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The professional accountancy bodies of UK and Ireland now boast more than half a million global members, with the accountancy profession contributing £59 billion to GDP in 2017 alone. It’s a crucial function of any modern society, particularly in the uncertain economic climate that has plagued the UK for the last few years. Activities and fees are high for accountants currently, and with accountancy and professional services firms consistently the biggest recruiters of graduates, it’s clear the demand for accountants remains high.
While there are many considerations to make when it comes to entering or progressing your career in this field, one of the most important is whether you want to work in practice or industry. Both options – whether working in a firm of accountants or in-house - can lead to interesting and challenging work with opportunities for career development, but which is the right choice for you?
Let’s explore both of these options.
Many accountants choose to start their careers working in practice, and the commercial appeal of the Big Four accountancy firms are continuing to make this option attractive to new accountants. We’ve seen some practice markets lose talent to industry in recent years, although the high standard of training accountants receive in practice will continue to appeal to both candidates and clients. This makes practice ideal for newly-qualified and qualified accountants who want to work with a range of clients across industries, developing technical skills and exposure to practices across service lines such as audit, tax and advisory. The variety in practice makes it extremely appealing, as does the client management element of most practice roles. The client-focused nature of practice means accounting professionals can hone their people skills while meeting the expectations and demands of their clients, building relationships and problem solving. There’s also a lot of learning to be done in practice, with a fast pace and mix of work, ensuring accountants are kept busy and engaged.
Career development is an important consideration to make when you’re entering or progressing in this industry. Many accounting firms, aware of the risk of losing their top talent to practice, provide incentives like career progression and defined career paths, making it possible for professionals to develop more readily in this setting. Those who make it to partner level are generously financially rewarded, which can make this pathway more appealing to some, along with the potential exposure to senior stakeholders.
Industry, meanwhile, can see progression limited by both the size of the finance team and the overall ambitions of the company. However, some professionals experience a better work-life balance and less pressure working in industry compared to practice.
Industry is often thought of as the final - and most appealing - destination for accountants, many of whom start in practice with the ultimate goal of moving to an in-house role in the wider business industry. Financially, industry tends to be more lucrative than practice. One 2018 survey revealed the average industry salary is 24% higher than practice, with our own market research showing that accountants with hands-on industry experience are more likely to secure commercially-focused roles, while technical positions are most suited to ACA professionals coming out of practice. While the salaries can be higher, however, the training and qualifications within industry tend not to be as comprehensive as within practice, where study packages such as the ATT and CTA are more commonplace.
In terms of the style of work, industry accountants generally specialise in business economic matters such as cash flow, budgeting and cost control. Industry accounting professionals may specialise in management and cost accounting or financial accounting, with a more streamlined, focused workload than the variety seen in practice. Where practice professionals work with many different clients, industry allows you to hone in completely on the one organisation you work for, providing continuity and focus, as well as a more regulated workload.
The specialised nature of industry accounting means professionals looking to move in-house need strong technical skills and a desire to focus on one core area of the finance function, adding value and commercial insight. Career pathways here can lead to Financial Director or Group Financial Director, with the ability to contribute wholeheartedly to the growth of the overall company.
Find your next role with Marks Sattin
Whether it’s the pace, variety and career path of practice you’re looking for or the focus, salary and stability of industry, we can help you make your next move.
At Marks Sattin we specialise in matching the right candidates with the right organisations, whether you’re qualified, part qualified, newly qualified or interim. View our latest commerce and industry jobs and financial services jobs to find a role that suits your requirements or register as a candidate and start your search.
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The professional accountancy bodies of UK and Ireland now boast more than half a million global members, with the accountancy profession