7 career paths for newly qualified accountants (2019)
If you are a newly-qualified accountant, now is a good time to take stock of your career options. It’s a natural juncture to look at your progress to date, and determine exactly what opportunities are available to you.
Being able to better map where these positions can lead to can make the decision-making process much more rewarding, and ultimately help set you on the right course with confidence.
First off, there can be ample opportunities internally, so whichever organisation you happen to be in always ensure you have exhausted any possible in-house
vacancies before seeking roles outside.
If you decide to look externally, then the good news is that there are a number of different routes available to you within Scotland’s financial sector.
Your skill set is in high demand, and highly transferable.
Over the last few months the accounting & finance market in Scotland has seen a surge in demand for recently qualified professionals.
Whatever path you choose to follow, there are several different factors to consider when choosing your next role:
- Industry sector
- Company culture
- Work-life balance
- Job level
- Career progression potential
Below is a broad overview of some of the options available to you.
If you have trained within a practice firm you may look to progress to manager, or indeed the longer term goal of partner.
If you have qualified with a small to medium-sized practice, you may wish to consider moving into one of the ‘Big Four’ practice firms.
This will help further develop your financial services and asset management client experience.
This route increases your exposure to FTSE 500 firms, which can lead to a smoother transition into larger listed businesses.
On top of the accounts preparation expertise you can gain in small to medium-sized practice firms, experience of the ‘Big Four’ can help develop your coaching and leadership skills, as you will have responsibility for leading bigger teams.
You will also develop asset management experience through your clients, and may have the chance to get involved in more specialist CASS or SOX projects.
This can include financial and management accounting and finance analyst roles.
Historically, newly-qualified public practice accountants have been highly sought after for group accounting roles.
If you are from a small to medium-sized practice you will probably have hands-on accounting experience across a broad range of activities:
- Taking ownership for a set of client accounts
- Preparing the accounts and statutory financial statements
- Completing management accounts on a monthly/quarterly basis
- Producing journal entries and reconciling balance sheet items on a daily basis
- Preparing cash flow forecasts
- Completing Corporation Tax returns and Income Tax returns
If you are from the ‘Big Four’ and have had access to finance and asset management clients, you may have developed IFRS reporting standards, on top of UK GAPP.
You may also have touched on SOX. Experience of this kind is in high demand.
As well as strong technical accounting skills, companies within the Scottish financial sector tend to look for strong communicators.
They want business partners with drive and ambition who can communicate directly to the board.
Candidates from public practice often have access to internal and external stakeholders, which has allowed them the opportunity to develop their communication skills, providing them with the confidence to deal directly with senior management.
Internal audit offers project-based work as opposed to just the pure audit you would see in an external audit role. It presents an opportunity to be very visible and develop key relationships across the entire business. It’s a great way to get to know the work of other departments.
Typical activities include project work, controls and risk, and really understanding how the business works. Stakeholder engagement is also key.
If you’re from a practice background, internal audit can be the perfect platform to launch your skills into industry.
What is internal audit?
According to the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors (CIIA), the definition of an internal audit role is to ‘provide independent assurance that an organisation’s risk management governance and internal control processes are operating effectively.’
What do internal auditors do?
Internal auditors are vital to any company or organisation. They not only concentrate on the financial objectives but also on other internal systems and potential issues, including employee behaviours and company reputation.
Similar to external auditors, they have a duty to work and report independently from the company or organisation and must not be influenced by the operations they audit.
Unlike external auditors, they are influential to continuous improvements across the organisation. They work with management by advising necessary improvements and changes to be made.
According to the CIIA, internal auditors may be involved in the following on a daily basis:
- Assessing the management of risk
- Assisting management in the improvement of internal controls
- Evaluating controls and advising managers at all levels
- Evaluating risks across the business
- Analysing company-wide operations and confirming information
- Working with other assurance providers
- Presenting findings to senior management and proposing process changes
- Working to various regulations
What type of person makes a good internal auditor?
