First Emirati to obtain the prestigious Associate Chartered Accountant qualification through the ICAEW Emirati Scholarship Scheme programme speaks to Accountant Middle East about his journey to the top.

Mohammad Zamani, Associate at KPMG

Mohammad Zamani, Associate at KPMG

MOHAMMAD ZAMANI, an Associate at KPMG has become the first Emirati to obtain the prestigious Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification though the ICAEW Emirati Scholarship Scheme (IESS) programme.

IESS was launched in 2010, under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development for UAE, to attract top Emirati students into the accountancy and finance profession.

Broad spectrum

Having passed all his exams in December 2013, Zamani was ecstatic: “The ACA builds a strong understanding of business operations and dynamics. I would encourage more Emiratis to become Chartered Accountants.”

“Obtaining the ACA through IESS has provided me with the opportunity to gain experience at a top tier firm and obtain a highly respected qualification that is directly applicable to business. The syllabus covers a broad spectrum of topics that are indispensable to industry needs and those of business professionals. Over my three-year training programme, not only have I learnt a lot, I have also developed strong networking capabilities as a direct result of exposure to experienced industry professionals,” he added.

Internationally recognised as the premier financial business qualification in 160 countries around the world, the ACA from ICAEW is held by more than 140,000 professionals who have undertaken the requisite theoretical and practical training. Through IESS applicants secure an ACA training place and a three-year contract with either Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG or PwC.

With the UAE’s GDP expected to increase to AED1.7 trillion in 2018, ICAEW says the country will need to attract more skilled and qualified national talent to the finance profession to sustain its long term economic growth.

Economic development

Peter Beynon, ICAEW Regional Director Middle East, said: “A robust and well-functioning financial sector is essential for economic development. However, the UAE does not currently have enough Emiratis training to become future leaders in accounting and finance. The ICAEW Emirati Scholarship Scheme is, with the support of our government and authorised training partner, helping to close this gap.”

“I’d like to congratulate Mohammad on his achievements, which is a fantastic personal accomplishments and a milestone for ICAEW in the Middle East. We are confident he will continue to enjoy a bright future in his professional career and serve as a positive role model for his fellow peers,” said Martyn Jones, ICAEW President.

The ACA has integrated components which give students an in-depth understanding across accountancy, finance and business. To qualify as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, students will need to complete all components of the ACA qualification which include exams and practical work experience.

Accountant Middle East caught up with Mohammad Zamani for this exclusive interview, where he spoke about his journey to becoming an ICAEW-qualified professional. Excerpts from the interview;

Why did you decide to study accountancy?

One of the main reasons I chose this field is that through learning accountancy and working in an audit firm, I can get insights of various businesses and can also develop my analytical thinking which helps me in different aspects of life. Statistics show that 84% of FTSE 100 companies have an ICAEW Chartered Accountant on their board, which proves the necessity of having a strong accounting and financial background.

Another reason why I decided to study accountancy is because I realised that there aren’t enough UAE nationals who are qualified accountants in the market and given the magnificent expansions that the economy of Dubai is witnessing, this gap will further increase in the future. Therefore, when I chose accountancy, I thought that this career gives me the opportunity to stand out among the other graduates.

Is your role with KPMG your first professional position? What is your current role and how did you go about securing it?

“Obtaining the ACA through ICAEW Emiratisation Scholarship Scheme has provided me with the opportunity to gain experience at a top tier firm and obtain a highly respected qualification that is directly applicable to business.”

“Obtaining the ACA through ICAEW Emiratisation Scholarship Scheme has provided me with the opportunity to gain experience at a top tier firm and obtain a highly respected qualification that is directly applicable to business.”

I started my career as an associate with KPMG in the audit department (Financial Sector). I was recruited after interviews and psychometric tests conducted by ICAEW as part of the ICAEW Emiratisation Scholarship Skills. Through the state-of-art training I acquired at KPMG and my involvement with big national and international clients, I am now able to take full responsibility of various areas and diverse clients.

What do you think are the challenges in your job today?

There are several challenges that face most auditors today. The first one is the expectation gap between what we actually do and what the clients and other stakeholders expect us to do. The trend is now a shift towards a more forward looking rather than backward. Another challenge in today’s market is the fact that new regulatory requirements are being put in place, which the clients are supposed to meet.

In addition to the audit, we need to help clients comply with those requirements. Further, although the competition is tough, I believe that winning new clients and assignments should move from fee based decisions to more quality based ones. This guarantees a premium level of service to clients.

Another challenge that I face is the ability to cope with changes in the client environment. There is a tough competition in the market and auditors are now expected to provide value-added services to clients in addition to the audit. Since each client faces unique challenges, I believe that increased efforts should be spent to be able to provide those services.

What skill sets do you require in your current role to support day-to-day business operations?

The skills required depends on the stage of career; the more senior I become, the more client relationship skills I am required to have compared to technical skills. Currently, for my day-to-day tasks, I believe that both the ACA and the on-job training at KPMG have provided me the required technical accounting and auditing skills. However, given that we have to deliver high quality assignments usually within a limited timeframe, I also need to have a wide range of soft skills such as time management, and the ability to work in diverse work environments.

Do you think having a prestigious accountancy qualification such as the ACA is a must for succeeding in your profession?

This is a subjective question and the answer varies from a person to another. What I personally believe is, gone are the days where school dropouts become business tycoons. Education and the right qualification matter. Given that the market in this region is evolving and the number of fresh graduates who are seeking careers in accounting and finance professions is also increasing, students need to have qualifications that distinguish themselves as to meet the challenging selection criteria of large and reputable companies.

What does an ACA qualification add to your credentials?

In my view, through building a very solid business foundation, the ACA qualification adds credibility to my profile resulting in giving me the opportunity to analyse why businesses succeed or fail. Therefore, the ACA qualification has offered me an accelerated learning experience in my career.

What challenges and incentives motivate you to expand your role?

Frankly speaking, in terms of challenges, the main one was building my reputation in a multinational firm, given the limited number of Emiratis in this field, and the ability of gaining the trust of my peer expatriates. This challenge however not only motivated me to excel in my work but also attempt to establish a positive image of UAE nationals. I have received recognition for my efforts from KPMG, ICAEW, clients, family and friends which were incentives for me to continue to succeed.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

This is an interesting question that I keep revisiting every now and then. I believe that my next career objective is to get some international experience. However, if things go the way they are going now, I would continue my career with audit and will aim to become a partner. However, I might also evaluate different other opportunities that suit my career path at that time.

As the first Emirati to receive an ACA qualification locally, what is your perception of financial and accountancy education in the UAE? Is it evolving? Is vocational training important to supplement what you have learnt at university? Would you recommend more Emiratis join the accountancy and finance profession? Why?

As mentioned earlier, as a result of the misperception of the accountancy profession, there is a gap in the market. Students should be aware of the difference between becoming a Chartered Accountant and normal bookkeeping. I believe that there are collective efforts from the government, firms, private companies, financial institutions, and universities to reduce this gap.

The launch of the ICAEW Emiratisation Scholarship Scheme (IESS) is an example of one of the successful efforts to qualify more Emiratis and encourage them to pursue Chartered Accountancy. It provides them with the required training to be able to take up strategic positions in the financial and accountancy professions.