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Moving from practice to industry

Advice for accountant considering first time move to industry

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I currently work in practice, AAT/ACCA qualified, with 15 years experience.  My role consists of preparing accounts, management accounts, VAT returns, etc. for my own portfolio of clients. 

 

I feel that I have taken the role as far as I can, the only progression possible would be to become a partner, which I wouldn’t want, even if a position was available. In recent months I have become very demotivated and feel unchallenged in my current role. 

 

Our practice is still working from home, and the partners have done very little to motivate or support their staff since this arrangement started in March 2020. 

 

I have recently been giving serious consideration to moving into an industry role as a financial accountant/management accountant or similar position. I feel that I would be suited to this kind of role as I prefer working with our bigger clients who require regular contact, management accounts, etc. as opposed to the clients who only contact you once a year when their accounts are due! 

 

Having spoken to a number of recruiters, I am getting a difference in opinion, and was wondering if anyone on here has made a similar transition. 

 

A couple of recruiters have suggested that I maybe in the wrong practice, and that moving to a bigger firm may be what I need. They also have concerns that I may miss the variety of dealing with different clients on a daily basis. 

 

Others have commented that unless I’m looking for progression within practice, then there is no point in moving from practice to practice. The job roles would be similar regardless of where I work. 

 

I personally tend to agree with the latter opinion as I don’t really want to move to another practice. 

 

I’m under no illusion that this is going to be easy, and I am prepared that it may take a while to find something suitable. 

 

If anyone has any comments, advice or experience of being in this situation it would be gratefully received. 

 

Thank you for reading this and in advance of any comments received. 

 

Replies (19)

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By paul.benny
24th Sep 2021 06:48

You've quoted recruiters with opposing views about moving to another practice and said you favour one position. That's exhibiting confirmation bias - ie agreeing with the one whose views are closest to your own. They're *both* valid points.

WFH can certainly be lonely and isolated. You criticise the partners and that may well be justified. But what have you done? How much do you chat with colleagues (phone/Teams)? Even if you never see them outside the office, the social dimension of a workplace is important. Many people value the buffer between home and work provided by the commute. And the change of scene. And the other places around the office. Have you been missing all those things - and is that what's behind your dissatisfaction?

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By Dash76
24th Sep 2021 09:23

paul.benny wrote:

You've quoted recruiters with opposing views about moving to another practice and said you favour one position. That's exhibiting confirmation bias - ie agreeing with the one whose views are closest to your own. They're *both* valid points.

WFH can certainly be lonely and isolated. You criticise the partners and that may well be justified. But what have you done? How much do you chat with colleagues (phone/Teams)? Even if you never see them outside the office, the social dimension of a workplace is important. Many people value the buffer between home and work provided by the commute. And the change of scene. And the other places around the office. Have you been missing all those things - and is that what's behind your dissatisfaction?

Thanks for the replies so far.

Yes, I agree that all the recruiters comments are valid, and the lack of variety is something that had crossed my mind before they mentioned it.

I just feel that they are dismissing my opinions - I’ve told them I wouldn’t be interested in a practice role at the moment, but they keep calling me to let me know of new practice jobs that are available.

Our team is in regular contact with each other - phone calls, zoom, etc. We set up a WhatsApp group chat at the start of lockdown and where restrictions have allowed some of us have met face to face so I don’t think it’s the social interaction that I’m missing.

One thing that WFH has highlighted for me though is how stagnant the practice has become - no new business is coming in, but like most people, WFH has improved productivity. This often means that we don’t always have work available for everyone. I think this is one of the key underlying reasons for how I feel at the moment.

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By RobbieT
24th Sep 2021 09:30

Have you considered setting out on your own? I did 5 years ago and I find it is much more fulfilling than working for "the man."
You work you own hours (spoiler alert: probably all of them) and you have a great contact with your clients, forging long-lasting relationships with the ability to pivot into whatever services you can identify a need.
You obviously have the accounting skills, and unless you were micro-managed then you likely have all the time-management and business-management skills to run your own shop, and can really add value to the adviser/client proposition.
There is no getting away from the responsibility you'll be taking on, and the many hats you'll have to wear, but with the right tech stack and the right clients, it is very rewarding. I wouldn't go back now for £150k

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Replying to RobbieT:
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By Dash76
24th Sep 2021 09:49

It is something I have considered but I wouldn’t have the confidence to do it.

I don’t enjoy the advisory side of the role, which is one of the reasons I think I’ve reached my peak within my current role.

I’ve witnessed meetings and conversations that the partners have had with clients in the past and it’s not something I would feel comfortable doing.

I’m happy to work with the partners if they need assistance - researching, etc and then presenting my findings to them and having a discussion. I just struggle to have the same kind of discussions with clients.

