Why Transaction Services Might Not Be The Best Exit Route From Accounting
At some point, almost every Accountant we know has mentioned a desire to move into something more “strategic”. Without even fully exploring the full extent of the commercial & strategic exit opportunities available to accountants & auditors, TS roles are idolized, often with the overarching goal of getting into M&A, Private Equity (PE) and/or becoming a C-Suite / Senior Executive.
The lure of earning a fortune and being the envy of your friends and previous colleagues seems too good to pass up, despite the need to work your youthful years away.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect” – Mark twain
For those of you who are certain Transaction Services (TS) is where you’re going, why not check out our 3-part post where we’ve broken down the fundamental ways to help you stand out from your peers and make the move from Audit to Transaction Services / Transaction Advisory Services (TS).
But you should know … there are more efficient & effective ways of getting to the top
You just need to explore your exit options effectively.
It’s no secret that the hours within Transaction Services, Corporate Finance & Investment Banking are a killer. Despite the lucrative bonus packages, on an hourly basis junior M&A Analysts are often making just £10 an hour … hardly worth writing home about.
Of course, such roles do offer you access to a large volume of work, and thus earnings (i.e. there isn’t enough overtime available to make the same amount of money in a standard job).
However, time is money. And you can earn far better money for a unit of your time elsewhere at this stage of your career.
If the goal is to start enjoying senior-level prestige, authority, and compensation as soon as possible, surely it is imperative to focus your time on gaining the skills required for those jobs sooner rather than later.
M&A Investment Banking is known to catapult junior analysts into strategic positions in start-ups & prestigious consultancies, as well as sectors like Private Equity.
However, TS is not Investment Banking.
It’s no secret that the benefits packages of the TS team within Accounting firms are very different to that of M&A within a Bank.
What’s not widely known is that the responsibilities of the TS team are wildly different too.
In fact, there are a range of highly-specific roles within TS that MAY NOT lead into more strategic career paths at all.
The in-house team leading the charge on an M&A “deal” or transaction has to deal with large deal teams comprising internal functions (HR, Legal, Compliance, Finance) and external advisors (Investment Banks, Law Firms, Accountants, etc.).
Depending on their team structure, they’ll likely be responsible for a hot mess of responsibilities across the entire deal life cycle: from formulating the company’s generalized commercial strategy, through deciding the M&A strategy, deal origination (networking & relationship management), preliminary diligence & negotiations, deal structuring, gaining internal approvals, leading deal teams for extensive due diligence, final deal execution, and ultimately integration.
Whilst Investment Banking teams might contribute generally across most of these phases where the in-house team needs, the TS team’s contribution is solely limited to just the technical accounting aspects.
TS will be responsible for auditing / verifying the accuracy of financials provided by senior management of the target company and working with the in-house Finance team to feed into the valuation models held by the Corp Dev team.
Yes, there may be exceptions to the rule. For example, where the client has limited in-house M&A capabilities, it’s likely that more work is outsourced to the Bankers and Accountants.
But generally, as you wouldn’t be involved in the entire deal lifecycle or strategy build, it will be hard to convince future employers of your project management / leadership skills and ability to build a detailed business case for acquisitions.
Despite being “closer” to the coal face of mergers and acquisitions than in traditional Accounting & Audit, to the outside world someone in Transaction Services is cementing their position in the world as purely “the accountant”.
You can of course work your way up within a team like TS to become a Senior Partner and enjoy a very happy and lucrative career, and gather some strategic responsibilities from leading that function i.e. your strategic specialism would be in the accountancy world.
But, that’s IF you make it to Partner … You’ll need to be in the right team at the right time (and it’s hard relying on luck).
We’ve also seen others use TS as a stepping stone to in-industry roles, such as “Head of Financial Modelling”, and contribute to senior level decision-making.
This is a perfectly sound career move, but be mindful that such pathways tend to remain within the Finance & Accounting team and in the technical finance weeds.
It’s a good idea to forget immediate cash flow (recruiters will tempt you into dead-end roles with a slightly bigger starting salary) and bragging rights over peers. Instead, and as a young professional with an Accountancy qualification in your back pocket, it’s the perfect moment to bag your financial foundations and make a move to build up a more strategic & commercial skill set.
From where you’re standing in traditional accounting and audit, TS careers may appear to be the “sexy” option for newly-qualified Accountants.
And in the near term (and especially for those experiencing busy season at the Big 4!) this feeling might be particularly acute. However, TS is not the silver bullet to achieving the “success” that you imagine.
So why can’t I get strategic & commercial skills within TS?
Many of TheSwiftExit readers come to us convinced that they want to get into TS (and in fact we’ve helped many of them do so!).
So, let’s be fair to TS.
You’ll quickly become a ninja at financial modelling, building pitch deck presentations for senior management, risk & sensitivity analysis and market research.
But – in between befriending the print room and continuously waiting for feedback on your work from your seniors – you’ll start to experience a lower frequency of new experiences & learning opportunities coming your way.
You’ll likely get bored of providing the same ol’ financial analysis to clients without knowing whether or how it was used, and given your contribution to a small part of the deal lifecycle, you’ll feel like a small cog in a large wheel.
Further, skill sets like those you get in TS tend to lose importance as you progress in most careers.
Strategic mindsets & commercial skills are fundamental as you become more senior, and technical financial analysis tends to take a back seat.
But, fear not.
There are plenty of other roles available that can offer a steeper, more relevant and / or longer lasting learning curve to help you gain the strategic and commercial skills you need … and will probably earn you a better hourly rate (and enable you to keep your social life / network) whilst you’re doing it.
