Transferable skills: practice to industry

content cat leap jump transferable skills

For many accountants, a career in practice is varied, challenging and rewarding. Practices can provide ongoing training and educational support, a clearly defined career path, opportunities for secondment in or out of the business, international travel and placements, a varied day-to-day job, interaction with all levels of seniority in the practice and at client businesses, good remuneration and job security.

But there are those who, having gained a strong base of knowledge and experience working in practice, desire a move into other sectors. ACCA’s Generation Next report, which surveyed 19,000 ACCA students and members under 36, found that this group are highly mobile, they expect to move roles often, they understand the value of international experience, and that a finance career can lead to a variety of paths, in and out of finance.

A platform of well used time spent working in an accountancy practice provides, according to these ACCA members and recruitment experts, a wealth of skills that transfer across sectors and can prepare you for a mobile career.

Practice to industry

Matilda Crossman FCCA is executive director of The ExP Group, a leading professional education technology company. She worked at PwC and Deloitte before moving into the education sector.

‘Working in an accountancy practice meant I gained a solid foundation for all my future business roles that led to transitioning successfully from a Big 4 practice to professional education and now into the technology field.

‘The range of skills from understanding annual reports, being able to challenge assumptions built in forecasts and how it all fits with the strategy of an organisation is second to none. Given the breadth of clients and diverse nature of work, I had a unique opportunity to apply the knowledge acquired by becoming professionally qualified with ACCA. Furthermore, the exposure to various clients from different business sectors and their specific risks made me a highly adaptable professional between different sectors.’

Amon Jiang FCCA, CFO at McCann Worldgroup; previously a senior and lead auditor in EY and Mazars in China, France and Singapore.

‘My experiences in audit helped a great deal. They have served as a strong base for moving to industry. Actually, I always tell young graduates to begin in audit whenever possible, whether to pursue a career in audit or commercial finance, the experiences in an audit firm never go to waste.

1) External audit. This is where I quickly gained a comprehensive practical knowledge of accounting, tax, reporting, analysis etc. These are all part of the day-to-day job in industry.

2) Internal audit. This helped me to understand internal controls, risk and fraud management, business operation models etc. When you move to a senior position in finance and work as a finance business partner, these experiences and knowledge are very valuable, as they can help us to manage the business from a broader viewpoint, not only from a finance perspective. Recently, in my role as one of the management team for group business reshaping, my experience in internal audit contributed greatly.’ 

Big 4 partner to practice owner

Alastair Barlow FCCA is cofounder of accounting practice flinder and fashion brand Staag. Previously he worked as a senior Financepartner for PwC.

‘I owe 99% of my experience in the Big 4 to where I am now, especially in terms of the business and leadership skills I learnt. I had a huge network of people, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by all these entrepreneurs who had started really exciting businesses. I saw the good and bad of what they did, which helped me form an opinion on how to approach my entrepreneurial enterprises.

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‘Within the Big 4, leadership is really important. Being in the Big 4 you get to see how people work in different teams and departments; essentially at PwC there 850 mini CEOs (partners) all with different leadership styles and techniques for winning work, talking to clients. To be able to take the best bits and forming them into my own personal leadership style and technique has been really valuable.’

How do you know you’re ready to move?

Matilda Crossman FCCA

‘Whilst working for the Big 4 I was fortunate to travel internationally. A trip to Sub-Saharan Africa changed my life. I had the opportunity to teach accounting to a group of ACCA students and they told me how accessing education impacts their lives. That was the trigger when I strongly felt that I could use all my skills to share my knowledge, leverage technology and reach out to as many people as possible, particularly in developing markets and help them change their life and secure a safe financial future for themselves, their families and communities they live in.’

Andy Young is associate director of accountancy finance recruitment at Investigo 

‘The challenge in moving from practice to industry is a big one for most accountants. Going from an advisory role to a hands on role is a big step. FTSE companies tend to lean towards candidates from the Big 4 as their advisory experience is often with large organisations. This is often due to the technical issues faced, international exposure and matrix complexities that arise from the larger FTSE organisations. Similarly, candidates training within the mid-tier organisations will have different experiences, with more 'hands on' accounting. This skill is often highly preferred for businesses ranging from small-mid sized as the learning curve will be greatly reduced.

‘Candidates who want to work in 'commercial finance' and have very high levels of emotional intelligence/presenting skills often do best for these types of roles, as clients feel comfortable for them to communicate effectively with the business outside of a pure finance environment. So to stand out from your practice peers looking to move into industry, highlight achievements gained at clients or inter-peer comparisons. Also secondments to different departments throughout your training contract shows diversity and ambition. Once you have your first role in commercial finance, the next are generally easier to get.’

Josh Rufus is manager in public practice recruitment at Morgan McKinley.

‘If you have a desire to move outside of practice, there are things you can be doing to prepare yourself and make yourself attractive to other employers. You can upskill in your current role, or learn about skills that you can acquire and are transferable to other vocations within finance. I would suggest that if you are at part qualified ACCA level, within a practice firm you will be working alongside specialists from other parts of the business, working within the public, commerce or the NGO space. Naturally, you will have exposure to their roles and have the opportunity to learn firsthand what skills are sought after within that specific area.’

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