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Replying to Dash76:
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By RobbieT
24th Sep 2021 11:17

They say 'know thyself' - and if it's not for you then fair enough.
That said, there are many people who have similar reservations but just crack on. A solid agenda, prep the hell out of it, steer the meeting down the line you've prepared, and if anything arises that you don't feel confident advising off the cuff then you just say you'll get back to them with that.
Once you've run a few of these - and there can be a "fake it 'til you make it" element to start with - that feeling does fall away. For what it's worth, if you only take on clients you'd be happy socialising with and only work in sectors you have expertise in then meetings end up being a lot more fun.

Obviously it would be unethical of me to steer you down a route you aren't comfortable with, but a solid review of your objections may reveal a path you had previously swerved.

Either way, good luck with your hunt, and always consider your plan B!

Thanks (3)
Replying to Dash76:
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
28th Sep 2021 18:01

I moved the other way about 5 years ago, from a FC role to a sole practitioner.

Just a word of warning, in industry you still have an advisory role, you have just swapped clients for directors/ senior managers, who'll still ignore you and do their own thing and expect you to sort it out afterwards.

Also there are still deadlines - e.g. full management accounts in 2 working days. You get very good at estimating accruals as you don't get time to wait for the true numbers to come in.

Also you'll really have to like budgets & forecasts, building them, explaining them, and then explaining why life is different to the directors' favourite budget version.

Good luck!

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Brainy Smurf
By R5P
24th Sep 2021 12:00

Like you I qualified and worked in professional practice for 15 years before making the jump to industry. I found many recruiters couldn’t understand why I wanted to move as I had a partnership offer on the table, but I personally got fed up with advising clients on the best course of action, only for them to ignore the advice and then expect me to sort out the mess. Not to mention the sizeable amount of debt I would have needed to take on to buy myself in to the partnership.

Ultimately it took me 2 years to find the right role as I wanted to go in as an FC in a sector I had a passion for and I was competing against other people who had qualified within industry and come up through the ranks, MA, FA, FM etc. Fast forward 8 years I’m an FD with the same business and a whole team working for me. Again, my own opinion is that it’s a much for rewarding career path as you get to see a business grow and develop through your direct contribution.

If this is the path you want to go down do not give up and the best advice I can give is make your CV as commercial as possible and highlight any transferrable skills (for example being trained in practice will give you a better level of tax knowledge so use this to highlight how this would help potential employers). Also ensure you have a good level of excel skills (particularly if you want an MA role).

If you make the move, it will be a steep learning curve so be prepared for that. Depending on what size business you end up working for you could end up getting involved in lots of ‘non accounting’ area such as HR, IT, insurance to name a few. The smaller the business the more you will be expected to deal with things now one else wants to!

Good luck

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Replying to R5P:
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By Dash76
24th Sep 2021 13:49

Thanks RSP, it’s good to hear a success story!

I had considered the Excel issue, even though I use it all of the time, it’s really only for basic working papers.

Many job adverts seem to insist on advanced excel skills, so I have enrolled on a course to help improve my knowledge.

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Replying to Dash76:
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By spilly
26th Sep 2021 09:06

Advanced Excel skills seem to be requested for all industry positions now, regardless of whether they are really needed. I think it’s something the agencies suggest adding to make it easier for them to sort out serious applicants.
But who knows, you may actually have to produce pivot tables et al, so it’s great that you are going ahead with an Excel course.
I’ve been back and forwards between practice and industry a few times; love the variety of practice, but also love the reduced deadline pressure in industry.

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By tom123
28th Sep 2021 20:06

Great to see that you are thinking about swapping sides, @Dash76.

Personally I love 'industry' and have never worked in practice. I am one month in to a public sector CFO role - first public sector job.

However, this one feels very much like an SME post - I am quickly reminding myself about what I knew about building projects from a couple of jobs back.

A lot of folk assume, prior to making this change, that the other side (whichever way they are planning to move) is somehow deadline and stress free.

That will not be the case.

Financial Reporting Standards less essential day to day - although you will be using them at least once a year.

Data handling will probably form a lot of what you do - so do brush up on those Excel skills. Be aware of the different types of software out there.

Good luck!

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Routemaster image
By tom123
28th Sep 2021 20:06

Great to see that you are thinking about swapping sides, @Dash76.

Personally I love 'industry' and have never worked in practice. I am one month in to a public sector CFO role - first public sector job.

However, this one feels very much like an SME post - I am quickly reminding myself about what I knew about building projects from a couple of jobs back.

A lot of folk assume, prior to making this change, that the other side (whichever way they are planning to move) is somehow deadline and stress free.

That will not be the case.

Financial Reporting Standards less essential day to day - although you will be using them at least once a year.

Data handling will probably form a lot of what you do - so do brush up on those Excel skills. Be aware of the different types of software out there.

Good luck!

Thanks (1)
paddle steamer
By DJKL
29th Sep 2021 01:05

In my case they are very different, practice being mainly accounts and tax , supervision of others, reviewing working papers, client meetings etc, industry for me has always been far wider in scope such that accounts are something I now do on odd days and tax is a little compliance every year but a great deal of forward planning re projects and their tax planning, plus of course sweet talking banks, HR, legal matters and just general admin.

