Auditors should embrace technology: Nirmala Sitharaman

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Observing that the next 25 years are ‘critical’ for India to achieve developed nation status, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday appealed to auditors to embrace technology and educate smaller companies to grow.

The Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister remarked that the country has progressed at many levels in the last 20-25 years and even the World Bank report has said India has achieved in the last decade what it could not be achieved in 60 years.

“I am talking to veterans of this profession. You are one of the oldest registered bodies. I would think my meeting with you all is not just only to celebrate the 90 years, but also to say celebrating at a time when this profession has to take newer responsibilities,” she said at the 90th anniversary celebrations of The Society of Auditors here.

Sitharaman pointed out that the practices of chartered accountants were going through a lot of change globally. She said that even some of the audience gathered at the venue had already started to feel the change in their profession.

“I commend the way in which technology has come into play and many of you are happily adapting to it and that is why even the examinations of chartered accountants is going to be of a different format from next July…,” she said.

Recalling that lawyers left their profession to join the Freedom movement, she said “Today nobody expects you to leave your profession but serving the country and its goals will have to be a part of your identity and also part of your business model.”

Emphasising that everyone should have a greater sense of ‘kartavya (duty)’, Sitharaman said, everyone is duty-bound to face the challenge which was in front of the country to bring back its past glory of reaching developed nation status.

Referring to freedom fighters who lost their houses, jobs to take part in the freedom movement before 1947, the finance minister said such a necessity does not arise today.

“Today one does not need to lose his house nor job…By continuing our profession we can ably contribute to the growth of the nation. For example, you can advise your clients that if you allot your investments in this area you will be able to get good income, that will also yield good revenues to the country. By giving these kinds of instructions, you will be able to contribute to the growth of the nation,” she said.

Sitharaman who spoke in a mix of Tamil and English in her 40-minute speech said, auditors should also inform the government where it was losing money by informing the authorities concerned.

“You do not need to tell the name of the company nor the individual involved in it. It may put your life in danger also. But you can inform the government authorities that there is tax evasion happening…” she said.

“Since I am in Tamil Nadu I will explain in detail. If I am able to get one tip about a tax evasion undertaken by one company I have to travel wherever the company has a presence. It is like a spider web. We have to travel wherever the company has a presence. It may be in Arakkonam, or Kanniyakumari or even in Dubai”, she said.

Sitharaman rebuked the opposition parties’ contention that the Enforcement Directorate was used to conduct searches in a company which was involved in tax evasion.

“With Artificial Intelligence, myself and officials concerned will be held accountable by the CAG if the Finance Ministry does not take any action against a company which was involved in tax evasion.”

Sitharaman noted with the use of AI it is possible today to get the information about the tax evasion made by a company.

Sitharaman also cautioned that if an individual does not contribute to the growth of the country in the next 25 years, it is like a popular saying that, “You missed the bus” and the country would go back to its earlier days.

She stressed that it was the right time to make India a prosperous nation by 2047, so that the future generations can reap the benefits.

To add to her point, Sitharaman said today the country has got good income tax professionals who can offer their suggestions to the government which listens to them.

“We have got a government which listens. Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) does not differentiate and stresses that a nation can grow only if all the states grow. Even if one state falls back, it will slow down the progress,” she said.

Urging the auditors present at the venue to upgrade their skills, Sitharaman said technology driven changes are dominating Chartered Accountancy and one must have greater knowledge in using “deep-tech” and “data mining”.

“All these are going to help you (auditors) in understanding the health of a company. So there is no way even if you are experienced with 30-35 years, today that legacy should be strengthened with technology that is so required. Even if you do not need it, your company will need it,” she said.

“The point again that I am driving at you is you have well matured organisations which should now meet the challenges of the century,” she said.

Auditors and chartered accountants should think how they can reach out to small and medium clients, she said.

“They (small and medium clients) do not have the capacity to benefit from technology. You should tell them how to access it. For example the ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) is a mobile application that allows you to sell their goods anywhere in the world. He may be from a small company or may be a jeweller. He can sell his product through ONDC”, she said.

Sitharaman before concluding her speech said “this (next) 25 years are very critical and if these kinds of efforts (from auditors) are received from every state, India can become a developed nation. It will be good for the future generations. We should use this opportunity,” she said.

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