Amarjit Chopra has taken on the
Institute of Chartered Accountants of India presidency at a crucial
time, with the nation converging with IFRS, moving on from Satyam
and working towards increasing global influence. Chopra shares his
thoughts about the Indian accounting professions with Carolyn
Canham.

Amarjit Choprca

The Indian accounting profession has
found itself in the international press for the wrong reasons
during the past year. The revelation of the nation’s largest-ever
corporate fraud at Satyam Computer Services in January 2009 raised
questions about issues including auditor oversight and the
operation of multinational firms in India.

However, Amarjit Chopra, the new president of
the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI), is adamant
the profession is in good shape. He says in terms of quality it is
“second to none”.

Chopra has been a practicing CA for 35 years.
He is a partner at the same firm he qualified with and specialises
in the accounting and auditing side of the business.

Chopra also has significant leadership
experience and taught at Delhi University for more than 20 years.
He has served on the ICAI central council for 13 years, chairing
the Accounting Standards Board, the Auditing and Assurance
Standards Board, the Corporate Laws Committee, the Expert Advisory
Committee, the Financial Reporting Review Board, the Committee on
Corporate Governance and the Committee on Internal Audit.

He says these leadership roles, culminating in
the ICAI presidency, have been his career highlights.

“You get inspired; you want to contribute
something to the common cause,” he explains.

Time for a change

Chopra plans to use his time as ICAI
president to introduce some changes, particularly revamping the
board of studies and improving the examination system to make it
more application-orientated. He will also push for the institute to
take on some research projects around corporate governance, which
he hopes will be of use to the government.

These corporate governance projects relate in
part to the Satyam fraud, which Chopra stresses was a wide
corporate governance failure.

Chopra is unwilling to comment on the Satyam
investigations as the case is before the courts. He simply points
out that the ICAI disciplinary committee’s prima farce opinion that
two Price Waterhouse firms, four Price Waterhouse Bangalore
auditors and two former Satyam Computer Services employees were
guilty of professional misconduct was “duly conveyed in the press”,
and that the disciplinary proceedings are ongoing.

One of several issues being debated in the
wake of the Satyam fraud is the operation of global firms in India.
These operations are hazy as the local Partnership Act limits the
number of partners a firm can have to 20 and local ethics standards
prevent firms from combining their revenue or being publicly
represented as affiliated. The global networks therefore offer
services through groups of local firms. Chopra says the operation
of these firms presents a very difficult question.

“We would definitely like to have a peaceful
coexistence with everyone,” he says. “I have always believed that
the small and medium practitioners have got their own niche market
and the Big Four have got their own niche market.”

Chopra does feel that global organisations
must ensure compliance with ethical standards. He himself feels so
strongly about the ban against advertising that he does not want
the name of his firm printed. He believes the global firms thwart
these rules by giving surrogate practices names similar to those of
the global networks.

Chopra says that at the very least, the
multinational firms should disclose their arrangements with foreign
principles, but they are refusing.

He is also concerned the Big Four seem to
claim they are “absolutely sacrosanct” and their professional
standards are higher than those of small and medium
practitioners.

“I am not willing to concede that particular
point,” he says.

There has been significant talk in recent
years about advocating consolidation among the multitude of small
Indian accounting practices as a way to strengthen local practices
and help them compete at a global level. An LLP Act, which has been
passed by the government, but not yet implemented, could help as it
would allow firms to have more than 20 partners.

Chopra is certain consolidation will happen,
predicting that in the next five years there will be 50-100 top
Indian firms. Chopra can not guess the size of these firms in
parameters such as fee income, but he says they will be able to
offer a full range of services and may have global presences.

“They may have presence all over the country
and be names to be reckoned with,” he says.

Chopra believes the Indian profession as a
whole is a “force to be reckoned with”. He points out that India
has provided IT services to the world and could do the same with
accounting. His one concern is that India does not have the
representation it should on international bodies. Just last year,
the first Indian board member was appointed to the International
Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

“When it comes to the international bodies
there is an unfair discrimination against us,” he says. “Looking at
the numbers that we have, I think we are not getting [the
representation] we should have. Whether this is the IASB, the
[International Audit and Assurance Standards Board, the
International Federation of Accountants] or the various committees
of these bodies, we need a fairer representation than what we have
been getting over these years. I think Indian accountants will push
their way up.”