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A Career In Assurance And Governance: An International Perspective

Rajesh Punjabi, CA (Singapore), Group Audit Director, Jardine Matheson (Hong Kong)

ISCA member Rajesh Punjabi, or Raj as he prefers to be called, is the Group Audit Director with Dairy Farm International (DFI), a Jardine Matheson business, where he leads business and digital assurance for all DFI’s businesses, covering a retail landscape of 10,000 retail outlets and digital platforms. As the business partner to the leadership team, he advises the Group CEO and CFO on assurance, business advisory and risk management. He is also a member of the ISCA Corporate Governance and Risk Committee.


It was a short-term secondment to risk advisory at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that got Raj smitten with a career in assurance and governance. “It was love at first sight – the feeling was electrifying, knowing I had stumbled onto something that I could carve a lifelong career out of,” Raj recalls. After three fruitful years at PwC, which he had joined immediately after graduation, Raj went to Shell Singapore and thereafter, British American Tobacco (BAT).

However, it was not all smooth sailing as an assurance career required significant experience in accounting and finance. As one who is highly focused and committed to his goals, Raj rotated into several roles in finance leadership, reporting, and internal audit at the companies he was with. “These roles helped me cut my teeth on the nuts and bolts of assurance and finance, and helped set the stage for my career development,” he explains.

Today, with 18 years of experience in leadership roles spanning finance, internal audit and compliance, he counts as his two most memorable roles those of “a business CFO, and the global reporting lead for a billion-dollar enterprise”.

Raj joined Dairy Farm Singapore as Head of Internal Audit and Risk Southeast Asia. “It was a leadership position to head regional assurance delivery. When this exciting opportunity was presented to me, I made sure the deal was signed, sealed and delivered in record time,” says Raj with a laugh, as he talked about his employment contract. “I guess this is what everyone refers to as ‘being at the right place at the right time’.”

Leading a team of 10, Raj’s remit extended to internal audit around Southeast Asia and being an assurance business partner to the regional leadership teams. As the assurance function was then relatively young, one of the key challenges he faced was driving the internal audit function to become a valued and trusted business partner. “Assurance and risk management can no longer be seen as the organisation’s ‘policeman’. Rather, it should be considered an independent business partner which could be relied on objectively by both business leaders and the Audit Committee,” he points out.


In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged globally, there emerged a silver lining amid the dark clouds for Raj. He was promoted to Group Audit Director at Jardine Matheson, but the position came with a requisite move to Hong Kong. “It was not an easy decision as this was in the middle of a ‘whirlwind’ with many unknowns,” he recalls, of the pandemic years. “I had to uproot myself, move to a new country, and start from ground-up to rebuild my professional and social networks. It was a daunting task. Still, opportunities like this don’t come every day, so I jumped in with both feet.”

With group-level responsibilities for DFI Retail Group, the Group Audit Director now leads a team of 50 auditors to provide assurance to the DFI Group Audit Committee. “The chief audit executive’s role is to provide strategic assurance advice while supporting the business with a balanced risk appetite. The question to ask is how the business can mitigate its risk to adapt to its risk appetite; risk-taking is thus a considered and well-thought-out decision.”

Raj was conferred the Internal Auditor of the Year Award (Merit) in the Listed Companies category by the Institute of Internal Auditors (Hong Kong and China) in 2023

Raj’s concerted push and bold vision for delivering high-quality audits and assurance was recognised in 2023, when he was awarded the Internal Auditor of the Year Award (Merit), Listed Companies category, by the Institute of Internal Auditors (Hong Kong and China). “It was really a team delivery, and I am grateful to my team, my mentors and my peers,” says Raj. He also gave his heartfelt thanks to his family for being his pillar of support. “My family is my safe zone. Through the good and tough days, they have stood behind me.”

Think hard; think deep

An international move may be deeply enriching but there must be careful consideration about a whole host of factors before making the final decision, advises Raj.

Because of the many complexities involved, it is good to have a checklist and a peer who has also moved to a similar location, to guide you through the critical factors. These include things like housing, children’s education and even retirement planning. “Pensions outside of Singapore are very different from our Central Provident Fund (CPF) and it is important to appreciate these finer differences,” Raj highlights. Hong Kong, for example, has the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF), which was implemented in December 2000.

Building networks

In any new environment, growing into the community, and into the social networks, forms a huge part of assimilation and fostering a sense of belonging to that environment. For Raj, joining The Singapore Association (Hong Kong) fulfilled that need and soon, it became a norm for him to hang out with fellow Singaporeans over a cup of kopi-o, and catch up on the latest happenings in Singapore.

Networking support also came from ISCA, says Raj. As the national accountancy body, the Institute has been at the forefront of fostering professional networking among its members who are based overseas. He found this particularly useful as he connected with other professionals via the WhatsApp chat groups that were set up. “ISCA has set up Overseas Chapters in different locations and appointed new Chapter Chairpersons. This means there will always be a fellow Singapore Chartered Accountant (CA) and familiar face to assist CAs when they are overseas,” he says. At the end of 2023, the Institute has established 12 ISCA Overseas Chapters.


“If a young accountant were to ask me about embarking on an overseas stint, I would offer three pieces of advice,” says Raj.

First, “going international is a valuable addition to one’s career, so step up to the challenge and take the plunge, once you are ready”.

Second, “networking is a ‘super power’ that every potential leader needs to develop into a strength. Networking is not an easy skill to acquire, but I would advise young leaders to master this as early as possible”.

Third, it is important to have good mentors. “With new cyber and security threats emerging every day, my move to upskill on the technology front was possibly the greatest piece of advice from a mentor, and that happened over a coffee (note the power of networking)! So, my advice is to have mentors but be prepared to sieve out the best advice which resonates with you, and act on it. Execution eats strategy for breakfast!”

Rajesh Punjabi, CA (Singapore), is Group Audit Director, Jardine Matheson (Hong Kong).

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