Professional Practice v Industry

Many professionals spanning numerous sectors will be familiar with the uneasy sensation that comes with making the decision to leave a comfortable role with a familiar company in favour of the unknown. It is, in most cases, the only way to progress up the career ladder.

But for those operating in the finance arena, committing to moving on and up is often further complicated by the added dilemma of whether to make the transition from practice, to industry; or vice versa.

Here, we consider the pros and cons of both options; taking into account salary potential, the fluidity of the job market and the opportunities for progression.

Practice

For many budding young accountants, the ‘dream’ is to eventually join one of the BIG 4 – namely PWC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young or KPMG. For those with particular ambition, they may have even set their sights on making salaried partner one day. 

One of the main benefits of working on this particular side of the fence is that you will be immersed within the profession – at the cutting edge of changes that impact the world of finance, and well equipped to respond accordingly on behalf of your portfolio of clients which will, inevitably, be pretty diverse.

You can choose a particular area of interest and really hone your skills accordingly, which can be incredibly rewarding. Not to mention salaries exceeding £80k for those aiming for the top jobs.

You will likely have the opportunity to travel, meet new people, play an active role in securing new business and, in due course, lead a team.

For the most part, assuming you work for a well-established firm with a relatively traditional structure, it is also more than likely that your journey to the top is well mapped and relatively easy to navigate.

Furthermore, the role of a practice-based accountant is pretty formulaic (although you will inevitably incorporate more responsibility into your day-to-day tasks as you climb the ladder), so comparing one job offer with another based on salary, benefits and progression opportunities, will also be pretty simple. Although it is worth bearing in mind that competition in the sector is tough, so although there is no shortage of jobs out there to be had, there is also no shortage of candidates.

Industry

First things first, it is important to recognise that industry – and by that, we are referring to all companies spanning all sectors with the exception of accountancy firms – needs finance expertise just as much as professional practice does! Although many small businesses choose to outsource their requirements, there is an inevitable tipping point when having the skills (and full focus) of an in-house financier becomes essential.

From charity, through to retail, leisure, manufacturing, legal and tech, there is no shortage of potential when it comes to finding a role ‘in-house’; and with it comes no end of opportunity to make a real impact for an individual organisation and to ‘stand out’ within that industry itself.

With smaller teams than you would typically have in practice, you will likely find that your responsibilities are much broader. And with the potential to have genuine influence when it comes to the direction of the business – helping to steer decisions with regards growth, diversification and expansion – there is also the potential to influence your salary.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that the opportunity presented by industry may also bring with it stronger personalities. You may find yourself dealing directly with a particularly opinionated CEO, for example, or a very forceful managing director.

Navigating such politics can prove frustrating, and whilst some will thrive under the pressure, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. If you do decide – following a misguided stint in industry – that professional practice was where you wanted to be after all, you would most likely have a few gaps to fill in order to catch up with changes in the profession.

And whilst getting yourself back up to speed is by no means an unsurmountable task, you may find that it sets you back a year or so on your journey.

Ultimately, no matter where you end up you will inevitably face a series of challenges which you will have to overcome, and you will also have plentiful opportunity to make an impression and establish a name for yourself. We’re sure it won’t come as any surprise that those who do go on to perform and impress are highly sought after in both industry and practice.

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