So, where are these mysterious strategic and commercial roles?
As you already know, TS supports the technical financial analysis of a company’s inorganic / M&A transactions i.e. deals that improve business performance and accelerate growth through acquiring new capacity externally via acquisitions, joint ventures or mergers.
Really, it is the “Organic / Commercial Strategy” that is the lifeblood of a business and fundamental to its success, i.e. growth via front-line, primary business activity.
Roles that are both within and support this area of work tend to utilise strategic & commercial skills at all levels of seniority and are a great hotbed of opportunity that is often overlooked.
Like most of us who chose the Accountancy profession, you were probably told the myth of becoming CEO via the Accountancy route.
When C-Suite Execs accelerate up the ranks, it’s not a detailed understanding of finance that gets them promoted. In fact, the company will likely pay for Corporate Finance training of some kind when they get senior enough.
However, to lead a company aspiring executives MUST have Organic / Commercial Strategy skills and experience.
But surely such roles are in high demand?
Sure – most roles that are worth having are.
But, look at it this way. If you apply for TS you’ll be competing against a vast number of newly-qualified Accountants for the very few available openings.
Those high-performing peers of yours at the top of the class will have first choice on the better roles. Not to mention that you’ll also be competing with people that have prior experience in the sector, as well as other external candidates.
Peter Thiel famously said “Competition is for Losers”. And he’s right.
If you step away from the herd (whom are probably busy charging towards TS) there are roles far easier to secure because of the lower competition AND which actually involve MORE exposure to strategic work and senior level executives.
But where to find these roles?
As with anything, you just need to know where to look and how to position yourself.
Sadly, we haven’t come across 1 single TheSwiftExit.com reader that can confidently discuss all of the strategic & commercial options available to them, let alone understand the true value of their skills & experience in the marketplace, nor the future potential implications (and risk of pigeon holing) from their career choices.
But, we can’t blame you.
The whole reason we started TheSwiftExit was because there was a total lack of tried-and-tested advice or insider-insights out there to help you map out your potential career paths and contextualise where your current accounting & audit skill set sits compared to the roles you want to break in to.
If you don’t know the full extent of commercial and strategic exit opportunities available to you, and where you are positioned relative to them, how can you plan your route into them?
Add to the mix the risk of pigeon-holing yourself and the whole situation can become fairly daunting.
We’ve talked previously how recruiters have their own opposing agenda and might try to package finance roles as “strategic”, “commercial” or “close to the front office” when in fact they are just vanilla accounting roles.
But now, we’ve gone one step further to give you a true understanding of the post-accounting landscape so that you can have the upper hand.
We’ve combined our tried-and-tested experience and intel (including in many of the roles you’re thinking about) with the personalised advice we’ve given countless successful clients to create “Exit Options | A guide to the landscape” … a digital guide providing unique and independent insights to the natural career landscape post-accounting and audit to help you make the best career moves of your life.
With this guide, we’re confident we can put you ahead of the pack when it comes to strategic & commercial roles, open your mind to so much more than where your peers are applying, and give you the confidence and tools to fast-track beyond accounting & audit to a career that is more “you”.
Over 90+ pages, we cover:
- the post-accounting & audit landscape, including the strategic & commercial roles that evolve naturally from where you’re currently sitting
- the lucrative areas to focus your efforts to avoid pigeon-holing yourself and getting your foot firmly in the door to a strategic career path
- the very definition of strategic & commercial to help you avoid being mis-sold roles that aren’t actually strategic
- insider insights to an extensive list of strategic & commercial roles and career paths – discover the work-life reality and career progression
- the difference between in-industry and advisory roles (e.g. what’s the difference between M&A and Transaction Services).
- how to approach your long-term career decision making and job searches to get where you’re going efficiently
- the skills and experiences you’re currently sitting on that can help you actually land commercial & strategic roles.
Find out more about the Exit Options | A Guide to the Landscape.
And as a cheeky bonus for reading all the way to the bottom of this article, we’re giving you 20% off to kick-start your career move! Simply use the code “exit-options-loyalty-20%” at checkout.
We hope that by using our Exit Options guide, you’ll soon have the means to be strategic about your choices and adequately portray your ambitions to potential employers, just like the clients we work with on a 1:1 coaching basis.
We’re always here when you need us!
Spice up your CV/Resume for the post-accounting & audit world
We’ve created a digital guide specifically to help those of you applying for more commercial & strategic roles. Our straight-talking CV/Resume advice for Accountants/Auditors is the only guide that is highly-specific to the traditional accounting & audit background: we give you real-life good & bad examples for showcasing your experience for strategic roles, the best structure & content to win over recruiters, a strategy for distributing your CV/Resume, interview advice, and more!
PS: If you’re certain Transaction Services is where you’re going, why not check out our 3-part post where we’ve broken down the fundamental ways to help you stand out from your peers and make the move from Audit to Transaction Services / Transaction Advisory Services (TS).
PPS: If you’re interested in more personalised support from one of our Co-Founders, we offer various Coaching Packages to suit your needs.
We draw upon our extensive personal and successful client experiences to advise on anything from CV/Resume/document and profile editing (e.g. CV/Resume, Cover Letter, network outreach emails, your Linkedin profile) to dealing with recruiters, negotiating benefits packages, 1:1 coaching, interview prep and much more…
“After working with the Co-Founders through the Pro package, I’ve nailed a job I never thought I could get. I landed an M&A role in a completely new sector to my previous experience and have literally doubled my salary. Unbelievable!”
– Audit, Non-Big 4 – Boston, USA