From working in a public practice (where you are exposed to a variety of businesses), to focusing specifically on the commercial sector (where you work for one business), there are many decisions to make – and of course it is better to understand the options available right from the outset, so you can choose where to focus.
Here we looking at the roles that you will generally find in a public practice. And if you’d like to know more about what it takes to stand out in a CA firm, check out our free infographic.
Most graduates and those new to accounting (exception of audit and forensic) will spend their first few years focusing on compliance-based work, as this provides a valuable framework around the day-to-day requirements a business has to adhere to when it comes to their accounts. Why? Because individuals, organisations have financial reporting standards and tax obligations that they are legally required to meet.
A good CA will be able to spot trends in numbers when doing compliance work, identify areas of weakness, and it also provides a solid grounding to be successful in tax and BAS roles.
Business Advisory Services (BAS)
A BAS accountant is someone who specialises in the area of Business Advisory. It involves dealing with different client’s businesses and providing advice around a variety of topics, for example; how they can run their business better, increased profitability, finding efficient operations opportunities, strategic planning, acquisition, growth potential, preparing for succession and negotiating complex agreements. Businesses want BAS accountants to help them grow, and keep them safe.
To be successful in a BAS role, accountants need to be confident, know their clients well, and possess the ability to see both big picture and detail when it comes to providing guidance, support and expert knowledge. It is probably one of the more exciting career path options for CA’s, because of the variety and specialisation opportunities.
Tax accountants have an indepth knowledge of applications for specific and unique transactions involving specific tax types. Often elements of this are done in a general CA role, but there is an opportunity to be a tax specialist to provide clients who require expert advice and capabilities – from minimising tax liability to ensuring a business is compliant.
In order to carry out their responsibilities, a tax accountant must understand, and keep up to date, with all government tax regulations and changes. A very good tax specialist will have a general knowledge of applicable laws as well. Tax underpins every business transaction and has a dedicated government watchdog (IRD), so there is a need to have a legal focus in skills/experience.
Tax is also fast becoming a strategic issue for business owners due to the pace of tax reform and the subsequent impact this is having on earnings and cash flows. Tax is now not only a corporate governance issue but also a reputational one. Recent tax cases around the implementation of business structures (e.g. Penny and Hooper) have proven one thing; tax cannot be considered in isolation anymore, it needs to be integrated into a business’s strategic decision making and specialist advice is required.
An auditor in public practice can work in a variety of different roles – from servicing the public to private sector, their job is to verify the authenticity of a business or organisation’s accounts vs compilation of accounts. This involves not only assessing the financial controls and procedures within an organisation, but also checking the financial records for accuracy and ensuring that the correct financial reporting standards have been followed
Extremely detail-orientated, an auditor needs to have an in depth understanding of end-to-end accounting practices as it is their responsibility to ensure of the financial data provided by an organisation is valid and true, which is required by law. If there are inaccuracies then it is the job of the auditor to find out if this is due to an error in the reporting, or sometimes, due to fraudulent behaviour.
Forensic accounting is a very specialised area of CA and requires a broad range of skills over all the facets of accounting, but with a particular focus on auditing and investigative ability.
Because a lot of the work of forensic accountants involves legal issues, they need to have a solid understanding of the law and be involved in court proceedings.
Understanding where you can go, and what it takes to get there, is extremely important for all of those wanting a career in accounting. This list is by no means exhaustive either, as depending on the type and size of firm you work for, and the responsibilities you have, you might find a niche particular to your industry, employer or field of work.