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Accountancy: Public Practice vs Commerce & Industry

Written by: Evie Courtier
Published on: 18 Jan 2024


Whether you're currently working in a part qualified accountancy job or as a fully qualified accountant, one of the first questions you will need to ask yourself when looking for a new role is, “do I want to work in practice or industry?”. In order to make an educated decision that best suits you, your livelihood and your career aspirations, 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 to deal with the finances of external companies and individuals. As a practice accountant, you will review the accounting practices of an individual or corporation to verify their compliance with reporting standards and the law.

Working in practice allows you to handle the finances of a variety of clients, from individuals and local businesses, if you work for an independent firm, or global corporations and organisations if you are a part of a larger accountancy group.

What is industry accounting?

Industry accountants, by contrast, 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 have limited opportunity to work with a range of clients, they are involved with the business on a deeper level. 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, alongside meeting with members of senior management to deliver forecasts and suggest new or improved financial processes.

To succeed in industry, you must possess 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.

Career Progression: Practice and Industry Perspectives

Starting out:

Junior finance professionals often begin their journey in practice – attracted by funded qualification options, generous leave for exam preparation and a strong team ethos. Alongside conducting formal studies, those in junior accountant jobs learn what it takes to support and communicate with clients, suggest snap but educated business decisions, and perform under pressure. Every organisation needs a numbers expert, so you’ll be laying the foundations of future employment - especially if you’re a Top Ten trainee.

Junior-level professionals within industry experience an equally stimulating start to their working lives, with access to ongoing training programs to enhance technical skills, support for pursuing professional certifications, the possibility of mentorship, and a clear career path with opportunities for progression within the company.


As a qualified accountant in practice, you’ll oversee the financial needs of a portfolio of clients (as well as sharpening your prioritisation and diplomacy skills), coach junior staff and, depending on your area of expertise, manage special projects within audit, tax, financial risk and more. It’s demanding, diverse work and many love the blue-streak buzz of servicing customers across a sweeping range of sectors.

Alas, this is also the jumping-off point for many finance professionals looking to make a more hands-on commercial contribution. The opportunity to drive strategy, cherry-pick your sector (Property? Healthcare? Retail?) and satisfy a slumbering entrepreneurial spirit can make the grass surrounding qualified roles in industry look invitingly greener. Look before you leap, however. Practice advances at a pace, so you’ll be playing catch up to more experienced colleagues should you wish to return.

Senior level:

Is it wise to quit your comfort zone at the peak of your career? According to GAAPweb’s research, those in Finance Director jobs and CFO roles are more likely than other industry professionals to remain in the role for over 10 years. But there are always drivers to discover new challenges, even at the top.

For example, as a senior manager or director in practice, the buck often stops with business development. You’re expected to expand services and generate income for your firm or partners through networking, prospect meetings, tendering and – ultimately - winning new customers. Though you’ll have a team of part-qualified and qualified professionals to support you - and possibly the lucrative lure of partnership to keep you motivated - the pressure of high-ticket sales can switch off even seasoned practice accountants, making the move to an influential in-house position an attractive next step.

Making Your Decision

Ultimately, the decision between practice and industry hinges on your career aims, interests, and personal goals. Keep in mind that this choice is not irreversible; you can transition between the two sectors based on evolving preferences and career objectives.

If you've made your decision or are exploring opportunities, browse the latest Accountancy Practice jobs on GAAPweb to find roles tailored to your aspirations. Whether you're a part-qualified or fully qualified accountant, understanding the nuances of public practice and industry will guide you toward a fulfilling career path.

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.