Maria Howlader FCA, has recently been nominated as chairperson of Women Leadership Committee of South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA) – a forum of accounting professionals in the South Asian region. She is the first Bangladeshi to be nominated to the position.
Ms Howlader is also a vice-president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh (ICAB) and founder of Howlader Maria & Co, (HmAC) Chartered Accountants – a member firm of TGS Global. She has been serving Bangladesh Audit, Accounting and Advisory Practice since 2008. The Business Standard recently spoke to Maria Howlader over a range of issues especially women's empowerment and equal participation in economic development of the country.
You have recently been elected Chairperson of the SAFA Women Leadership Committee. Could you say very briefly about the goals and objectives of this forum?
First of all, I would like to thank the SAFA leadership for giving me this great opportunity. This is really encouraging me to work with SAFA for further development of its women members.
SAFA is an apex body of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). SAFA Women Leadership Committee was formed with a view to discuss policies and initiatives for development of women members in the Saarc region. The objectives of the committee are simply translated as women's empowerment and equal representation in accounting profession, government and the corporate sector. The forum will work both at policy and implementation levels to support present and future women members and other women stakeholders as well.
This is undoubtedly a great achievement for ICAB in this SAFA forum. How will you work for the development and empowerment of women in the country from the top of this committee?
My sincere gratitude goes to all the fellow members of ICAB. I am glad that the president and council members of ICAB nominated me to chair the SAFA committee.
We placed an action plan at the 66th SAFA Board meeting held virtually recently. We have a plan to hold a meeting of the committee very shortly where we expect to discuss various current and future activities of the committee and obtain country specific updates and strategy for women empowerment and leadership issues. The committee will act as a bridge between CA profession and women in business and development. We shall work to address the specific needs of women within the profession in country or regionally.
While everyone is working or doing business after finishing their graduation, you have worked hard to get a professional CA degree. What did motivate you to study CA?
The chartered accountancy qualification opens the door to a vast range of exciting career opportunities, in every sector of business and finance. Chartered accountants are in constant demand both at home and abroad, being recognised for their technical competence, professional standards and veracity. No other career offers the mobility that a chartered accountancy qualification does. It's a truly global profession. If anyone considering becoming an accountant, chartered accountancy provides you with the ability to choose an exciting career path towards the industry of choice, anywhere in the world.
To pursue chartered accountancy, it is required inquisitive hard work and perseverance which I, no doubt, inherently received from my father. He was a chartered accountant. Naturally, a deep fascination for the profession developed in me from my childhood. My father was my mentor and he guided me properly to pursue the lofty goal.
You are a successful chartered accountant. You could easily get a good job in a high position in a corporate house. Why did you come to public practice?
This is a very pertinent question. I would say after qualifying, accountants have the option of either working in practice or taking an industry role out in the business world. It just depends on the type of person you are, your interest and what is important to you in your career.
The decision to work in practice is mainly based on my career dream, interest to work for the continuous professional development, variety of my lifestyle preferences, day to day work-life balances, social responsibilities.
What does motivate you to set up your own CA firm?
Having independence at work, choosing own clients, providing service in the area of specialisation and interest motivated me to start my own CA Firm. It is opportunity as well to fulfill my aspirations of establishing my own firm.
With tonnes of patience and planning, I am advancing my own practice successfully. In order to remain focused in the chosen area, I believe one needs to carefully set long term goals that I always do.
Women generally do not want to take up risky professions like chartered accountancy. How do you see this as a successful entrepreneur and successful chartered accountant?
The career path of a woman is often different from that of her man counterpart as she has greater responsibilities towards her family. Work-life balance is more critical for women. Chartered accountancy is a career path which provides greater flexibility in terms of self employment.
I don't think this is a risky profession. I rather think it is a fantastic profession for women because it can take you down so many different routes. You can end up working in almost any kind of business. Women can easily make it work for them as they have caring responsibilities as well.
What is the role of chartered accountants or ICAB in economic development?
ICAB is working to promote and regulate high quality financial reporting and auditing in Bangladesh, to develop and maintain the competence of professional accountants and to enhance the reputation of the accounting profession in all sectors of the economy. It has been increasingly focusing on its role in the economic development of the country by providing high level advocacy in national budget, revenue growth and by playing a vital role as primary regulator for CA profession.
Chartered accountants do not only deal with debit/credit of the accounts but they play a very important role at a big level in nation building. CAs are foundation base of the economy and utilising the financial expertise the nation gets right direction in various financial and economy related measures to enhance the decaying Bangladesh economy and enhance the economy along with industrial growth. They are directly involved in foreign direct investment attraction by way of facilitating their advisory services to the investors for doing business in Bangladesh.
Our CAs are playing role as auditors, business executives, strategists, public sector financial management consultants and policymakers. Regardless of their positions, their professional and ethical roles are critical to deliver credible financials.
Now say something about yourself.
I am a proud member of ICAB. I am also running my CA firm. Besides, I am maintaining my family. As a mother, wife and daughter, I am and playing different roleS every day.
This is also very challenging to grow an interest among women to represent themselves in various sectors like corporate forum, self regulatory organisations, government level etc. You know our government is working to encourage women in different sectors to ensure equal representation. We can relate with the government women development programme in the country as well.
We are happy to see that. Bangladesh has become a role model of women empowerment for the world. Under the dynamic leadership Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, women's empowerment has taken place in every sectors of the country.
Still, women are struggling to get the equal participation. I believe women have the quality to the level that generally her men counterparts have to get accomplished, not by the grace of a patron or well-wishers.
I would say women should come forward to take the up chartered accountancy as a career through which they can contribute a lot to the national economy.