Accountancy Practice or Industry?
You’ve qualified – now what!?
Becoming professionally qualified is a genuine milestone in any Accountant’s career. You’ve been working and studying, know the difference between Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance, memorised Class 1 NIC and Class 4 NIC rules and never want to hear the word ‘exam’ again in your life!
Congratulations! You should be proud of your achievement and you should give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. You have cemented your place in a stable career and your prospects will be enhanced.
Your thoughts will inevitably turn to the future and career development. If you are working for an Accountancy Practice, you may be assessing the career pathways that should now be open to you internally, by being promoted to Manager with a view of becoming Partner. Or you may be thinking of making your move into an industry role.
Practice or Industry?
Continuing your career in Practice offers the opportunity to work in an evolving sector that is both varied and rewarding.
“Having worked in Human Resources in both industry and practice, I have seen the very different skillsets utilised in the different environments.
When working in practice you provide a range of services to your clients and you are deemed as a trusted adviser. This is extremely rewarding and helps develop not only the accountancy skills you have spent so many years perfecting but the soft skills which we sometimes take for granted, such as communication, leadership, coaching/mentoring and IT, as these need to be constantly evolving to keep up with the latest changes and for you to keep a competitive edge.
The reward of practice is always having others to support and learn from and to see first-hand when a client implements your advice and it reflects positively on their bottom line”.
“The practice sector is a fast-evolving area which is starting to move away from the old clichés of what “being an accountant” means. The challenges and opportunities a newly qualified accountant will face are different to those of 10 years ago. For example, audit work outside of the top and mid-tier firms is ever reducing and for forward thinking practices, this is being replaced by time spent on projects such as identifying and implementing new technologies for clients.
Making Tax Digital has transformed the way Practices approach and complete their work and because of the new technology, there are chances to innovate. Andrew continues:
“The use of technology moves practice accountants away from the old processes of control accounts and basic compliance and take them towards higher level skills in operational and tax advice which will allow them to make real changes to the lives of business owners. Practice accountants have always had the benefit of variety through their client base, and it is this constant evolution of the role into new areas which makes remaining in practice exciting and offers a broad range of experiences and opportunities for those wishing to do so.”
The lure of moving to industry will always be present for some newly qualified Accountants. The technical skills you will have honed through working in Practice and studying will serve you well in an industry role. Indeed, the major challenges are not to be the hard but soft skills such as communicating with colleagues and working culture.
“In Practice, I dealt with other accountants day to day, whereas in industry many of my colleagues have limited knowledge of accounting, tax and so on as that’s not their day job! The main adjustment was to communicate more clearly to colleagues as you quickly realise that things that are second nature to you can be baffling to those who don’t know their double entry book-keeping!”
“When making the transition from practice to industry, it can be a culture shock due to not having to account for every second of your time via a timesheet! It is also different having to focus on just one business as to the variety you look after in Practice”.
Whilst working in Practice you get exposure to a range of clients and therefore a range of sectors. This can be positive as it gives you a broad range of knowledge across different markets and business models. At the same time, David says:
“I find it more exciting that the advice I used to give my clients I can now undertake myself and follow it through to see how it helps my company grow. I also find you become more involved in the operations side of the business as you see the impact your decisions you make on stakeholders both internal and external to the business.”
Like a lot of things, this decision comes down to individual preference. You will need to prioritise what you find rewarding from your work. The financial rewards in industry may be increased in the short term, however if you were to achieve Partnership in the long term there is significant earning potential.
However, it is not all about salary incentives – flexibility, work/life balance are now very real motivators. Traditionally, Industry roles probably had the edge on this over Practice, however as Cheryl Eldridge, Director of Bowen Eldridge Recruitment says:
“The stuffy or old-fashioned reputation that Practice once had is certainly being stripped away. Forward thinking firms are now offering flexible working arrangements, enhanced annual leave and bonuses to both retain and attract talent”.
Whatever your decision, now that you are professionally qualified it sets you up for a long and (all being well!) successful career if you continue the work ethic that saw you qualify in the first place. Whatever the state of the economy, there will always be a need for an Accountant to either consolidate or plan for growth.