Her eyes shining with pride, smile with humility, graceful clothing and a firm posture. That is what I saw when I first entered into the office of Mrs Hina Usmani, who was sitting behind an Apple laptop on her desk, a small cabin with a glass covered wooden desk which was full of files.
The file cabinets were flooding with files – a usual sight in accountancy firms with employees working in a line facing their desktops. They looked more like call center people absent the headphones and chats.
Hina Usmani is the founder of the first Chartered Accountant firm, which is led by women Chartered Accountants. The Firm is an approved Training Organization and has applied for Quality Control Review (QCR) by Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan.
Why She Became a Chartered Accountant?
Hailing from humble origins, Mrs Usmani had a businessman for a father and started out her luck in medical field on her mother’s will. With less success in beginning – she opted for Bachelors of Commerce and after graduating in First Division; her late elder brother “Khurram” pushed her for Chartered Accountancy, who with lots of hopes for her bright future could not see her success.
Being very uncommon for women in her time to pursue careers in finance her father late Mr. Altaf Ahmed Zuberi was reluctant because of very male dominated environment specially in this profession, but when she managed to clear her CA-Intermediate Part-1 in first attempt, he had nothing but high expectations from her and was the most happiest person along with entire family. She also has the privilege of becoming the first female Chartered Accountant in the whole “Zuberi family” and in recognition got gold medal from Zuberi Association.
The first gear went smooth and then she never looked back and managed to complete her 4-year Article ship from Ford Rhodes Robson Morrow (now Ernst & Young) in 1991 and went on to work for First Leasing Corporation where she qualified as Chartered Accountant in first year of her service and worked under Mr. Khurshid Hadi whom she considers as a great mentor in her career development.
“He was in particular a huge influence in my career and really gave me a lot of confidence throughout. I progressed from financial analyst position to Executive Director & Company Secretary level in my 11 years career at First Leasing.” She says.
Later in 2002 she worked for First Women Bank for a year as EVP-Head of Risk Management & Credit Monitoring Cell and managed to reduce infected portfolio by 20% and developed various credit/risk management manuals. She is a certified director from Pakistan Institute of Corporate Governance and a working committee member of the Chartered Accountant Women Forum (CAWF).
Her eldest brother Captain Asim is the great inspiration, who persuaded her to commence her practice as Usmani & Co. Chartered Accountants in 2004 from which he got full support from her husband Mr. Masood Usmani- also an FCA.
Behind a Successful Women – There is a Supporting family
“What more can you tell us about your family?” I asked her.
“Alhamdollilah – I have two lovely daughters and a wonderful son, the elder ones are doing their O’levels with sciences majors whereas my little angel is in Grade-2”
So I asked her how is she managing these roles? Is it challenging to raise kids, attend to family needs and to do justice with your professional and domestic responsibilities?
“Of course – I won’t argue with the time pressure issue but with course – I have been able to manage time well and I lent my evenings for my children. I’m very serious about their education and progress and all of their tutoring has been done by me”, she added with joy.
She went on to add that at home she changes her cap from a Founding Partner at Usmani & Co. to a housewife and pledges with everyday tasks with her wards. “My secret is setting priorities in their right order”. My family is my utmost priority!” Usmani added.
Once you prioritize your goal becomes clear. She said that there is no point in pursuing a career where you do not have the support of your family or if your family is paying the price for it. She acknowledged repeatedly of being blessed with an extremely supportive family at start and later luck tied her knot with her husband who was second to none in having her back.
Surviving in Male-Dominated Industry
Surely you had some problems in starting your own business in this male-dominated environment?”
“Yes, you’re right – I faced many challenges and I believe that all entrepreneurs specially women entrepreneurs face such hurdles in the beginning and it is particularly difficult for them to cope up with these challenges. Since we are not allowed to advertise much, personal relationship and quality service is the key of getting that first shot in this competitive industry.”
“Where is your firm standing now? And what future holds for it?”, I throw another tough one on her.
“We have a sound client base for assurance, taxation & advisory services which mainly comprises of small & medium enterprises. We provide them quality service with one stop solution for their financial issues, specially women entrepreneurs as our clientele are quite comfortable dealing with us. We are looking forward to become the first Chartered Accountant Firm led by women to achieve QCR rating from ICAP before mid-year”
“ICAP has been male dominated organization since ever. What do you see the cause of this?”, EconomyAge asked her.
“It is not the lack of talent or any discrimination – I believe women chartered accountants are unable to step forward to take up these positions which bring with it extra responsibilities”, she said.
