Shilpa Jain: You have straddled across various functions within finance. Was it by design or did it happen along the way in your professional career?
Ananya Suneja: A quick snapshot of my roles would read as – FP&A, Manufacturing Finance, Domain Training, Cost Management & Analytics, Process reengineering, Controller covering Financial Reporting/ Regulatory Reporting/Taxation, Finance Transformation, Planning & Strategy. Along the way, I have been a member of Senior Management Committees and a Board Member for various entities.
Truly speaking, this could not have been by design. There is no conventional career path that takes you along that way in that sequence. It has been all about being open to opportunities, looking for spaces to learn, having the confidence in my learnability and the passion to deliver on results. What it has resulted in is a breadth of experience across domains that cross-pollinate ideas and help to add value in whatever I do.
SJ: From working in corporates to offshoring followed by banking and now a listed diversified financial services group; What do you see as major differences, if any?
AS: Maybe a cliched answer, but each of these have had a set of organizational attributes that are unique in their own way – a global corporate like GE instilled a strong sense of culture, leadership, accountability and focus on numbers. This was my learning arena, and I am a stronger, more consummate professional because of this.
Offshoring highlights the strength of processes, technology and strongly reinforces the value of people – and therefore, the criticality of people management.
Banking, especially in the Finance Department, institutionalizes the focus on control and risk management. Liaising with the RBI and other regulatory bodies, as well as the direct correlation between government policies and internal processes/ strategy is very enriching.
Being a part of a listed financial services group is a very different and dynamic experience. The need to respond to external factors, the significance of investor relations and a quarterly ticker on the results are some of the key highlights.
Through it all remains a set of common elements – big picture view, analytical ability, risk management and process orientation.
SJ: Can you highlight a few points on what have you done in transformation and strategy?
AS: Specifically focusing on the Transformation journey at Edelweiss, the change started with the identification of the problem statement and syndicating that across the organization. What it distilled down to was to create a ‘one source of truth’ for financial reporting.
That journey involved revamping internal MIS policies, making changes in processes, defining data and data structures across multiple source systems, creating a cloud platform to integrate data and ensure the design is kept modular to enable self-service reporting for businesses.
We have completely turned around all our financial reporting processes, enhanced reporting capabilities and reduced lead times.
SJ: For the benefit of your young women, can you take us through the various options which one can pursue in finance?
AS: How one defines ‘Finance’ in this case is very important. I would like to cover it as careers available post Commerce, Accountancy, Finance, Business Mgt degrees.
One can opt for external client facing roles across various financial services verticals – Investment Banking, Asset Management, Hedge Funds and Private Equity, Insurance and others such.
Then there is advisory, consulting and audit which involves domain expertise and client handling.
Corporate Finance is a completely different branch that exists across various industries and includes treasury, FP&A, investor relations that look at capital allocation, long term planning and value creation.
Another large Finance area deals with Financial Reporting to external stakeholders – this includes regulatory, tax and statutory reporting and is ultimately responsible for the Financial statements presented to Boards and Stock Exchanges.
Within India particularly, financial services offshoring is another career option that provides growth, learning and global exposure across fields like accounting services, financial reporting and FP&A.
SJ: How important is it for one to be a CA/CFA to pursue a career in finance? Can it prove to be a deterrent if one does not have these qualifications?
AS: This is an interesting question, especially since I have not tried to get a CA degree myself.
At the beginning of the career, roles in financial reporting, regulatory reporting, audit, etc. largely hire for candidates with a CA/ CFA degree. In the other career options, there is not much distinction based on this qualification. Over time, educational qualifications have lower relevance and experience/ capabilities matter more.
However in India, there are some restrictions in that a Bank CFO needs to be a CA and there is a view in some quarters that as CFOs handle auditors and regulators, it needs a CA degree. So whilst it is not a deterrent, one needs to be aware of this fact when embarking on a career. Also, with the rapid changes in technology in this space, this particular issue could see a change in the long term.
SJ: As our primary cause is aiming to make young women financially independent, why is being financially independent important to you?
AS: Is there another option really? Irrespective of gender, a mature, stable, fulfilled adult is one who is independent in all spheres of life – the ability to support oneself and one’s family across domestic chores, emotional strength, health and fitness and similarly, financial independence.
For women particularly, the last is sometimes portrayed as a choice where the father/ spouse is a provider. In cases where this translates to a set of negative behaviors, it is easier to understand why one needs to be financially independent – it gives one a voice, allows for one’s own choices to be implemented and sometimes even change perspectives.
It is also important where the family set-up is loving and enabling – whilst one has a choice to follow a career/ passion or not, financial independence in these situations goes a long way to support the family especially in troubled times like recessions, bereavement and others. One needs to retain the ability and work towards it through the means possible.
Just like how society is encouraging young men to learn to make that cup of tea and get that laundry done, young women need to aspire to being financially independent for the decisions that matter the most to them.
As the mother of a teenage daughter, this is my message to her and all young women out there.
SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her? And any message for the Foundation in general?
AS: Girls! – follow your passion and do your best. Do not settle or compromise because you are a ‘woman’ … In the long run, you will see that gender will not matter when you are sure of your chosen path. In the short run, stay and run the course – there are challenges, some overt and some subtle, but let them not emanate from you. Have an opinion and do what you have to do.
For the Foundation: I think the early to middle years in a career is the most challenging. As long as one knows that she is not alone, others have traversed the path and have succeeded, the willingness to try again is reinforced. I think initiatives like second careers, mentoring and peer support and engaging with organizations are the key pillars on this journey. This what the Foundation has adapted and I wish you a lot of luck for the future and will be happy to be engaged in any form that can contribute.
Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with
Answer: Ayn Rand
Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers
Answer: Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
Question: 3 things on your bucket list – strictly career-wise.
Answer: I don’t have a bucket list, I prefer to live in the moment