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ACA Qualified - Where Next?

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ACA qualified – Where to next?

The Consultancy Group have posted numerous blogs on topical subjects within the market, aimed to guide or provide advice to those either actively or passively considering opportunities in the market. We thought it an apt time to address a frequently asked question at the moment. 

With numerous individuals across the market now qualifying and completing their ACA training contract it is commonplace for these individuals to come to somewhat of a crossroads when deciding what they want to do next. Whether you are qualifying from a smaller firm with only a few partners up to the likes of the Big 4, the challenges/questions remain the same. You are at a unique point in your Accounting career and the decisions you make now will no doubt have an impact on the career path you choose to travel.

Firstly, the ACA is a great qualification for anyone planning to have a career in a finance related industry or a business role with a financial / quantitative focus (Something with P&L responsibility). The real question is how you get to your end goal. For some, this will be to pursue Partnership in their current firm, for others you may have aspirations to become the CFO of a listed business. Some will pursue a different route to understanding how businesses work and hence enabling them to build a business for themselves with better financial rigour, and better aligned strategic objectives.

For the most part however, the sole reason for considering this move will be to explore other avenues outside of External Audit. The benefit of achieving the ACA qualification within practice enables those involved in the training programme to get insight into the internal workings of how a business conducts its finances. However, upon qualification many want to capitalise on this insight to gain true understanding of how that company changes and evolves through time. For most this is the true draw, understanding a business and making an impact, and for many the lure of industry calls.

Now, when making your first move into industry you may wonder what industries and opportunities may be best suited to you. From Investment Management through to Retail Finance you will find a broad array of opportunities on the market. I will focus on Commerce & Industry, given this is our core specialism and I have detailed your potential routes below.

Group Accountant - In this role you will typically have some quick exposure to senior individuals across the business, whether this is In-country FDs and FCs or perhaps Divisional Finance Directors/Heads of. You will be involved in providing the consolidated information for the business which will be of keen interest to the board. Group roles can range from being the centre of excellence for technical accounting, producing statutory accounts through to Group Financial Analysis and Planning.

Financial Accountant - This will involve statutory reporting, preparing full sets of accounts, balance sheet, profit and loss and cashflow, balance sheet reconciliations, compliance and reporting. This can provide a great opportunity to get into an industry that excites you. Some feel that they may have specialised for three years and do not want to continue doing a similar role. However, these roles provide the opportunity to gain knowledge of the organisation quickly whilst your core responsibilities may be more familiar to you. Some businesses will offer this to you as a 12-18 month option to gain knowledge before moving on to broaden your experience in other divisions/disciplines.

Management Accountant - Broadly speaking we are now into the more forward looking roles and you will likely be up against those that have qualified in industry through industry programmes such as the CIMA qualification.  Your experience may enable you to bring an interesting perspective to a commercial role and some of the larger organisations will have the time and resource to make sure you receive the proper guidance and training to help you reach your full potential. In this role you will be exposed to Budgeting and Forecasting, Management Accounts, Variance Analysis and Month-end P&L.

Financial Analyst – Diving further into the commercials, this role is the least business critical so there tend to be fewer of these roles and they are generally the most competitive. In these roles you will typically be involved in partnering closely with your non finance counterparts from your supporting divisions (Sales & Marketing for example). You will likely be more involved in the allocation of resource or the potential weighting of investment in order to either generate more revenue or reduce cost. You will do this through P&L Analysis, Variance Analysis, Profitability Analysis and Market/Competitor Analysis.

You will need to be realistic with your expectations as it is not always possible to walk into a commercially driven, strategic position straight away. Whilst these can sometimes be quite attractive roles to many, some organisations may require you to have some more industry experience before entering into these roles. It is hugely beneficial to spend time investigating the progression opportunities available within certain organisations as talent/succession planning is vital to their success as an organisation. They need to inspire those of you joining the business to have broad varied and fulfilling careers and so often there will be opportunities to move between all of the above disciplines, if the organisation is big enough to permit this. By moving to a smaller organisation you will get to combine these positions and broaden your span of control.

If you are looking to be a Finance Director or CFO in the future, then you will need to build experience in all of the aforementioned positions in order to achieve this. For most, the ultimatum is deciding what best suits you for your first move to industry. No doubt there will be other factors that come into play such as the company brand, location, size of organisation and financial remuneration and it is wise to weigh this all up when considering your first move.

What motivates you?

You may prefer the size and scale of a FTSE corporate, or the challenge of working in a growing SME.

You may enjoy diving into detailed numbers, being recognised as a specialist or having a broader role that spans the whole business.

What do I do next?

Ensuring your CV is up to date, effectively demonstrates your skills and experience and is tailored to the role and industry for which you are applying is key.

Your skillset is in demand in the current market so if you feel like you would like advice on completing your CV or you would like to discuss the opportunities available to you then please contact me on or call us on 02075628947

Or, have a read of our other blogs, browse our jobs or register with us.

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