Published December 6, 2023.

Accountants typically have two main sectors to choose from in their careers: working in an accounting firm or in industry. As someone entering the accounting workforce, it can be difficult to know which path to choose to kickstart your career. Overall, the day-to-day work would be quite similarbut there are nuances to each sector. In this article we discuss the details of both in an effort to help those starting out on their CPA journey decide which route to choose.

What is the difference between accounting practice and industry?

An accounting practice or firm is a business made up of a group of professionals that provide accounting and financial services to clients; be it other businesses or individuals. These services typically include tax preparation and filing, audits, bookkeeping, payroll, advisory services, and so on. An accounting firm is an external entity to their clients. Someone who works for an accounting firm is often called a Public Accountant.

On the other hand, an Industry Accountant, or CPA who works in industry, is an in-house professional who manages the accounting and finances within a company. They are an accounting function within a broader organization. Rather than outsourcing these services to a firm, the company hires an accounting professional to manage their money and reporting internally. Their responsibilities are quite like CPAs who work in public practice as they often include bookkeeping, financial reporting, cash flow management, payroll processing, tax reporting, audit management, and more.

The main differentiator is that public accountants tend to work with a variety of different clients and work across a broad range of industries, while a a CPA who works in industry deals with one company but can have a broader mandate of responsibilities.

Where should you start your career?

Traditionally, many Accountants tend to start their career in public accounting for experience and opportunity to work with other CPAs, and then consider moving A career that starts in public accounting can be a good way to expose yourself to an array of businesses and industries that might help inform your career at a later industry as a next career move. However, some prefer to go straight into industry as a step towards running their own business one day. If a CPA has a passion for a particular industry, say automotive or manufacturing, then going straight into industry could make a lot of sense.

Lifestyle might also be a consideration. As a general statement, CPAs working in industry may have the opportunity for better work-life balance compared to Public Accountants, but those working in industry might have a more lucrative compensation package.

Making the choice

All in all, making the decision between working for an accounting firm or in industry comes down to personal preferences, stage of life and career, and opportunities. If you have a keen interest in a particular industry or have always wanted to work for a certain company, then industry could make a lot of sense. Many believe that industry offers a more predictable schedule with less travel. If you’re looking to gain experience working with a number of different businesses, being surrounded by other CPAs, and having exposure to a variety of specialties, then working for a firm might be your best choice.

To make an informed decision, talk to other CPAs, and most importantly, be clear about your own goals and interests.

At AJAG, we offer CPD courses to help CPAs in all fields stay compliant with their annual requirements. We have several courses that we’ve identifed as being particularly relevant to those working in industry. You can find a list of those course recommendations HERE.