“The time it takes to be on the board is dearly needed by the family at house particularly from a mother and a wife. I have been myself asked to stand in the ICAP council elections for quite some time but my kids are not mature enough at this stage for me to volunteer myself for this professional cause”.
“So when the time is right, you will stand up for the election, right?”, we asked her.
“Yes- Yes I will Insha’Allah” she said assuredly.
We went on to know her thoughts about students who wish to pursue careers in Accountancy, and your advice to those who struggle with their papers.
She believes that students who find themselves comfortable with numbers have a good chance in accountancy profession. They should be focused, committed and hard working and their main focus should be on concept building and presentation, which would ultimately help them to apply their knowledge in the examinations.
“Strong technical abilities, excellent public relations and sound managerial skills are the 3 most important skill-set she believes an audit firm entrepreneur must be equipped with”, she answered when I asked her if she believes more women will follow this route in future in accountancy profession.
“Contrary to popular belief – ICAP is fair and has kept quality standards at all levels specially in conducting exams. It is not hard and with committed and focused approach an average student throughout his/her academics can achieve this prestigious qualification!” she said in a casual tone.
Website of Securities and Exchange Commission (SECP) has been down since morning.
SECP, which is considered as one of the more transparent regulator in Pakistan, has been in process of making its most of the services online and few services including filing of annual account, is a mandatory compliance requirement.
We checked with multiple users in different cities and everyone reported the same problem. The reasons of this inaccessibility are still unclear.
It will be interesting to note here that SECP is in process of making-everything-digital (completely). Almost a week ago – SECP made it mandatory of listed companies to file their annual account online through SECP’s eServices online filing facility.
And almost two weeks ago, SECP launched a web based insurance surveyors’ licensing & registration system. The SECP also communicated that they will not accept paper-based applications for the registration and licensing of insurance sector surveyors after the launch of eSInsurance Surveyorssystem i.e. March 23rd, 2013.
On 15th March – Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan – also launched a web consultation portal which aimed to consult general public and professionals during policy making process.
No reason has been specified by the apex corporate regulator if there was a hacking attempt or regular maintenance. But the serious points to consider here was if its a regular maintenance then was this communicated properly before? Whether this downtime is because of too much traffic because of the measures taken above?
EconomyAge made several attempts to contact SECP but no one was available for an immediate comment.
One thing that every small, medium and large size company need — is a good Chartered Accountant. While writing this, I remind myself of an interesting tweet: “Where there is will, there is a chartered accountant”.
"ICAP is devising a mechanism for those who can be good at other disciplines would be able to take exit with a respectable mid-tier certification", said ICAP President Rashid Rahman
But I think we can safely substitute the word ‘will’ with ‘company’. It doesn’t matter where you’re working. Be it pharma, banking, investment and for that matter even entertainment industry, everyone needs an Accountant.
And in order to serve this purpose in Pakistan, where else to look for other than Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan, also famously known for its acronym, ICAP.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan which was originally established under The Chartered Accountants Ordinance, 1961 as a self regulatory body, is also an examining body for the candidates aspiring to become Chartered Accountants. It regulates the accounting and auditing profession in Pakistan, which includes Standard setting, Quality Control and Investigation.
ICAP also contributes in promoting corporate governance, formulating economic policies of Federal and Provincial Governments including federal budget making with specific focus on taxation.
I know what you did THIS Summer
Recently, after ICAP successfully land an agreement with Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, which many believes will help in improving Pakistan’s image in international market and with Sindh govt which will provide paid training programme to those who cannot afford – it was evident that now ICAP is on right track for its own members and society.
But all is not gold. ICAP has also been criticized on social networks sometimes for its policies and its attitude towards them.
So we decided to grab ICAP New President, Rashid Rahman Mir, member of three professional bodies ICAP, ICMAP and PIPFA – to congratulate him and to confront him on all these issues.
Mr. Mir is a Founder Partner of Rahman Sarfaraz Rahim Iqbal Rafiq, Chartered Accountants (RSRIR). He was member council since 2005, in his first term 2005- 2009, he served as Vice President for the year 2008- 2009. And he got re-elected for the second term 2009-2013 and became the President of ICAP for the year 2011-2012.
At least, there was a Will
Pakistan, which has been facing ‘image issues’ from entertainment, cricket, politics and finance, might find this ICAP-CICA deal as a positive sign for our human resource image internationally. And of course, we congratulate Mr Mir on this successful endeavor with Canadian Chartered Accountants’ body.
I asked him about this agreement and what goes behind this deal and the efforts and time they put behind it?
