Industry versus practice: which is right for you?

Industry versus practice: which is right for you?

Find out the key differences between working in practice and industry

After qualifying, new accountants have the option of either working in practice in an accounting firm or taking an industry role out in the business world.

Both have their pros and cons, it just depends on the type of person you are, your interests, and what is important to you in your career.

Accounting practices offer professional services to both public and private sector companies. Services can include accounting, auditing, assurance, tax, consulting, advisory, actuarial, corporate finance, and legal services.

Practices range from top multinational firms like KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, and EY to tiny firms, sometimes just a single accountant running their own business.

Accountants in industry, however, go and work directly for a firm and manage their finances. Responsibilities might include budgeting, cost control, and accounting systems, and accountants in industry often form an important part of the management team.

Many accountants will move across, usually from practice into industry, at some point in their careers. But you need to start somewhere, and it’s best to take some time considering your options.

Why practice?

What makes some people happy is another person’s nightmare, but we share the general good and bad points of both accounting paths.

Pros

  • Lots of social interaction and the change to build long-term relationships with clients.
  • More varied than industry in the sense you are dealing with clients from many different industries, from entertainment to charity. You have to be adaptable and meet the needs of different clients.
  • Many firms will provide a very clear career path as they want to retain the best talent, so progression opportunities can be excellent.

Cons

  • Clients can be very demanding, or even rude, but you have to go along with ‘the customer is always right’ and always be professional.
  • The work-life balance might be worse when you work for an accounting firm and have multiple clients to serve, than if you are focusing your attention on the success of one business in industry.

Why industry?

Pros

  • Chance to delve deep into the success of one business rather than spreading your efforts across many clients.
  • There is an opportunity to stand out, make a clear impact, and drive the success of the organisation you work for.
  • You get to choose what type of company you work in; from the industry, to the size, to the location.

Cons

  • Progression may not be as clear-cut. Firms allow you to qualify, move up the ranks, and aim to become a Partner. This means accountants in practice can often earn more than those in industry.
  • It might be a culture shock to move from a firm surrounded by people doing the same work as you, to potentially the only accountant in the business.

What roles can you go into?

The path you choose determines what roles you can expect to work in, and what work you will undertake.

Every firm and business is different but the following detail outlines what you might typically expect from progression in your accounting career.

Practice

Prior to qualification, if you work in practice you will likely be a junior associate who moves into an associate role while you are qualifying.

Averagely, someone who has been qualified for around three years will move on to be a senior associate or manager. Sometimes you might take on the role of associate first, then be promoted to manager.

Finally, after five years or more and depending on the firm you work for, you may have the chance to move up to director or partner level.

Industry

Working on the same timelines as in practice, industry accountants will start off in the role of accounts assistant. While they are gaining their qualification, their role will be accounts clerk or admin.

During the final stage of qualification, individuals can become financial analysts.

After about three years of being qualified, industry accountants may move into the role of financial accountant and continue to see their salary rise. The next progression stage is financial manager.

The equivalent to a partner in industry is either the head of finance or the CFO.

Final thoughts

The decision to work in practice or industry has to be made based on what you want from your career. Ask yourself a series of questions and locate what is important to you; is it the salary or the importance of the work you produce? Is it variety, people, or your day-to-day work-life balance?

Don’t forget that you can change your mind, although it should be noted that moving from practice into industry is much easier than the other way around. If you want to try both, consider going into practice first.

 

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