A career in chartered accountancy offers exciting and limitless opportunities, with a range of industries and sectors to work in. Whether you want to influence the strategy, direction and profitability of an organisation, or make a difference by ensuring your employer has the funds to deliver its charitable work, find out where a career in accountancy could take you.

Accountants can work in many areas of work which includes in the public sector, in commerce and tax as well as in charity and not-for-profit organisations.

Public practice

In public practice firms, accountants deal with their clients independently from their staff, this can include working in various services such as audit and assurance, tax advice, consultancy, risk management amongst others depending on the size and location of the accountancy practice. The Big Four accountancy firms (PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte) are included in public practice as well as other large international firms.

The majority of graduates entering the accountancy profession will go into public practice. In this article, we look at public practice accounting.

A public practice firm’s accountants deal with accounting and financial needs of a client whilst remaining independent from their staff. Accountancy practices vary in size, type and location as well as what services they offer, including:

  • Audit and assurance
  • Business advisory
  • Business recovery and insolvency
  • Consultancy
  • Corporate finance and risk management
  • Forensic accounting
  • Tax advice

Why work in public practice?

While public practice can be challenging, it can also present trainees with a wide variety of experiences working on multiple industries and providing a lot of flexibility. Public practice is often seen as a sector that can offer job security, as other sectors can be hit hard by recession, and there is also the chance to specialise in areas such as audit or consultancy in this area of accountancy.

Routes into public practice

There is a lot of variety for graduates entering this area of accountancy.

Large international firms sit within public practice, and include the “Big Four” accountancy firms – PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte. On the other end of the scale there are also smaller accountancy firms, known as small and medium enterprises (SME’s). They both have their benefits and their drawbacks, so be sure to do your research before you decide which firm is right for you.

Specific entry roles into public practice include Audit Trainee, Assurance Trainee and Financial Analyst.


Public practice can be challenging, but it does present trainees with a wide variety of experiences working in multiple industries


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Commerce and Industry

A growing number of graduates are beginning their accountancy careers in banks and businesses. Whether you work in a large global organisation or a small business, working in this sector means that you will experience the full process of financial management and reporting.

Typically, accountants working within financial services work in middle office banking roles such as monitoring trade activity but you will also develop an understanding of IT, marketing, sales and operations.

You will be working in a highly competitive environment at times, with rapidly-changing risks and constant demand for innovation. As your career progresses, you will become involved in making strategic decisions to drive the business forward, creating plans and leading change for business success.

Why work in commerce and industry?

Working in business and financial services allows you to make strategic decisions and work towards the growth of a company, which can offer a great deal of personal satisfaction. Many choose to work in commerce within an industry that they are particularly passionate about, such as media or technology.

Routes into commerce and industry

A common route into commerce and industry is to make the move once they have completed their training agreements. This can include major commercial companies, such as those in manufacturing, retail and telecoms industries, though many of these companies also offer ACA training through themselves. Financial services include global banks such as Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Macquarie, some of which will offer accountancy training.

Accountants are needed in all areas of industry to manage budgets, monitor the economic health of the company and to make important strategic decisions.

Accountants will often occupy the most senior positions in companies, all the way to chief executive.

Charity and not-for-profit

If you would like your skills to make a difference, then you may be looking at the charity and not-for-profit sector.

Accountants can also work in the charity and not-for-profit sector where they can manage budget and financial systems for a charity or even liaise with budget holders and trustees to manage the needs of the organisation. Those with accountancy backgrounds can also work for an auditing firms that specialise in the charity sector where they can deliver system reviews, consultancies and audit work for charity clients.

To work for charities and not-for-profit organisations, accountants in this area have the responsibility of managing scarce resources that the organisation has. This includes possibly working in a management accounting role, and liaising with trustees to manage the needs of the organisation. There is also the opportunity to possibly work in other areas such as for a charity specialist auditing firm; if you are interested in moving into other areas of accounting.

Organisations in this sector need to carefully manage scarce resources and accountants can get involved in a range of activities. This can include working for a charity in a management accounting role, managing budgets, financial systems and liaising with budget holders and trustees to manage the needs of the organisation. Or it could be working for a charity specialist auditing firm, delivering high quality audit work, systems reviews and consultancies into the needs of charity clients.

There are a range of opportunities for accountants in this sector, including working in a management accounting role, managing budgets and financial systems or liaising with budget holders and trustees to manage the needs of the organisation.

You could also work for an auditing firm that specialises in the charity sector, delivering high-quality audit work, systems reviews and consultancies into the needs for charity clients.

Why work in charity and not-for-profit?

There are many reasons why working in a charity or not-for-profit organisation can make for a rewarding and satisfying career.

This area of accountancy generally offers very gratifying work – knowing that you are helping an organisation that exists to make a positive difference in the world. This area of accountancy is also known to have a healthier work/life balance than other sectors.

Specialist qualifications

ICAEW offer a Diploma in Charity Accounting (DChA) – obtaining this demonstrates that you have the skills and knowledge to make a real difference to businesses in the charity and not-for-profit sector. The DChA can be obtained one of two ways, either through experience (for senior professionals with over three years charity accounting experience) or study (a classroom-based postgraduate diploma course). The ICAEW have a charity and voluntary sector group where you can find more information about the current challenges facing the industry.

Public sector

The public sector includes local and central government, charities and not-for-profit organisations. Examples include The National Audit Office, NHS and Department of Work and Pensions. Generally graduates entering public sector accounting study for the CIPFA qualification.

As well as training and working directly in the public sector, there are many opportunities with professional services firms to work within specialist public services practices, advising client organisations in the public sector.

Chartered Accountants in the public sector manage, distribute and invest finances in public services such as health, education, housing, emergency services and local authority services.

They are constantly challenged to reduce expenditure and improve efficiency to ensure value for money.

Accountants working in this field are also in charge of holding government departments to account by monitoring spending.

Working in this sector means that you will be responsible for making sure that public money is being spent properly for the benefit of the nation. And of course, you will be helping local communities and changing people’s lives while leading a successful and satisfying career.

Why work in the public sector?

There are a lot of benefits to working in the public sector, and many choose to develop their career in this area as it affords the opportunity to give something back to society.

If you work in the public sector, you will quickly develop commercial and decision-making skills as you allocate and monitor resources – helping you to see that they are effectively and efficiently employed to give value for money.

Many graduates look towards the public sector to develop their career because it provides the opportunity to give something back to society.

Working in the public sector can also provide a better work/life balance than in public practice or industry. Additional benefits, such as good pension schemes and longer holidays can make up for the lower pay packets that public sector accountants take home in comparison to their private sector contemporaries.

As well as training and working directly in the public sector, there are many opportunities with professional services firms to work within specialist public services practices, advising client organisations in the public sector.

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