“The salient features of the MOU are (a) the ICAP members are now required to appear in only one exam of CICA, that is Uniform Evaluation and (b) their practical training in Pakistan and their post qualification experience is acceptable to CICA subject to individual assessment”, said Mir.
“In other words, the process of CICA membership for ICAP members which earlier required around one and half year period has been reduced to six months. The Institute initiated the discussion of mutual recognition in March, 2010 and as per the scheduled plan of detailed evaluation it concluded in March 2012″.
Good for Pakistani accountants and I’m sure there are many ICAP members who will avail this option but do you think there will be Canadian accountants who will be coming to Pakistan? Given the security and perception problem with our country?, I asked him.
“See, Looking at the potential of emerging markets, like Pakistan, the flow of capital is bound to divert from conventional advanced economies”, said Mir.
“But as soon as situation of law and order starts to improve in Pakistan, it is likely that there will be a number of joint ventures where CICA members may find an opportunity. However, the numbers would not be much significant in foreseeable future”, he added.
Pakistan is not what you see on Fox News
The bias attitude of few international media outlets is evident in our case and its getting hard for most of our professionals and businesses to convince foreigners and companies otherwise. So I asked Mr Mir how did he convince a Canadian body for such an agreement when foreign investors and even cricket teams are reluctant to visit Pakistan?
“As I mentioned earlier the international employer market is fully aware of the expertise and value of the ICAP members. ICAP’s education is fully compliant with the requirements of the International Education Standards issued by ‘International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) therefore, the formalization of the recognition was not that difficult”, said Mir.
“In addition to that there is another dimension of the situation — Pakistan is one of very few countries where international pronouncements on accounting and auditing are applied as national standards. With the recent drive of convergence to international standards by countries like Canada, USA, UK and many other advanced countries, the expertise in international standards has become more valuable. May be this aspect has also played its role”.
I also know what you did LAST Summer
With so many comments and emails, I could not resist but to ask if on one hand ICAP has been very open and friendly with other international bodies but making it hard for those already working in Pakistan.
“It is believed that ICAP, in last few years, corner ACCA, a British Accountancy qualification, through its policies and its becoming hard for their students and affiliates to get a job, especially in audit firm? How would you respond to these perceptions?”, I asked Mir.
“The perception doesn’t seems to be correct because major employers of ACCA are CA practicing firms and members of ICAP serving in industry who hire students or qualified persons on the basis of their business model and we respect their independent decisions. You would however agree that due to the state of economy we have the employment opportunities are shrinking for almost everyone”, responded ICAP President.
Suicides among CA Students
There were some sad incidents within accountancy circles when one CA student from Rawalpindi reportedly killed his parents and another student of ICAP working in BRS department in EnY in Karachi committed suicide.
So I asked ICAP President, Mr Mir, if there specific problems with the ICAP examination systems and policies since many commentators put the blame on ICAP’s policies and even go to the length to blame audit firms that they treat trainee students merely as animals of work without any regard to their professional studies and career?
“We should be aware of the fact that the Institute has 50 years history and at present around 30,000 students are appearing in examinations of ICAP”. said Mir.
“CA Qualification is one of the most prestigious professionals. And when we talk about these sad events it is not appropriate to make judgement for the entire community on the basis of an inappropriate act of an individual. ICAP examinations have always been challenging and they will remain so, as ICAP members are entrusted with great responsibility by the society”, added Mir.
“They are supposed to serve the public interest where any lack of competence can affect seriously to large number of stakeholders and our community at large. We have increased the student counselling for providing more guidance to the students and are devising a mechanism which would enable good students to pass the examinations and for those who can be good at other disciplines would be able to take exit with a respectable mid-tier certification”, Mr Mir discloses.
Entering the room of Imran Shaikh, Managing Director of DHL Global Forwarding, an interesting and colorful view were waiting for me that embellished with companies’ logo, airfleet, ship and different logistics site snaps but the most interesting and attractive is a signed cricket bat and ball of Shoaib Akhtar and his three different action photos beautifully framed and hanged on different places on the walls.
Imran Shaikh, DHL Managing Director
It sounds that MD of DHL Global Forwarding was a die-hard of the former speed-star bowler of national cricket team but he has also taken a deep inspiration from the super star particularly in the case of his company business that facilitates businesses with its rich portfolio of services including air freight, road freight, customs clearance, ocean freight, warehousing, reverse logistics and distribution.
Joined DHL Forwarding Company in 2008 as MD, Imran Shaikh has expanded the network of the company as fast as possible with number of small and large sized corporation on board with company for different services.
