Accountancy Practice vs Industry: Where should you work?

Published on: 25 Jan 2019

Whenever you are looking for a new job in Accountancy and Finance, one of the first questions you will need to ask yourself is, “Do I want to work in practice or industry?” In order to make an educated decision that best suits you, your life and your goals, it’s important to clearly understand the differences between industry and public practice.

What is public practice accounting?

Practice accountants are employed by a firm or public practice and deal with the finances of external companies and individuals. They review the accounting practices of an individual or corporation to verify their compliancy with reporting standards and the law. Professionals in practice often specialise in a certain area of accountancy such as Taxation or Audit, each with their own set of duties.

Working in practice, you can expect to handle the finances of a variety of clients whose scale and scope may depend on the size of your employer. Small or independently run practices usually deal with the finances of individuals and local businesses while large multi-office firms more often service the accounts of global corporations and organisations.

Naturally then, the working hours and environment of a public practice accountant are fluid and unpredictable. You will travel to your client’s office and work wherever they have room for you. Practice accountants often work to tight deadlines so working days can be long during peak periods.

Unqualified or newly qualified accountants often begin their career in practice before moving on to pursue a role in industry once their training and qualification are complete. Others choose to remain, due at least in part to the variety of clients and diverse range of tasks they are required to undertake.

What is industry accounting?

Industry accountants are concerned with the internal finances of the single company by whom they are employed. They carry out reporting and analysis in order to evaluate performance, formulate projections and create budgets for their company.

An accountant employed by a large FMCG business, for example, will collect and assess current and past financial data from their company and use their analysis to forecast costs, profits and budgets for the future.

While industry accountants do not have the opportunity to work with a range of clients, they are involved with the business they work for to a greater extent. Regardless of job title, a substantial part of their role will involve liaising with departments across the business to gain information and provide financial advice, plus meeting with members of senior management to deliver forecasts and suggest new or improved financial processes.

A key skill for accountants working in industry is the ability to convey complex financial concepts and data in terms that non-finance colleagues can understand. Additionally, those in industry need a strong commercial mindset and a genuine interest for the sector in which they work.

The working environment and hours of an industry accountant are consistent, more like a standard desk job than those working in a firm, meaning they tend to enjoy a more predictable and high-quality work-life balance than their public practice counterparts.

Pros and cons

Before making your decision, consider the pros and cons associated with working in either side of accountancy.

Pros of public practice accounting

  • Far more variety in terms of tasks, clients and industries.
  • Opportunities for specialising and career progression may come sooner and more frequently.

Cons of public practice accounting

  • Inconvenient working hours, locations and commutes.
  • Strict deadlines and high pressure.

Pros of industry accounting

  • Consistency and predictability in your working hours and environment.
  • A stronger feeling of ‘belonging’ with a company and the chance to work in a sector in which you have genuine interest.

Cons of industry accounting

  • Lack of diversity in daily tasks.
  • Fewer opportunities to advance or specialise.

Your decision

While this article attempts to help you understand the primary differences between practice and industry and the advantages associated with each, the choice you make will ultimately be decided by your career aims and interests, as well as your personal goals and the things that matter to you outside of work.

Remember, the decision you make regarding your next role is not permanent. If you switch to industry and decide practice is more your style, you will be able to shift back just as easily and vice versa.

Made your decision? Search and apply for the latest Accountancy Practice jobs on GAAPweb today, or find out more about the range of industries in which we advertise jobs.