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“I Want a Commercial Role - 2016”

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Last September The Consultancy Group posted a blog discussing the career choices that Newly-Qualified ACA candidates have available to them as they look to take their first move into industry. We discussed how after three years of hard work, study and on the job training, many are looking to leave External Audit behind and venture into commerce. As Newly-Qualified ACA’s there are a number of different routes that can be taken as we discussed in Group Accountant, Financial Accountant, Management Accountant, Financial Planning and Analysis or perhaps a Commercial Analyst position. Whatever decision is taken at this point will invariably affect career choices and their chosen career path later down the line.

In our blog “I want a commercial role” we mentioned how many ACA 0-1 Year Post-Qualified candidates have their ambitions set on a ‘commercial role’ within industry. Commercial is a word open to interpretation but what most will mean by this is a role that will offer the real ‘value add’ piece to a business; or in other words as little financial reporting as possible. A position where they can take the information prepared by the Financial, Management or Group Accountants and conduct analysis on the numbers which they can then translate into valued information that can add value to the top and bottom line.

The reality is however that although this is the sought after route desired by many ACA’s looking to make their first move into Commerce, many become frustrated as the only opportunities they hear about from Recruiters and In-House Talent Managers are too ‘Reporting Focussed’.  The degree of Reporting does of course vary depending on whether these roles are Statutory Reporting, a Financial or Management Accountant position or a Financial Planning and Analysis role. The true ‘commercial roles’ are available to these individuals but they are in the minority at this stage of their career and the route to these is often through the aforementioned Statutory or Financial Reporting roles. One newly appointed Retail Finance Director (herself an ACA Qualified) recently said to me “When you leave Practice you really have no idea what a commercial role is”. Her point being that it is only until you have progressed through a few roles in Industry that you start to get a greater understanding of how a Finance Function really works within a company.

The most important thing a newly qualified ACA should consider at this stage of their career is what they want to achieve later down the line. Most Finance Directors and Commercial Leads in any organisation will have at some point been in a position where they have been responsible for preparing Financial Statements including balance sheet, income and cash flow statements. Most will have proven experience of preparing accounts that accurately show the trading results and financial position of each company within a group or been able to provide an accurate picture of its financial positon and performance. They will have consciously chosen a role that will give them the experience and ability to encapsulate the company’s operating performance over a particular period and the financial position at a point in time by using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Most will have chosen these roles earlier in their career, got the ‘box ticked’ in a 12-24-month period and moved onto what they really wanted to do – the Commercial role. It is these guys that have taken these choices when leaving practice that more often than not will achieve the big Commercial roles, the Finance Director and CFO positions and increasingly the CEO mandate. 

We do meet many Finance Professionals who are ACA Qualified and have enjoyed a very successful career to date in truly commercial roles and have to date managed to avoid ‘Reporting roles’. Now they are 6-10 year post-qualified they feel ready to assume their first Finance Director role. If they have not ticked the ‘Reporting’ box however earlier on their career they may find themselves disadvantaged compared to other candidates with this skill set who are also competing for these positions. There are exceptions of course and there is a lot to be said for delegation and hiring the right skill set beneath you.

The real question to ask as an ACA looking to make the first move into industry is what do you need to do to reach your end goal? It is then making sure you have the self-awareness to achieve it. If this is a Senior Leadership role in either a Blue-Chip or a SME then at some point evidence of producing statutory accounts and financial statements could give you a competitive edge.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues discussed above, then please do contact me on