“The important asset of our company is our team, which delivers at its best to serve our clients”, he said. “So we do care a lot of our workers and develop their professional skills with sound training”.
We send people abroad for training and invite trainers for enhancing human development because our business is rely on workers’ strength, cooperation and intelligence.
The law and order situation is very much there in the country but you have to meet the target and meet deadlines of your clients on time, therefore, the we need perfection and proper management (as if line and length in the bowling) , said smiling Shaikh in American accent.
The technology is like speed of your business. It boosts the capacity and efficiency of your work and being a logistic company we should be working fast.
Since its inception, the company has witnessed substantial growth in its footprint in collaboration with different partners in various fields. This growth and success have contributed towards the company’s confidence and has enabled us to enhance our activities towards developing a comprehensive network of customers on a wide-scale.
Partnerships with Industry
DHL is the logistics partner of some of the biggest FMCG manufacturers and retailers in the country, pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers, technology industry and also fashion industry.
Every day, our people work with a huge variety of customers to solve practical problems – from achieving shorter lead times to delivering temperature-controlled freight – in the industry sectors such as; Automotive , Chemicals , Energy, Consumer , Life Sciences and Healthcare, Retail , Engineering & Manufacturing , Fashion , Renewable Energy etc.
With growth in imports and exports in Pakistan there is a major demand for efficient freight and forwarding services. DHL Global Forwarding can help both local and multinational companies of all sizes to get connected to other markets in the world.
Even a small exporter sitting in a small city of Pakistan can reach anywhere in the world using services of DHL.
Primarily we aim to build long-term partnerships and work closely with our customers – often shoulder to shoulder with their management teams. The know-how of our people combined with our industry – leading solutions provides them with real competitive advantage.
We can leverage our global relationships with many international airline and shipping line partners, we can tab into a vast existing global customer base, we have a very strong brand and most importantly, we have unmatched expertise covering all sectors, geographies and areas of logistics activities.
Our company’s vision is to be the Logistics Company For The World by 2015 and we are making the necessary investments in order to be well-positioned to do so – also in Pakistan.
With a medium height, heavy eyebrows and framed glasses, its not hard for anyone to guess that Danish Zafar is either a chartered accountant or an IT expert, a typical outlook common in both kinds of Professionals. But he is both, an accountant and an IT expert.
Danish, who is a Chartered Accountant by qualification, started his company DYS Solutions back in 2006 when he was a student. After five years in business and with several trials and tribulations, he’s planning to aim for Pakistan’s SME sector and compete with the giants in ERP market.
So what struck him to start a career in this field? ” I started my career with internship in a chartered accountant firm (Riaz Ahmad, Saqib, Gohar & Co).
Actually the chartered accountant firm I worked with mostly dealt with SME and medium enterprises so during my training I got well versed with the their norms and general business cycle, so from the experience I learned in those years helped me a lot in identifying the needs for an online application”, he said.
“Like most college students, at that time I was also running after IT and programming courses knowing the fact that IT will be the next big thing in the market so I had some interaction and interest with software application in my student life and that helped me a lot in starting with my own application”, he added.
On a question of how hard it could be for him to compete with SAP and Oracle, two leading technology giants in ERP solutions, he said that that solutions from SAP, Oracle and Microsoft GP are either not targeted for SMEs or even if they have, they are not cost effective for most entrepreneurs in Pakistan, especially Micro-enterprises.
“The Solutions we are offering are designed keeping in mind the average budget and requirements of SMEs in Pakistan. The problem with most of the Software Houses in Pakistan is that they are already stuck to desktop based environments for the last 10-15 years and changing platform is like rebuilding the whole structure again and involves heavy transition cost. Luckily at the time we started people are already shifting towards web based platform (like ASP and PHP) so we didn’t have to incur any extra transition cost, as we already started off with a web based platform i.e. PHP.”
“I believe we have an edge over the conventional software houses in terms of the cost and investment incurred over our project, and we are able to offer competitive and cost effective solutions”, he added enthusiastically.
So what’s Next?
“At DYS Solutions, we have 20 or more clients in our portfolio and most of the clients are from Retail and Trading sector”, Danish told us.
“Going forward we are planning to build support and related applications which will be integrated with our core ERP. Currently projects which are in pipeline are attendance system, HRM and CRM”, he added.
“We are Banking on Pakistan’s dynamic and fast growing SME sector”, he added with a smile.
