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Should you be an accountant in practice or industry?

  • Article
Hands on a spreadsheet

It’s the eternal accountant’s dilemma - to go into practice or industry - but which is the right career path for you? Let us explain the difference to help you decide.

What is working in practice?

Working in practice offers you the opportunity to work with clients from a range of industries, allowing you to hone your technical skills while being exposed to a variety of industry sectors. Industries range from tech to financial services, and could be in the audit, taxation or advisory service lines.

Practice roles tend to be more varied than roles in industry as you engage with multiple clients with different requirements, business practices, and methods of engagement.

You can expect to deal with a variety of clients across industry sectors, dependent on the size of the business you work in.

What is working in industry?

Working in industry means that you work for one business. Accountants working in industry often focus on the economics within a business including cash flow, cost control and budgeting. You may work in specialised areas such as financial accounting, management and cost accounting, and treasury management.

If you decide to move from practice to industry you’ll have more opportunity to use your skill set in a very different environment. You’ll be able to focus on the specific needs and requirements of the business you work in, rather than across many business clients.

In-house accountancy allows you to focus on a core area of the finance function where you can add real value to a company’s processes. You’ll also potentially provide key commercial insight into the strategic direction of the business.

Which one should you choose?

It’s entirely up to you but you should ask yourself some questions to help you decide. For example, do you like variety? Practice may suit you best as you’ll have a range of different clients with varying needs.

Or do you want designated salary bands, career progression within a firm, and the buck stopping with you? Then industry may be the way forward.

But there’s nothing stopping you from trying one and then the other. All experience is worthwhile, and you’ll quickly realise which one suits you best. It’s probably easier to move from practice to industry, rather than the other way around, but if you make sure to keep up with changes in accountancy and software, it won’t be too difficult to move the other way too.

What salary can you expect in practice vs. industry?

There’s not a huge difference, but in practice you can take on as many clients as you can cope with - we don’t recommend overloading yourself, but the more clients you have, the more you can earn.

In Accountancy Age’s most recent salary survey*, industry has a slightly higher average annual salary at £65,886 compared to practice’s £61,574. Many things have been taken into account with these averages though so do take them with a pinch of salt.

Final thoughts

No matter which one you choose, a career in accountancy is always going to be a good option. If you’re thinking about starting out, or you’re looking to progress your career, have a look at our AAT, ACCA, or CIMA pages for more information.