Chartered accountants (CAs) are increasingly facing stiff competition from STEM graduates in getting into consulting firms that are becoming heavily dependent on technology for client service and regulatory compliances, said industry executives. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Consulting firms’ executives said that for large, listed companies with diversified and complex operations, technology is an integral part of finalising annual accounts in two to three weeks after the end of the financial year.

In addition, with the government and its myriad departments going digital big-time, companies and their consultants are also being towed into the digital paradigm.

This has enhanced the demand for STEM graduates, who have the skills that matter now and are becoming an essential part of advisory teams amid a changing tax compliance landscape.

Who is building STEM teams

EY, for example, said it has built a strong team of STEM graduates over the past four years, who now account for about 10% of its 5,500 strong workforce in India.

“As tax administration goes digital in India and businesses seek better tax governance and risk management, integrating technology into the tax function is critical,” said Sameer Gupta, national tax leader at EY India, adding that it streamlines processes, improves efficiency, and reduces errors in tax compliance. “Tech integration in taxation is a must for businesses navigating today’s complex, multiple regulatory landscape.”

Consulting companies are taking great interest in technology talent as technology is becoming increasingly important in providing consulting solutions, said Jamil Khatri, co-founder and CEO of Uniqus Consultech, which offers consulting services in the areas of environment, social and governance (ESG), and financial reporting.

Pointing out that having STEM graduates comprise 15% of his company’s workforce results in more holistic solutioning for clients, Khatri said, “As the nature of services provided by consulting becomes more diverse, the talent pool is expanding beyond the traditional CA and MBA qualifications.”

Impact of digital governance

Meanwhile, over the past few years, tax administration has become heavily technology-oriented with the interface between businesses and regulatory authorities moving to the digital mode.

The Centre’s indirect tax administration collects information about transactions at various points in the supply chain and matches data to ensure that tax credits claimed by businesses are genuine and that there is no sale without invoice or invoice without supply of goods.

The Income Tax department has deployed technology heavily in tax administration. The corporate affairs ministry has upgraded the statutory filing portal and centralised the registration and winding up of businesses. The increasing coordination among regulatory agencies, too, necessitates businesses to measure up and be error free in their statutory filings.

Gupta said EY is investing in building artificial intelligence capabilities, which will help both its people and clients. For successful consulting business, the right mix of finance and science professionals and use of technology is becoming critical. “By harnessing the collective strengths of these diverse skill sets, we are empowering our teams to deliver cutting-edge solutions,” said Gupta.

EY, which has a large tax practice in India, has now deployed an enterprise-level technology platform called ‘EY India tax platform’ to help its clients with their entire tax lifecycle compliances. Indirect tax-related consulting and compliance work—such as for goods and services tax (GST) and customs—now account for about 25% of EY’s tax practice’s topline, the firm said.