Accountancy: Public Practice vs Commerce & Industry

Published on: 20 Feb 2014

Whether you're a part qualified or fully qualified accountant there's one decision you will be faced with when planning your next career move: what field, what sector and indeed whether or not you'd like to work in practice or industry. Newly qualified accountants often tend to start their career in public practice and then move on to pursue a new role in commerce and industry.

So what are the main differences between practice and commerce & industry?  

Public Practice

Public Practice accounting deals primarily with the accounting, taxation and auditing of external companies and individuals. Public Practice accountants can expect to deal with a variety of clients through the firm they are employed in. The type of clients an accountant works with depends on the size and scope of the firm they work for; for example, a smaller local practice may deal with individuals and small businesses, whereas a large firm may deal with big companies or multinational organisations. 

Some accountants choose to leave Public Practice and move on to a role in Commerce and Industry after completing their training and becoming fully qualified. However, many accountants remain in Public Practice due to the variety of clients they work with and the challenging variety of tasks they are required to manage.

Commerce & Industry

An accountant working in Commerce and Industry will be concerned with the financial data of a specific company only. For example, an accountant employed by a large retailer will collect, assess and forecast financial data within that organisation. A Commerce and Industry accountant can expect to liaise with additional departments within an organisation in order to transfer data components such as profit and loss calculations and forecasts and projections, to other business functions and departmental managers within the company. 

An accountant working in Commerce and Industry will most likely be required to utilise the ability to communicate complex financial data into simpler terms when working with non-accounting staff within an organisation. A strong commercial acumen is important, as is an interest in the industry you are operating in. For example, a retail business losing money due to declining sales will often turn to commercial Financial Analysts to establish patterns of sales, volume and related finance data over a period of time. Utilising their skills to explain finance differentials in sales terms, and then liaising with the sales and marketing teams, they can then attempt to influence an upturn in sales by recommending price adjustments or promoting alternative product lines, which will then be pushed by marketing in terms of advertising to increase sales, and therefore revenue. 

The decision, in career terms, between Public Practice and Commerce & Industry (or Financial Services) is often one decided by inherent traits and interest at specific stages of a career, as opposed to purely technical skills. Whilst the routes available are numerous, the key differences are usually down to personal choice. 

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