If you’re considering internal auditing as a career, you’ll need to host a variety of skills to handle the diverse range of tasks and responsibilities. These are the key skills required to shine in internal audit:
- Analytical – A numerical mindset is a must for all financial audit roles
- Detail oriented – You must be process-driven and meticulous in your work
- Strategic – This is essential when providing advice for process improvements. You’ll use historic data to plan ahead for a more efficient business
- Strong communicator – You will be dealing with internal stakeholders at all levels. You should be confident in pushing back to different areas of the business and communicating ideas
What are the benefits of a career within internal audit?
Adding value – By becoming a subject matter expert in the field you will provide value within your team and across the wider business.
Through your audit assessments, you will increase process efficiencies and in turn drive business costs down. You will also be contributing to strategic
plans moving forward.
Exposure – You’ll be working across different departments, gaining an understanding of the three lines of defence – audit, risk and compliance. You will also liaise and engage regularly across the whole business, building a composite picture of the firm.
Within this role, you will become an expert of the processes and procedures from start to finish. Experience also includes bringing new and innovative ideas to the team. Many internal audit roles involve presenting findings to senior management and offering strategic advice looking forward.
Projects – Internal audit delivers the opportunity to lead and contribute towards a variety of engaging projects across the business. You will work on approximately 5 / 6 projects at one time, providing variety within the role. You will also have the opportunity to gain ownership of these projects and lead others on these audits.
Professional development – Demand for specialists within internal audit is prevalent across entry, mid and senior levels. In an ever-increasing regulatory environment, regulatory control is becoming even more predominant, thus, demand for the internal audit skill-set is high.
Furthermore, experience within internal audit will also open up numerous opportunities for you internally and externally within audit and wider risk, compliance, accounting and operations.
What does a long-term career look like for an internal auditor?
You can choose to stay within internal audit, progress to management and oversee the entire process. You may also be able to transition into another of the ‘three lines of defence’ and build upon your process mapping, risk awareness and regulatory knowledge within the organisation.
Alternatively, after a few years in the internal audit field, your skill-set will be transferable to external audit where you can use your audit and stakeholder engagement skills to successfully transition into the external space.
If you want to progress with internal audit long-term, there are options to specialise and study towards becoming a Chartered Internal Auditor (CIA). This is a globally recognised certificate. Alternatively, you can become chartered by experience later in your career.
What can I expect to earn with a career in internal audit?
In our most recent salary guide, we broke down internal audit salary ranges into entry, mid and senior levels.
- Entry level - £21,000 - £35,000
- Mid level - £35,000 - £50,000
- Senior Manager level - £50,000 - £75,000
- Head of Function - £100,000 +
As you can see, the salary ranges are quite broad, with them being dependent on qualifications, experience and time within the industry.
If you are considering an internal audit career, a point to bear in mind is that once you qualify in audit your salary will jump to £35,000 plus. You will then have numerous opportunities available to you for career progression and development, with senior roles commanding salaries in excess of £50,000 per annum.
How do I become an internal auditor?
If you are entry level, there are some graduate roles for internal auditors which require little or no experience at all. However, some exposure to accounting or audit through internships will set you ahead of the competition.
If you are an external auditor within accounting practice, you’ll have plenty of transferrable skills. The client exposure will provide client relationship skills which are also required for internal audit.
Although it helps to have an accounting foundation in order to get up to speed quickly, you may have enough skills to transition into financial audit with
a background in risk and compliance.
Myths about internal audit careers
a. I won’t be able to add value
Yes, you will.
An internal audit role offers the opportunity to become a subject matter expert. As regulations are changing and becoming an important element of business as usual, you can add ample value to your team and the whole business through being an expert in your field.
Strategically you will add value, as an internal auditor’s knowledge puts you right at the heart of the decision-making process at a management level. You will also add value by reducing business costs, increasing efficiencies and sharing your knowledge across the company.
b. I’ll only see one part of the picture
This is definitely not the case.
An internal auditor will follow projects through from start to finish and will see a rounded overview of the entire picture. Working in-house for one client means you will live and breathe the various parts which make up the bigger picture.
As the project moves through its cycle an internal auditor will help to shape the various outcomes, dealing with problems and issues as they arise and implementing the best course of action. You’ll meet with teams and managers at all levels who make up different parts of the projects and will learn from them.
c. I won’t get exposure to other parts of the business
Internal Auditors get access to all parts of the business and at all levels. As internal stakeholders, your clients won’t see you as a hindrance but rather someone who will make their life easier, and will play a key part in the decision-making process.
