A competent professional accountant in business is an invaluable asset to the company. These individuals employ an inquiring mind to their work founded on the basis of their knowledge of the company’s financials.
On the most basic level, accountants keep and inspect financial accounts for companies, government groups and individual clients. Accountancy professionals in business assist with corporate strategy, provide advice and help businesses to reduce costs, improve their top line and mitigate risks.
However, the role of an accountant is constantly evolving. A career trajectory in accounting can differ depending on whether you go into practice or industry and by which accounting qualification you pursue.
There are so many options and decisions to be taken along the way that will have a very real impact on your marketability in the future. It is imperative that you are aware of these options, whether you’re a recent graduate entering the accounting profession workforce for the first time, or you’re considering a career change.
I regularly meet well qualified accountants that have invested huge amounts of effort and money into their qualifications and experience. However, they are totally dumbfounded as to why their qualifications and experience do not seem to be recognised or desired by certain employers.
One can undergo an initial primary degree and then pursue a formal accountancy qualification or do the professional exams direct from leaving cert.. The four main professional bodies in Ireland are ACA (Institute of Chartered Accountants) ACCA ( Inst of Chartered Certified Accountants) CIMA (Chartered institute Of Management Accountants ) and CPA (Certified public Accountants). CIMA qualification is tailored specifically to industry. It is the only one of these qualifications where you can’t work as an independent auditor in practice. With the other three you can work in either practice or industry.
All four bodies/qualifications have their own merits and perceptions and what qualification you choose will have an effect on your career options.
One of the biggest decisions accounting graduates need to make is practice versus industry.
The course you choose will very much depend on a number of factors. You must have a clear understanding of your career aspirations, accounting preferences, academic achievements and opportunities available in both sectors.
At a Big Four firm such as KPMG or Ernst & Young, you would work as a staff auditor for a year or two and then move up to a senior-level auditing post, then manager, then senior manager and ultimately to partner level. You will be charged with reviewing and analysing the financial information of client companies for auditing, taxpaying, or advisory purposes. While many accounting trainees do work in audit, other options exist such as tax ,business advisory, insolvency forensic accounting etc…. Be conscious of which sector you choose and be conscious of your marketability if you choose to leave practice, as many recently qualified do. For example if you train in forensic accounting specialising in financial services in a big 4 you may not be the most suitable candidate for a financial analyst role in a medical device manufacturer.
Practice accounting jobs involve variety, long work hours and sometimes frequent travel. Public accountants need to be more flexible and prepared to sacrifice a lot of personal time in the first few years.
Industry accounting or corporate accounting jobs, on the other hand, tend to have a more consistent work schedule and better work-life balance.
In Ireland the main sectors for employment for accountants in industry are wide and varied but can be broadly categorised as ICT, Medical Device/Pharma Life Sciences, Shared Services, Financial Services, Construction, Public Sector, Food Processing, Retail & Hospitality and SME’s.
People who follow this accounting track typically seek additional education or credentials to boost them into a job as an assistant controller, then controller and eventually chief financial officer.
While it is important to have a good understanding at graduate level as to which path is right for you, and which option is better for your personality, you also must effectively address complexity in your chosen fields and industries and the need to stay up to date with emerging trends.
There is a perceived gap between the skills organisations need, and the skills both employees and external candidates hold. This problem is being compounded by supply shortages of professional accountants, and is most noticeable in relation to management and technical skills.
This talent gap in the accounting and finance sector is driving organisations to reconsider their hiring strategies and dedicate more resources to staff retention. Companies must act quickly to ensure that they have the proper steps in place to not only attract top talent, but also position all employees for long-term growth and success.
Due to increased business complexities and increased regulation, technically specialised finance roles are increasingly common, growing in importance and driving the need for technical skills.
If you want to be an accountant you need to know, it’s not all about crunching numbers.
Whether you are starting out in your accounting career or moving from one recognisable, defined career path to another, you need to ask yourself, ‘where do I want to be in ten years time’? A lot of accountants, once qualified, move within three years – the first role can determine what your second role will be, so it’s important you understand this at the beginning.
You need to have a plan, be self-aware – understand your likes and what is important to you at work, then you can match these needs with the correct sector.
Taking proactive steps and continuing building your professional skills and knowledge is a key way to increase your overall marketability in which ever sector you choose. Business skills are no longer desired but necessary. By developing a broad skill set, financial professionals will be better equipped to deal with the ever evolving role as an accountant.
Article by Brendan Long (Executive Search)
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