Having started out working in the public sector with dedication and interest in a field dominated by large foreign firms, Mr Hassan Mohamed has come out with his firm as one of the top tier and leading firms in the accounting industry. Recently rebranded and have become part of an international accounting network, Crowe Horwath International, his firm has set the standards for many more local firms to follow. With a mindset for development and encouraging locals and youth who would want to get into the industry, Crowe Horwarth, formerly known as AH & Associates LLP, have become a pioneer and one of the leaders in the industry under the mindful and watchful leadership skills of Mr. Hassan. Corporate Maldives sat down with the Managing Partner of the first locally owned international Accounting firm to talk about how he got his firm to be the standard for the industry.
How did you start off with your career?
Right after high school and further studies, I started my work career in the public sector. My first job was in the government and I moved on from there to State Electric Company (STELCO), in the accounts department. After completing ACCA I shifted my work from STELCO to Platinum Capital Holdings Pvt Ltd.
I met a friend during my time at Platinum Capital Holdings, Abdulla, who had the idea to start an accounting firm in the Maldives. Later on we became business partners and associates. The idea was incepted over a cuppa, one of the least likely places to discuss a massive business into such a market, which at the time was dominated completely by foreign accounting firms.
After much consideration and convincing from Abdulla, we registered a partnership on the 25th of December 2008, as AH & Associates LLP, during the same year that we discussed the plans. We started off with one client and it was mostly a part time job. I went to my day job at Platinum Capital Holdings and did the accounting on the side. It was a time when not many people were into accounting, only two other registered local firms were there and not many accountants took on full time accounting jobs as the need for it was very less when compared to now.
When we started off we did not have any staff members, all work was done from home in our living rooms and took on assignments slowly. With one client whom we did internal audits for, we slowly started to grow and did accounting and audits for small companies. Audit was not taken seriously at the time and people did it just for the sake of it as regulations required companies to do so.
With the tax laws that came into play during 2011, audit became big business. That was when our small partnership really took off. We started getting clients and we had a slow steady growth. We worked from home mostly and later shared a small office till the end of September 2009, when we moved into the office where we are today. We hired full time staff and expanded our operations since then. With taxation becoming more of the mainstream, auditing of companies and audit in general was taken very seriously by the corporate community, be it either public or private companies, everyone were required by law to be audited and pay taxes.
Audit conducting was only licensed to foreign till 2011 when Maldives Inland Revenue Authority started officially allowing other local firms as Approved Auditors of MIRA. We were among the home grown companies who has received recognition from MIRA. We started hiring more staff, only Maldivian staff, something we are very proud of and gave them the necessary training to operate in the industry and in our firm.
With our successes and growth, we decided to expand beyond the confines of our borders and move onto the global scene. Hence we looked for international partnerships to work with. At the time, back when this idea came to be in 2012, all international firms in this sector were owned and controlled by foreign companies. No local firm has the international status. Therefore, we decided to and really motivated us to pursue this and in 2012 we joined Crowe Horwarth, a US based firm and operates in 135 countries being the 9th largest accounting brand in the world.
We couldn’t become a member right off the bat and we started out as an affiliated firm with Crowe Horwarth. From 2012 to 2015 we worked as an affiliate with Crowe Horwarth and gained continued status and recognition from MIRA to audit bigger firms. Up until recently Maldivians were not allowed to audit the top tier companies as per rules by the MIRA. But with a team effort from everyone associated in the audit industry in the country, we managed to get the law changed so as to give us local companies a chance at aiming at top tier audits in the country. After April this year MIRA started handing out Category A approval, till then we operated under Category B license. With the new Category A license we applied to be a member firm with Crowe Horwarth which we received. Getting into the Crowe Horwarth means that we become part of a vast network of firms that operate in the industry. We get expertise, skills and necessary tools along with training to operate in the industry. We can also receive and provide assistance to other member firms. And hence we rebranded.
Crowe Horwarth is the ninth largest accounting network in the world and sixth largest in Asia. This is the first international accounting firm owned and operated by Maldivians with a core of 100% Maldivian staff.
What are the challenges you faced when you started off in your firm?
The biggest challenge when we first started off were the regulatory challenges. We were not allowed to audit businesses whose revenue was more than MVR 50 million. So we had to settle for small and medium businesses in the market at the time. These regulations were lifted and standardized and now we are continuing our growth as a firm and a brand.
Secondly like with all businesses operating in the country, we are having and have had major issues with human resources. Accounting was not a prominent job choice for Maldivians before the tax laws came into play so when we started out it was very difficult to recruit top notch qualified local staff. That could be because the market was dominated by foreign players and education prospectus was not available up until recently. With the introduction of ACCA courses of Maldives National University and Villa College, more qualified people are coming out into the field and in more volume. But all in all the future looks good and there is much room for growth as a firm and as an industry in the country.
How has your firm done things differently?
I think the biggest thing we’ve done so far is that we have developed an international brand. The current mindset of many entrepreneurs is to develop a local brand. However, with a fast changing economy, firms will grow larger and must seek to gain some international status. This would not only help the economy grow but also help develop people and expertise in different fields as well.
Having international brands gives us a guarantee and helps other firms grow with healthy competition and governing institutions are very supportive of this. We gain access to high standards of quality control and in our case we share resources and expertise with our family firms when conducting our day to day operations and this is something other companies can take up as well.
What are some of the notable accomplishments of your firm?
One of the most notable projects we’ve worked as an Auditor on the largest international TV franchise to have been conducted in the country, Maldivian Idol.
It’s safe to say that our accomplishments lie with our team and our growth as an international firm. It’s not just technical resources but financial resources as well. We’ve invested for the long term and a huge financial commitment is not an easy task. The fact that we have accomplished that in its entirety is one of our biggest accomplishments as a firm.
Where would your firm be in the next few years?
We are aspiring to be the largest accounting firm in the Maldives in the next ten years.
We want to bring out more people in to the industry. There are so many opportunities and jobs in the industry out there already dominated by foreigners. Our aim is to give our students and locals a chance at this. This is the mantra at our firm which employs only locals and we wish to expand leading by example.
To do that we are offering our staff to become partners in our firm, an international one and this is a key motivator in our work environment. And this is a core objective of our firm and create more employment opportunities for accountants in our industry.
For any up and coming entrepreneur I would like to say that business is a rough road. Don’t work for the short term. Have a vision for the long run and work with clarity, honesty and quality. 90% of our client base is referrals and this is achieved if you work with the aforementioned mentality.