Relationship-building and communication skills are key requirements in this role, as you may at times have to challenge and push back in order to deliver the best outcome. As well as getting exposure to wider stakeholders, your input will be recognised and opportunities for career progression will increase.
d. The work is very similar
Working in Internal Audit for a single, in-house client will allow you to develop deeper knowledge, as you will have to build a greater understanding of the workings of that business. You won’t just be following a ‘ticking and bashing’ process and moving onto the next client.
You will also become an advocate for the different business areas you are partnering, as you work with them to deliver the best course of action. You will become an extension of their department.
You’ll be the go-to person for questions around new regulations and implementations. You’ll see change and get to follow the projects through from start to finish. You may get to travel to countries across the world. You’ll face off to a number of areas and work with directors and managing directors.
e. The hours are long
It is common knowledge that the hours in an external audit role can be long. The balance of meeting client deadlines, managing a team of juniors, travelling to different sites and studying for exams can be challenging.
However, every role is likely to have an element of time pressure and stepping in-house will see a reduction of hours for most. You are still working to tight deadlines. However, the timescales are usually set in advance and you can be more in control of your time.
At any one time you may be working on four projects – with varying deadlines – but this can be more easily managed as you will be in control. Your clients
will be internal, not external. You won’t have to travel to client sites; you can set up meetings internally to discuss the projects and you will therefore
be able to plan your time more efficiently.
While some travel may be expected, this tends to be on an occasional and ad-hoc basis. When travel does occur, particularly within the asset management sector, it tends to be to global locations. Many see this as an excellent opportunity to visit new places.
Is internal auditing a satisfying career?
To enjoy a career in internal audit, you should be highly analytical, have a strategic mind-set, and enjoy communicating and implementing improvements across the business.
If you acquire these necessary skills and drive, a career in internal audit can be a very satisfying career. You will become a subject matter expert, building on your industry knowledge and growing your network.
As an essential asset to the company, you will find yourself following a valued and rewarding trajectory.
The last six to twelve months have seen a big increase in the requirement for tax specialists, both those with corporate and funds tax experience.
The pool of candidates with this experience is limited, which makes it an attractive area in which to specialise.
Small specialist teams allows for candidates to become subject matter experts in their field, which in turn opens up more opportunities with less candidate competition in the future.
There are many potential career paths for part- and recently-qualified accounting and finance professionals in Scotland.
Tax offers numerous unique benefits, excellent career progression paths, a constantly changing landscape, and further routes for professional qualification.
However, there is still a shortage of professionals pursuing this path – with multiple opportunities on offer why is this the case?
From our experience this comes down to a lack of awareness of what tax has to offer.
Here are five reasons why specialising in tax is worth considering:
a. Tax is a fast moving industry for accountants
Few industries move as fast as tax.
Constant changes to legislation and regulations mean that tax professionals need to continually expand their knowledge and adapt their strategies.
This necessity of keeping up to date means you are always learning and challenging the status quo.
You won’t be stuck completing the same daily tasks as firms continually look to improve their own processes and abide by the latest regulations.
b. Tax roles offer variety
Tax roles, particularly within financial services, offer wide exposure to the industry and the scope to move into different areas internally.
Junior candidates will gain an insight into the whole business and not just the tax department – a common misconception.
Within the accountancy profession, financial services and commercial industry there are numerous opportunities within corporate, personal, international, compliance and advisory areas of tax.
A typical financial services tax role offers:
- Exposure to various fund products
- The opportunity to learn legislation and regulations
- The chance to develop and build upon client relationships
- Exposure across a business including functions such as audit, financial reporting, product governance, etc. thus enabling you to support and collaborate
with other departments
- Lots of early responsibility and problem-solving opportunities
c. Career progression in tax is promising
With a shortage of candidates within the tax industry there is strong progression potential for candidates who have a specialised, in-demand skill set.
It is not uncommon for junior candidates to be given the opportunity to step up to bigger challenges faster than more ‘often travelled’ career paths of general finance roles.
Some graduates elect to join the tax function from the start of their careers, usually studying towards the AAT in the first instance.
For the newly-qualified, having completed either the ACCA or CIMA exams, you will have covered some tax modules.
