Article 001 | Practice or industry?

Ref: 4 Date Posted: Tuesday 17 Nov 2020

Prior to the recent downturn in the oil and gas industry and the problems we are all facing due to Covid-19, moving from a role in practice was a relatively straight forward decision to make. Accountants from newly qualified up to Manager and Senior Manager level would regularly contact me with a pretty simple remit – to find a company who could provide first class career development oppotunities, interesting work, and a stimulating environment. Somewhere they could, all going to plan, get promoted every couple of years whilst significantly increasing their earning potential.  

In addition, people tended to look for a better work life balance (perhaps throw in a nine day fortnight or flexible working), large bonus targets, pension contributions over 20%, LTIPs (Long Term Incentive Plans) and a variety of add on benefits including gym memberships, shopping vouchers and even creche facilities.  

And let us not forget commanding a monthly paycheck anywhere from 5-30% more than their current role in practice. 

Fast forward to the present day and things looks a little different.  

The landscape in Aberdeen for accountants considering moving into industry has changed significantly so let us examine where we currently are. 

  • Job security: During the boom years this was never really a consideration. Industry was seen as safe as the accountancy profession, and if the worst did happen, there were always other companies looking to hire. With the changing landscape of the oil industry and the increasing need for cost reduction, this is no longer the case
  • Progression: Overall, the size of most finance departments in Aberdeen have shrunk since 2014. Gone are the days where we see 40-50 Accounts Payable Assistants or large finance business partnering teams. These have all gone East to lower cost countries. This can have a knock on effect of limiting future scope for progression with each company 
  • Salaries: Accountancy firms in Aberdeen now pay far closer to industry rates than they did previously. Some even pay more
  • Benefits package: It’s wrong to think that all the fantastic benefits offered in industry, in particular with E&P, have disappeared. Compared to other sectors packages are very competitive. However, there has been a distinct sharpening of the pencil across the sector
  • Generational mindset: This is definitely a new phenomenon which I only really started to see from 2014 onwards. Millennials are generally wanting more from their careers. More of a sense of purpose and a deep social responsibility. It can be argued that the oil industry hasn’t been the biggest proponent of these

Factor in the above, and it becomes apparent that in 2020 it’s not as clear cut as it might have been to leave the comparative safety of an accounting firm. In the main, firms offer unrivalled training, linear career development, regular salary reviews, and competitive salaries and benefits.  

However, it’s important to put everything into context and perspective. Salaries in Aberdeen are significantly above the mean average for the UK and unemployment rates remain low, although there will be pain ahead over the coming months as furlough is withdrawn.   

Industry roles offer the following benefits: 

  • Ownership of work: Instead of managing several clients at the same time all your attention will be focused towards the company you’re working for. This can significantly increase feelings of ownership and job satisfaction. 
  • Strong financial packages: Let’s not be mistaken - jobs in industry still generally pay very well and benefits packages in some sectors remain very attractive 
  • Far more stable and secure than you might think: In my experience, very few recently qualified accountants in Aberdeen who move into industry are put at risk. Generally, cost reductions tend to affect more experienced workers who are a higher cost to their employer.  
  • Ability to progress faster: Although progression may not be as linear, this has the added advantage that it can be far quicker. Can you become a Finance Director five years after leaving practice? With the right attitude, absolutely.  

In summary, there is no right or wrong thing to do – it’s a deeply personal choice that needs to be weighed up after factoring in the above, and more. The key is to ask the right questions and to do your necessary diligence.  

You will never be a 100% certain if it’s right to leave or to stay so my advice is always this. No decision is ever terminal. Move to industry and it doesn’t work out? You can always move back to practice.  

During the past 14 years we have helped hundreds of accountants who have recently qualified through ICAS, ACCA and CIMA. By speaking to us you do not have to have a CV prepared nor do you need to be actively looking. We will provide you with the advice and guidance you need to make an informed choice. Contact Andrew by emailing in confidence.