What I find is I whilst I miss practice a little when like now not working in practice I know I would miss working for my employers even more, there is immense satisfaction starting with say a new project/business, working through planning, sorting funding/finance, managing through debt repayment , moving the business/project into profit and getting to the far side with a self supporting business that generates profits year after year that started say 16 years ago as merely an idea and which you now feel you have ownership over its gestation.

Now I am lucky or unlucky, these days I have a lot of autonomy, my suggestions usually get followed (certainly more than back when I started with them in the late 90s) and we are small so I pretty much have direct control of all transactions, from entering into leases to all accounting transactions that thereafter follow.

Practice to me is mainly a hamster wheel with odd diversions, if I did bespoke tax consultancy/planning I might feel different (I am not smart enough to ply that as my trade) but small client practice in my experience is difficult to maintain long term enthusiasm for, there are just not enough new things for me to be wholly satisfied.

But we are all different in our preferences and my employers are particularly laid back and appreciative which makes working for them pretty good fun. (Not that I see much of them these days anyway, both being well into their 70s they tend not to come in to the office that often these days)

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By Dash76
03rd Oct 2021 14:21

Sorry, I’ve not been in this thread for a few days.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the effort to provide such detailed responses which have helped.

The more I hear about industry, the more it appeals to me. I certainly agree with DJKL’s comments above about small practice firms.

Thanks again everyone.

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By steve.oldham
07th Oct 2021 10:25

Do it! What's the worst that can happen? If you don't like it, you can move back. I moved from a small practice into an industry role after 12 years and personally have never looked back.

To ease the transition, it's worth considering your own client base. Do any of them have a potential opportunity for you?

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By Andrew Griffin
07th Oct 2021 10:55

Go for it. I am retired now, but way back in 1982 at the age of 26, I took a strategic decision to leave practice (I was PA to partners in a 3-office rural practice) for a year or two to find out what working in industry was like.
I never went back, and thoroughly enjoyed making a real difference to the success of many businesses over the years. From engineering, manufacturing, retail, and financial services, to social housing and NHS, including more than 10 years as a business consultant on short-term assignments, I enjoyed the new challenges.
It’s not for all, but certainly worth trying.

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picture of a mushroom
By mushroom_dept
07th Oct 2021 11:25

I made that move in the mid-80s, before I had qualified, and changed Institute at the same time. From my audit experience I could see that I would rather be working with a particular company's finances rather than turning up once a year to tick and bash someone else's.
I still think I made the right decision back then although my subsequent career path could have been better, I feel - but that's a different issue!
Everything we do is becoming more regulated and you will find that complying with officialdom is still onerous in business, just as it is in practice. Industry certainly isn't a bed of roses but it is a different set of challlenges.
I think it very much depends on the individual.
I've been in SME's for the whole of my career and have found good Excel skills and a fundamental understanding of IT (my pre accounting interest was in electronic engineering) to be essential. Excel courses are ok, as far as they go but I think nothing can beat practical experience, an enquiring mind and a good search engine.

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By [email protected]
07th Oct 2021 14:15

I agree with BeachAccountancy

Deadlines for reporting can be very tight

If you like the forecasting and budgeting and generally getting involved in the running of the business then a role in Industry can be very rewarding (All reasons why i moved to industry)

While you do get a variety of clients in practice the work can be a bit of a treadmill. Its up to you to steer your career where you want it to go.
From your original post it appears that you've already made your decision.

In industry you are involved at the sharp end of the business, constantly working on something new, rather than 6 months or so after the event trying to audit the numbers (that no one particularly cares about 'cos they are concentrating on the now!)

Recruiters tend to be blinkered in their approach and put you in a certian box. you will need to talk to a number of recruiters before you find one that "Gets" what you are trying to do.

It is worth noting down what you like and what you don't like about your current role and what it is you want to get out of future roles. in the meantime, perhaps nudge your partners to give you more of the management accounting / managmeent consultancy work. this will allow you to "Dip your toes" before you make the jump.

Also "Industry" is a very broad spectrum. if there are certian types that you are particularly interested in then focus on those but doent get fixated on only working for a particular company or a particular size of company. small medioum and large all have their benefits and pitfalls.

Temping can be a useful way of trying out different sectors and differnt roles within industry. Back to the agency that "Gets" you...

If you do switch and find it's not for you, you can always go back into practice. All experience is good experience.

As for me..
Started in practice, AAT, CIMA, industry - 25 years mixed between perm and temp then started my own practice applying what I learned for the benefit of small industry. Have worked in everything from FMCG to Defence (except financial services)

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By alejandra
07th Oct 2021 14:20

Go for it! Your role sounds similar to what I used to do in practice (preparing accounts, management accounts, payroll and VAT returns for small clients). I got fed up with the timesheet culture and moved to industry 16 years ago. Since then I've had two great, varied roles and one very bad one which didn't last very long (very unpleasant boss). I wouldn't go back to practice in a million years.

Just make sure you find an interesting role, ideally where you are part of the management team and they actually listen to you. You can get involved in the strategy for the whole business which is very rewarding.

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