For many accounting and finance professionals contemplating the move from a chartered accountant position to one in industry or advisory, there’s a myth that only your audit qualification is sufficient to maximize your career. Below, Alain Mulder, senior director, IMA Europe operations, explains some of the reasons why working in industry or advisory requires different skills than a chartered accountant performing audits. He also discusses the skills—and certifications—that are essential to making the transition to a role “on the other side of the table.”

Q: What’s the difference between public accounting and working in industry?

Public accountants work externally, performing audits. They are not involved in daily operations or decisions that support implementing a company's strategy. The focus of their job is to ensure the organization is complying with appropriate regulations and requirements.

When you work in an accounting or finance role in industry, however, you’re now working for a supporting department as overhead, and in order to deliver high value to the organization, you need a different mindset and skillset. You look more into the future and enable the business to execute its strategy. You have more influence, and it's about adding value and delivering results. Based on data, you need to "predict" the future, which requires a holistic view and strategic business mindset on top of technical accounting and finance skills.

Q: What if I want to switch from audit to advisory services?

Many auditors are considering switching to advisory, either in their current firm or another one. The benefit of switching to another firm is you make a clean break with auditing and can have a fresh start as an advisor. But you also need to be prepared. Are you able to utilize data and tell the story behind the numbers? How good are your technology skills? Can you streamline processes and work with business teams on investment decisions from a finance, strategic, and business perspective, focusing on adding value to your client's company? 

Another challenge for auditors switching to advisory is working with members of other teams who lack the same finance skills as you have and who have a different perspective on things. This requires different communication skills, requiring you to tell the story behind the numbers in your advice and to translate it to their way of thinking. It's critical, therefore, to learn practices in areas like planning and analysis, technology and analytics, and risk management from a business perspective – along with, of course, your foundational business acumen.

Q: What kind of certifications are needed for making the switch?

Certifications are necessary for finance, and when managers, clients, or colleagues are looking at your profile or email signature, the initials after your name give them an impression of your skills. Additionally, in multinationals, you often work in international virtual teams located worldwide. This situation has only accelerated due to the pandemic, resulting in companies hiring employees across borders to work in virtual teams. 

There are a number of valued and respected accounting and finance certifications for professionals, from the local chartered accounting credentials available across Europe to the more global CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). Holding either type of certification is proof an individual has the education, skills, and experience to handle a wide range of accounting, finance, and auditing-related matters. Combining the designations is also an excellent way to add international recognition on top of your local qualification and prepare yourself for a role as a management accountant.

So, when you decide for yourself to make the switch, start planning for it now. Stop dreaming about leaving audit and make it happen.