she thought.  Time after all would tell how things would turn out to be.





About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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