“We had so many registers in a huge hall and every desk was filled literally with registers and I went to the head of that department and I asked him what if I use a single match-stick and a pint of kerosene and burn it all away. What would you do? He was horrified at first but quickly answer, understanding the sarcasm in my voice, that we have few of them in back up. And then I ask him again: What do you think what would happen after this? And he regretfully admit and convinced that the whole company (CHASE UP) would be shut down”.
This was an incident shared by Mr Shikoh Safvi, head of IT at Chase Up Departmental Stores, in an answer and in an exclusive interview to EconomyAge to how CHASE UP become what it is today.
In 1984 Mr. Bashir, chairman of Chase up Shopping City started this business. In 2005 Chaseup was reborn and restructure with new concepts. Since than they have open 4 shops and planning to open more.
Shikoh, looks like a computer geek in first sight, expression less face, glasses and very controlled waist line, was deep down in his laptop screen when I entered into his office. I met with Shikoh, head of IT at Chase Up, on LinkedIn and from his profile, experience and qualification, it wasn’t really hard to guess that Chase Up invested a lot in Software systems. Besides it isn’t possible to be successful without intelligent systems in today’s business environment. Since CHASE UP has not only been successful with its customers but also giving a hard time to old established Super Store Chains, EconomyAge decided to peek inside.
“I’m on Linkedin since 2002, when it was originally started and my cousin in US recommended me to prepare a profile. And it was a pathetic kind of model of Linkedin with a single bar. And I can’t even found people to connect with (he shared with a laugh) and I hardly used it twice in first two years”, said Mr Shikoh Safvi, who believed that he was destined for software industry and found his passion in machines back in 1996.
Mr Shikoh Safvi, Head of IT at Chase Up
Shikoh, who also worked with Bank Al Habib and with Maldives Govt to deploy an ERP which integrate all of their colleges and universities in one place, is quite crazy about ‘Aritificial intelligence’ and did his research thesis in Artificial intelligence and how to possible it in virtual reality environment.
“When we heard about virtual reality we had games in mind. But artificial intelligence could customize the game dynamics according to the age group”, he added. Something he wanted to add to his company’s strategy and if successful, could change the paradigm of shopping in Pakistan.
Selling it to the Bosses
I asked him what is it like to convince a traditional family owned and operated business in Pakistan to invest in software systems and what CHASE UP was doing before.
“We were using Fox Pro for accounts and finance and none of the software were integrated. And our HR department was using on VB 6 based TIS System. And we were mostly using registers to maintain our records. The highest IT skill we had was an intermediate guy and we had no single IT bachelors when I joined”, Shikoh said.
“The real break comes in when one day, the owner of our company was sitting in my office and calling each store to know the current daily revenue and it was a total hectic for him with few calls on hold. After seeing him going through this pain – I decided to jump in and I explained him why not if we develop a system where a single SMS will tell you the LIVE sales value of all stores and status of live total sales”, he added. “And he almost jumped from his seat and start asking questions”.
‘Then after few meetings, CHASE UP selected FOURGEN, a local Pakistani company which develops a custom made ERP which includes manufacturing, supply chain management, warehouse, HR and retail inventory. Everything was integrated in one place and it shows a better picture of CHASE UP financials’ in one place”, he said enthusiastically showing a timeline of this project, which is still on his wall.
I asked him why CHASE UP went for a local software company instead of going to Retail PRO or SAP, which have been used mostly by other Pakistani retailers?
“Being in IT so long, I knew that whenever we need changes in software in reporting side these huge companies gave all kinds of justification not to custom made it. And their costs are too high for maintenance. While on other hand, this local IT company is giving same kind of support in much better cost and we were impressed with their work. And it’s another pleasure to work with a Pakistani company.We planned this software of another decade”, he answered with a delight in his voice.
“Interestingly our whole system is browser based so in case If I’m not there, all relevant people could access it. No matter where our owners are – they can access purchase orders and other reports on their smart phones”, he added. “And that’s their biggest satisfaction”.
I asked him if CHASE UP has plans to tap social media, where they have been a little slow, and upcoming 3G technology.
“We’re on facebook, not active though, and LinkedIn mostly. And we will be revamping our website in October, which I’m planning to make more social for our customers and we will be giving an online shopping option. We’re making an online shopping strategy where people can buy directly from their smart phones”, he told me after showing me a YouTube video of a TESCO stores in London where people could buy directly from a wallpaper in Subway and products are delivered directly to their addresses.
“So we can safely assume that, now, every company’s IT strategy is actually playing a lead role in company’s overall business plan and success”, I asked him.
“Yes, you can”, he replied with a Nerd smile.