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Pathways: It’s never too late to fulfil the ICAEW dream

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Nov 2023

Giridhar S Varadachari had long wanted to become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant. He finally fulfilled his dream thanks to the Pathways route into ICAEW.

Chartered Accountant and Chief Financial and Operating Officer of the National Bank of Oman (NBO), Giridhar S Varadachari recently fulfilled a decades-old dream and became an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

Varadachari originally completed his accountancy qualification and became a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) when he was 21. “That was an era when Indian qualifications were not necessarily very well recognised outside India – this was the very late 1980s and early 1990s. Of course, now the world is changing. India is punching well above its weight on the global stage and its qualifications are much more recognised,” he says.

The young chartered accountant wanted to pursue a career in financial services outside India and had a strong desire to become an ICAEW member. He wrote to ICAEW back then asking how he could make this happen and was promptly told that he had to do his articles in the UK and sit the exams. He decided against this as he was already an ICAI member, having undergone similar training in India.

Varadachari started his career working with Ernst & Young, now EY, in the Middle East. He says most of his managers and partners at EY were ICAEW members, “so obviously the fascination [for ICAEW] grew further”.

After a successful period at EY, Varadachari joined Standard Chartered in 1995. “I had a very successful two-decade stint with Standard Chartered, which took me to seven countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. I had the privilege of working with some great managers and leaders, a number of whom were ICAEW members, too.”

Despite his challenging day job and regular international travel, Varadachari managed to squeeze in an MBA by distance learning from Henley Management College (now Henley Business School) in the UK, which was sponsored by Standard Chartered. 

In 2008-09, a partnership between ICAI and ICAEW meant that members of the Indian Institute could become ICAEW members after passing three exams. Varadachari thought this would be his chance to fulfil his dreams. At the time he also suggested it to a colleague in his team, who went on to complete the exams and become a member of ICAEW. Varadachari didn’t manage to find the spare time to do the extra work at this time, though.

After 20 successful years with Standard Chartered, Varadachari joined HSBC in 2015 with responsibility for Finance Shared Services centres. Soon afterwards he was promoted to the newly created role of Global Head of Finance Operations. As a member of the Group CFO’s executive committee, he was managing the largest team in finance, of around 3,600 colleagues spread over 18 countries and a cost base of more than $220 million (£173m). “Quite a challenging job,” he says, modestly.

Time for reflection

The global pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, coupled with the ICAEW’s Pathways to Membership scheme, which had more recognition for qualifications and experiences gained from other professional bodies, conjoined to provide him with the opportunity to finally achieve his lifelong dream.

“The COVID-19 pandemic gave me a little bit of time to pause and reflect as I was working from home, and in the meantime the Pathways programme was staring at me,” he says.

The Pathways scheme to ICAEW membership is open to members of selected accounting bodies in the UK and overseas. Members of such eligible bodies submit answers to questions based on professional experience over the preceding five years, meaning that candidates don’t have to study for an exam or complete a qualification, but rather reflect on what they have done professionally in the past five years. 

The next submission window will be in January 2024, with two more submission windows planned throughout the year.

Varadachari based his answers on his most recent work at HSBC. “I enjoyed writing the Pathways examination of experience questions. It made me reflect on my HSBC experience and the previous five years.”

Around this time, he was approached about a position in Oman. After some due diligence, in January 2021 he took up the position of CFO at National Bank of Oman, the first local bank in that country. He describes himself as a strategic partner to the Chief Executive Officer and, a year into the role, Varadachari was asked to take on the additional responsibilities of Chief Operating Officer as well. 

“Two and a half years into my role and we’ve done quite well. The transformation programme is well underway. Being a strategic partner and adviser to the Chief Executive and other colleagues on the management team has been a very rewarding journey.” 

During the first quarter of 2023, NBO reported a return of equity of 9.6%, up from 5.1% at the end of 2020, with its cost-income ratio down to 40.3% from 55.4 % at the end of 2020.

Having finally completed the Pathways programme himself, Varadachari began to think about the possibility of introducing Oman-based Indian accountants, which number in the hundreds, to the ICAEW programme, not just because of the Institute’s reputation but also because of the online resources available.

“Oman has about 600 to 700 chartered accountants who are from India, a number of whom are well placed in the private sector here. If you are interested in learning, growing and developing yourselves, then it’s good to get the ICAEW qualification. It offers members a huge amount of prestige and recognition, not to mention the professional development resources and library. I access the online library and the material that’s available online for specific subjects. I simply love it,” he says.

If Varadachari’s story serves one purpose, it is never to give up on your dreams, however long it takes to fulfil them.

More on Pathways

ICAEW and ICAP member Mohammad Shoaib Memon explains the benefits of being active in your membership bodies, and the importance of sharing your knowledge and experience with others. Read his Pathways journey to ACA accreditation here.

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