If you are a newly qualified ACA, you could soon reach an interesting career crossroads. While it’s a positive dilemma to have, it can also be a minefield when it comes to choosing which direction to take. So how exactly do you make the right move from practice into the commercial arena?
Due to the seemingly endless number of options available to you, it’s crucial that you consider every element of your move before you begin the process. This is often best achieved in partnership with a specialist recruiter who can work with you to understand your career ambitions as well as guide you into the market. A good recruiter will understand the different roles open to you; have the inside track on companies of different size and culture; and have relationships with several relevant line managers.
Firstly, you need to focus on the role. If you have a long-term goal, then there may be an obvious route for you, but the most common positions to consider are:
A Group Accountant role offers a top down view of how the business operates; sitting within the Group function allows a greater overview of how the business works. These roles also offer plenty of opportunity to interact with individuals at a senior level.
A Financial Accountant role has a more technically orientated slant. These roles are perfect for someone looking to adapt and apply their technical experience gained in practice within the commerce and industry environment. These roles are a stepping stone to a Financial Controller position.
The role of a Management Accountant sits within the head office finance team and provides the financial information that will ultimately be used by senior members to make decisions.
Financial Planning & Analysis
Financial Planning & Analysis is for the more commercially minded. An FP&A Analyst scrutinises the company’s finances looking for data anomalies, trends and deviations. This can then be used to introduce strategy for improvement and change.
Next, it’s important to consider the company itself. Leaving practice for industry means a change of sector - from commerce to charities, industry and government - usually size too and definitely culture. Consider whether you want to be part of taking a start-up forward or helping to grow an SME to the next level. Perhaps the security of a larger, more established business would suit you, but will you play a lesser role in a significantly larger finance team?
Every business has its own unique corporate culture and working practices, so it’s vital to know what is important to you beyond physical location. Coming from the collegiate atmosphere of practice where you have been working and training alongside similarly qualified people, the step into commerce can be daunting – you may for example be the only qualified accountant there! You will get a feel of the culture from any visit or interview, but do your research and speak to your recruitment consultant about your target company. If career progression is paramount, then look at the business’s recent track record and its short-term future plans to see how this might play out for you. If work/life balance is a factor, then find out all you can about the environment and expectations.
It is also very important to consider the influence of the senior members of the team. Much of your immediate future, from the corporate culture to your next move, will stem from the management team, so research your prospective line manager’s background as much as you can. You will be working for and learning from them, therefore you should know that they will impart the knowledge and working standards you wish to learn.
Leaving practice for a role in commerce is a major step and isn’t for everyone, but recent figures show that almost half of chartered accountants and auditors prefer to work in-house than in practice, so remember, as well as all the above, you’ve also got some serious competition to contend with!