Practice vs Industry – is the grass greener?

As a specialist accountancy practice recruitment consultancy serving both Practice and Industry, we at The Chambers Group talk with a vast array of candidates in both areas daily and we find that a lot of people are considering the move to either side of the fence. From our professional experience, a candidate’s suitability for Practice or Industry depends largely on the individual and their motivators.

In the interests of clarity, starting from the very basics, practice refers to a role within a firm of accountants, working on a portfolio of different clients, whereas industry roles tend to be in house positions, working on the internal needs of the company itself within the finance department.

Practice

A career within Practice can offer many advantages. Accounting professionals with strong people skills thrive from the client management aspects of a position within Practice.

One of the big advantages that Practice has over Industry is the variety of work that you get experience with, and the different types of exposure you can gain. Where a lot of Industry placements will be working on the accounts of one company and will lead to the individual becoming specialist in one area or sector, practice offers the chance to work on a whole portfolio of different clients, across different sectors and specialisms.

Often candidates will tell us that this variety can bring a welcome change of pace to their week, changing up the work can help to break up the day, or that they find it more interesting to work across a portfolio, rather than focussing efforts on one company.

Additionally, because its more client focussed, the role can be more varied and challenging as you have different client needs to meet. It goes without saying this won’t always be plain sailing; clients can be demanding which adds certain pressures, However, the prospects of building long-term client relationships is something that can be incredibly rewarding.

Of course, this isn’t the same for everyone, with some candidates preferring a less varied role, where they can focus exclusively on one company and dedicate their time, so this one can come down completely to preference of the person.

Many practice accounting firms will also provide a clear career and professional development & training path as they want to retain the best talent, and so it’s possible to progress very well within the right business. Practice often finds itself focusing more heavily on the training and qualifications side of things, with most firms having a policy in place for study support packages for all the different qualifications (including the ATT and CTA for tax specialists). This can contrast with Industry where sometimes the progression can be limited by the ambitions of the organisation and the subsequent size of the finance team. That being said the larger industry companies that we come across are more likely to offer a study package for either ACCA or CIMA, but is it less frequently seen in the smaller and mid-sized firms, and perhaps the biggest difference is that the ACA is almost always a no go in Industry, having to be done via working with a Chartered Accountancy firm.

The goal for a lot of people in Practice would be either partnership within a firm, or to start up their own firm and grow it from the ground up. Practice can also offer an excellent opportunity to choose what you do with you career, in terms of variety to work on a range of clients across a multitude of sectors and specialisms, but a lot of firms will also give you the choice to specialise if you want to and move into one particular sector, or to branch out from a specialism and gain that variety in your role.

Jack Robson Trainee Accountant at Saffrey Champness and Director of CASSL, The Chartered Accountants Student Society, London adds,

"currently I enjoy the benefits that practice has to give including a wider pyramid for promotion opportunities and being part of the ‘front office’ for a practice firm rather than being a member of the ‘back office’ in industry. However the general consensus is that industry does come with its own perks, generally higher pay along with a better work life balance. Both appear to have positives and negatives and it seems to wholly depend on the individual as to which option is best.”

Industry

The pressures for an accountant within Industry are very different from Practice. The finance team are responsible for managing the financial needs of the business they work for, as opposed to managing the financial needs of a host of different businesses in various sectors. This for some accounting professionals can lead to a better work/life balance, and less pressures overall, but it’s not always the case. This alone tends to be the biggest single factor that encourages people to switch sides.

Additionally, starting salaries within Industry can often be more competitive than within Practice, and so this coupled with the a potentially better work/life balance can seem like a “no-brainer”. We’ve found in our experience that people with similar skill sets can get a higher salary in industry than they could in practice, with the difference somewhere in the area of £2000 higher in Industry post qualification. Candidates looking to move into Industry do need to consider the longer-term career prospects, as those who succeed in Practice and make it to Partner level will often be rewarded with a financial package that dwarves what someone at a similar level would earn in Industry. Therefore, candidates need to ensure they are joining a business who’s ambitions match that of their own, and that there will be adequate opportunities within the finance team as the business grows.

The big end goal for Industry would be to become a Financial Director for a company, or possibly a Group FD or CFO for a larger group of companies. The potential is there to be much more involved in the growth and development of a company, and to lead an organisation rather than just your team. 

Chilufya Mulenga, Financial Controller at LiveStyled started her career in practice, but has since moved in to an industry role, says, 

“Being in industry has given me the opportunity to experience more responsibility earlier and learn more about business. Especially at the advanced level, there have been many points where I have been able to relate my studies to work.”

As Chilufya outlines Industry allows you to get a better idea of the workings of a business, rather than just the accountancy side. Interaction with other departments, Managers and Directors away from accountancy can give a greater insight into the day to day running of a business and can allow you to gain the experience to become a genuine specialist in your sector.

Saying that, this can also be the case in Practice where individuals can have more control over their development and skills, often seeing people move from a general practice role, to specialise in audit, or tax, and can move specialism again later down the line. It is important to note that once you have cut your teeth in Practice, it is easier to move in to Industry, whereas a move from industry to practice is much more challenging. 

There are major benefits to each choice, but also some downsides to each direction, and it can come down completely to a personal preference to each individual.

So…Which one?

It is not a choice we can make for you, but I hope this article has helped in balancing the pros and cons of each avenue and the opportunities that come from Industry and Practice. If you would like to get some more advice, then our specialist consultants at AJ Chambers public practice & A&F Chambers Accountancy & Finance would be more than happy to discuss the career options available to you in either route. Please contact Darren Buckley at darren.buckley@aj-chambers.com for more information.