Sahil Bhagwananey CA shares details on what Mumbai has to offer
Sahil Bhagwananey CA tells Rachel Ingram about India’s boom and finding kindness amid the chaos of Mumbai
For the past few decades, China has held the world’s eye as the growing economic power. Gradually, however, attention is shifting to India. It is now the fastest-growing major economy in the world, averaging 5.5% growth a year over the past decade. According to Morgan Stanley, it is on track to become the globe’s third-largest economy by 2027, with the third-largest stock market by 2030, helped by investments the country has made in global trends such as technology and energy.
In April, according to UN estimates, India surpassed China as the most populous nation on Earth. Mumbai has its largest urban population, of 12.5 million, with its metro population of over 21 million eclipsed only by Delhi. As well as being home to Tata, India’s most valuable brand, and the world-famous Bollywood film industry, Mumbai is also the nation’s financial capital. It is undeniably the most exciting place in India for a CA to be.
One such is Sahil Bhagwananey CA, AVP, Asia Third Party Risk Management, at Citi. Bhagwananey grew up in the UAE and studied and worked in the UK before moving to Mumbai, which sits on the Back Bay, at the eastern edge of the Arabian Sea, just 1,200 miles from his childhood home. With a year’s residency now under his belt, he confirms much of the city’s reputation – the humidity, the heavy traffic, the delicious food – but has also found unexpected truths. From workplace quirks to socialising and nightlife, he offers an insight into one of the world’s most stimulating financial hubs.
I grew up in the UAE and spent my childhood between Dubai and Sharjah. When I was in high school, a few family friends and extended family members were finance professionals – that inspired me to pick the CA route. My journey started with EY. In 2010, I began a four-year degree at Lancaster University in partnership with EY and ICAS. This gave me a head start as only a select few were doing that sort of programme at the time. During my studies, I did a couple of placements in London in external audit, totalling 18 months. After graduating in 2014, I was with EY until 2018, providing external audit in shipping, offshore and real estate.
In July 2018, I had the opportunity to join the internal audit function for the UK firm, RSA insurance, where I worked for almost three years. I then joined Deloitte’s risk advisory practice in London.
In summer 2022 I moved to Mumbai, to be closer to my family, who are originally from here. I’m the only son and my parents are getting old. So when an opportunity arose in Citi’s third-party risk management department, which is an extension of some previous audits I’ve done in this area, I took it.
This is my first time living in Mumbai. I’d been here before for holidays, but living here is very different than just visiting. This is a city that never sleeps. Places are open really late and you can get access to anything you want at any time, unlike London where everything shuts at a certain time. Despite spending 11 years in the UK, I’ve adapted quickly to life in India and I’ve found the culture to be quite global, at least at Citi. My move to the UK was a bigger change because I grew up in the UAE, where it’s really hot, so I was freezing in Lancaster. Also, in the UAE, I went to an Indian school, so I was mainly surrounded by people from India. But in the UK, I experienced different cultures – I had flatmates from Cyprus and China – so I became more internationally oriented.
I still have this global outlook now at Citi because my role is not covering India only. I’m in third-party risk management across 16 Asia-Pacific countries – Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on. I have access to all of Asia. We also collaborate with EMEA. It’s a global role.
Land of opportunity
Mumbai is the best city in India – it’s the most diverse with the most opportunities. People come from all over the country to follow their dreams in Mumbai. It’s the London of India. In terms of work life, there’s not that much difference between Mumbai and London, although there are local tweaks. People here go for street food sometimes – there’s no real concept of cold sandwiches here. And there’s a lot of public holidays in the first half of the year, which is a huge plus.
Looking outside of work, the food is fantastic and there’s a great nightlife here, although it’s really busy so you’ve got to be careful. When I say busy I mean packed, so at points there’s simply no place to move. I’ve made quite a few friends – some through work, some who live close by. Mumbai is also more cosmopolitan than I expected. You meet people from all parts of the world, and amid the chaos people are really nice. Everyone is really busy but they’ll go out of their way to help you.
In London, finance professionals will often have a cleaner who comes to their home weekly. Here, though, there is inexpensive domestic help – so as well as help with household chores, you can also get a cook, for instance. A job at one of the Big Four should mean you can afford that, and it will make your life much easier.
Other things to note are the traffic, which there’s a lot of, and the heat – I thought I’d be fine with it, having grown up in the UAE, but after a year, I’m still adjusting. And during the monsoon season, in June and July, the rains are seriously heavy, to the point where you may not be able even to go out. It can really disrupt life.
There’s a lot of opportunity in Mumbai, but you should go with a global firm if you can because of the extensive onboarding and visa requirements to sort out. There’s no reciprocal arrangement between ICAS and the ICAI [the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India]. So, if you want to do a job in external audit and sign accounts, you will need to become a member here first and take all the exams again. But Mumbai is the financial capital for India and I’m anticipating that, as the economy continues to grow over the next five years, more and more good roles will come up here for CAs.
There’s a hub model here where we support multiple countries through various functions – it could be as low as preparing something small, such as a slide deck, to supporting governance and oversight of regulatory compliance, which is a major job. So that scope is expanding. And of the major Asian economies, India seems to be the one many people are expecting to take their lead from. So, I see a big future in that.
Working in foreign countries will give you a wider cultural perspective. I can attest to that because I went from the UAE to England, and now I’m here. The way you think, the way you approach things, is different in each culture. It can be subtle – small gestures, like the nod of a head, and what they mean can be different in each place, as is meeting etiquette. You learn about all of these differences by experiencing them.
Living abroad makes you more adaptable, which is key today. If you want to be a global leader, you should be mindful of various cultures, so working overseas will give you that greater perspective. It makes you more understanding and, on a technical level, you get an exposure to different regulations, different subject matters, different systems, and so on, which can open up another avenue in your mind in terms of how things could be done.
As Asia expands and as India becomes more prominent on the global scene, I feel sure that experience here would be valuable for your CV. Across the world, a lot of support is provided from Asia, and learning to deal with stakeholders here could be a huge asset as this country continues to boom.
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