Presuming that the modules were of interest, the next steps to becoming a qualified specialist is to complete either the ATT, or the CTA.
Once passed successfully, hard-working and ambitious candidates can expect accelerated routes to management or higher level subject-matter-expert roles.
d. Tax is a stable career
As well as quick and structured career progression, tax careers are among the most stable within financial services.
Unlike the ups and downs of some other parts of finance, jobs in tax are relatively secure.
A typical career route for a successful tax candidate would be:
Tax Assistant >>> Tax Senior >>> Tax Assistant Manager >>> Tax Manager >>> Tax Senior Manager >>> Head of Tax
Although it is rare for candidates to move away from tax after completing the numerous qualifications involved, the skills they will have gained from exposure to projects and working with different departments are transferrable for both industry and practice.
This can open up a number of potential avenues further down the line.
e. Demand for tax experts at all levels
As well as its unique offerings, the tax market place continues to be candidate driven across all levels of seniority.
The demand for candidates over the last four years has been high and this is still very much the case today, due to many businesses growing their ‘in-house’ tax team’s capabilities.
With no signs of the sector slowing down, now is the perfect opportunity for newly-qualified accountants to consider a career within this area and take advantage of the long-term opportunities on offer.
What you need for a career in tax
Despite the high demand for junior candidates within tax, you will still have to display the necessary skills and knowledge if you wish to secure a role.
Working in tax is dynamic and fast paced, requiring not only analytical ability but excellent problem solving and commercial skills.
A degree in a financial or economic discipline is helpful, but you should also be equipped to communicate effectively and deliver out of the box strategic thinking if you want to be successful.
The key skills that professional firms are looking for include:
- A high level of analysis and numeracy
- Creative problem solving and persuasion
- The ability to build good working relationships with clients and colleagues
Ultimately, tax professionals have always been in short supply, despite their central importance to any business’ success.
If the industry’s unique offerings appeal, you should give some serious consideration to such an attractive and diverse industry. The opportunities could be endless.
The third party administration space – as well as the asset management sector – continues to offer a number of career opportunities in fund accounting.
More clients are willing to look beyond candidates who only have fund accounting experience.
If you are a newly-qualified accountant with strong accounting and coaching experience, you can easily transition into senior or even team leader roles, depending on the level of supervisory experience.
These teams prepare the financial statements, review the work, and deal with any queries coming from the client.
Progression in these teams typically follows the path of:
- Fund accounting or investment accounting, to
- Team leader, to
- Manager, to
- Assistant manager, to
- Manager, to
- Head of department
Roles in fund accounting can further enhance your asset management and investment administration knowledge, as well as your understanding of products and funds such as OEICS, Unit Trusts and SICAVs.
Risk and compliance roles continue to be a key area of recruitment for all companies – and at all levels – typically across regulatory, operational, and compliance monitoring.
This, however, remains a difficult area in which to recruit.
There are only a limited amount of candidates actively looking – and they have a lot of choice available to them.
As a result, more and more clients are open to considering candidates from an audit background, especially if you have a good grasp of internal controls and monitoring risk.
In particular, those with internal audit experience can add a lot of value.
Within small boutique asset managers, moving into risk and compliance roles can offer great career opportunities. Roles are often highly visible with a good degree of engagement right across the business.
You will answer questions from all areas and levels of the business, quite quickly becoming a subject matter expert.
Roles like these will allow you to get involved in various different areas, offering diverse and varied work. You will also get involved in projects.
Corporate Finance continues to be an area of great interest.
Practice firms offer excellent opportunities to move into corporate finance teams.
Within asset management firms, roles will typically include investment analyst positions.
Normally clients will be looking for candidates who already have experience within this sector.
However, we have seen some clients being more flexible, and open to considering candidates with an accounting background – especially if you are fully qualified from practice and have started studying towards the CFA qualification.
When moving as a newly-qualified accountant – whether from public practice or industry – you will find yourself on a steep learning curve.
Companies operating in Scotland's financial sector are looking for candidates who demonstrate a desire to learn and a keen appreciation that there is a lot to take on board.
By having a greater appreciation of the career options open to you within Scotland’s financial sector, you are better placed to choose a route which fits with your skills and experience.Back To Top