Accountancy Practice vs Industry: How Can Practices Win in a Candidate-Led Market?

25 June 2018

From regularly speaking to practice accountants who are coming out of contract, it has almost become commonplace that the majority of them are looking to move straight into industry, sometimes without even weighing up the opportunities available in their current practice or other practices alike. Similar trends can also be seen for candidates at senior management levels and at non-qualified levels, such as accounting technicians and payroll administrators. 


This is becoming an increasing problem for practices as they are experiencing significant growth in client work but are simultaneously losing the skilled staff to maintain it. This issue is accelerated by the fact that there is naturally a smaller pool of candidates to choose from in practice. Practice candidates have the freedom to explore options in both practice and industry while candidates with solely industry experience or those who have been out of practice for a long time cannot always flow as freely into practice. Thus, it is important to identify what factors are causing this movement and what practices can do to mitigate its effects.

Why are people moving to industry?

Moving from practice to industry offers the opportunity to focus on the specific needs and requirements of one business, rather than across many clients and industry types. People want to contribute to a business from within, where they can physically see the value they are adding to the company. Working with the one business also tends to be associated with a better work-life balance, less overall pressure, and more competitive starting salaries, so moving to industry can sometimes seem like a “no-brainer”. However, we are also seeing a second pattern in recent years. After making the switch to industry, a noticeable number of accountants eventually decide to return to practice. This can be seen anywhere between six months to ten years after leaving practice and people are seen returning either to their old training firms, to new firms, or even to start up their own practices.

Why are people returning to practice?

One of the main reasons to return to practice is that some accountants miss the variety and intensity associated with having different client needs to meet and they can view the repetitive nature of some industry roles as monotonous and boring. Building client relationships can be incredibly rewarding and accountants tend to seek out this client interaction in practice. Accountancy firms are now also identifying work-life balance as a key motivator for employees; offering an array of flexibility including adjustable start/end times, working from home, and part-time options. Additionally, as businesses turn to accountancy firms more and more to manage their finances, roles in practices are becoming increasingly more commercial and consultative which allow accountants to feel they are playing an active role in a business’ success.

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What can practices do to address the effects of staff moving to industry?

It is essential for practices to identify the key movement patterns mentioned above and react accordingly. Firstly, check in with your trainees throughout their contract and become familiar with their goals and motivations. If they wish to leave, consider whether any internal changes can be made within the practice which may negate their reasons for leaving. Secondly, be more open to candidates coming from industry. Having an employee who truly understands the mind-set of your clients can be a tremendous asset in building stronger client relationships. More and more firms are capitalising on recruiting both non-qualified and qualified staff from industry backgrounds which can be, in many cases, a largely untapped resource for practices. Finally, take advantage of the many positives of working in practice. Consider what makes your firm unique and attractive to current and prospective employees and be open to feedback and new ideas which can help improve one’s experience of practice.

If you are seeking a role in practice or are looking to recruit for your own practice, call me on 028 9023 5456, email, or visit:

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MCS Group is a firm of ethical recruitment specialists, based in Belfast, Northern Ireland specialising in IT & Digital, Technical & Engineering, Professional Services, Accounting & Finance, Banking, Legal and Executive Search.


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