The changing role of an accountant in practice

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In recent years there has been a shift in traditional accountancy and private practice work to incorporate differing business needs. We look at the changing role of an accountant in practice and the different opportunities it provides.

One of the most noticeable recent trends in private practice has been for national firms to take on new recruits who possess a ‘non traditional’ practice background (both in terms of qualification and work history). An example of this could be a CIMA qualified individual with no prior practice experience being hired for a corporate finance role or a non-qualified accountant from the financial services sector being absorbed by a big four firm.

This trend is a direct upshot of two key developments in the sector.

Firstly, an increasing appetite among practice employers to take on individuals with broader advisory skills and the ability to see client issues and problems from a different angle.

Secondly, the growing ability and willingness of job seekers to market their skill sets effectively and outline how they compliment a firm’s existing service offering.

Business modelling, financial services advisory, technology risk, health care advisory and business transformation services lines all offer individuals with a ‘non traditional’ practice background a route into a highly rewarding career in private practice.

A shift in qualifications and experience

Among national and regional firms the qualification landscape for traditional service lines (Audit, Tax, TS, Lead Advisory) has not shifted significantly, yet we are seeing an increasing number of accountancy school leaver programmes (for example the fast track AAT/ATT).

These give individuals the chance to gain real practice experience on par with that of graduate trainees, swap the burden of student loans for a competitive salary and working towards a professional qualification.

Additional skills beneficial for qualified accountants

For qualified accountants looking to secure an advisory service line role, the need for a strong technical grounding is, to some extent, a given. What is becoming of greater importance however, is the ability to apply wider business skills (commercial awareness, leadership, inspiring others, influencing others) and - critically - evidence of business development.

In reality, while accountants are rarely able to offer up a list of fees generated personally, it is important to demonstrate a track record of adding value to the business. Driving new opportunities and generating income is more often than not based on personal referrals and introductions made on the quality of an individual’s work. If you’re an auditor, ask yourself whether you can demonstrate an ability to ‘go beyond’ merely presenting an audit file to your clients. It is these skills which will enhance your career in private practice and allow you to take on more advanced work in today's changing market.

Interested in a career in accounting? Search for your next job here. 

Or, find out what a career in accounting could be worth via our Salary Survey.

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