3 Accounting Exit Paths That Are Widely Overlooked … But Shouldn’t Be!
As we’ve discussed before, almost every Accountant has at some point pined over a career in Corporate Finance, Transaction Services & Advisory after qualifying. There’s a crazed herd of newly qualified Accountants lusting after the supposed prestige of becoming senior within M&A or Private Equity (PE).
We’re here to tell you that these roles are not the only route to wealth & glory. Nor are they a sure-fire route to success.
Upon entering Corporate Finance, TS or Advisory after qualifying, you will find yourself the bottom of the food chain again; with not enough commercial expertise to lead deals and a lack of opportunities to demonstrate your technical accounting prowess (finance plays just one of many moving parts within M&A / PE deal-making).
The long hours, repetitive work and stress are – quite simply – not worth your precious time.
There are easier ways to get into the strategic roles you desire, with opportunities to build your commercial expertise faster and with just as lucrative benefits.
Whilst friends were pulling 16-hour days (6-7 days a week) in Investment Banking and carving out ever deeper bags under their eyes, I decided to take a role within a niche industry consultancy house to focus on building my commercial, financial & analytical skills.
It was relatively simple to get the job offer and in my two years there I:
- gained exposure to a client base of large and small corporates, private equity companies and governments;
- worked very closely with senior executives;
- gained early responsibility to lead projects & seek new clients;
- had unlimited opportunity to build my commercial & strategic skill set;
- drastically built out my professional network;
- was given a fantastic budget for training & personal development each year;
- travelled extensively globally (business class);
- was regularly wined & dined by senior executives, lawyers & bankers;
- had a 10 min walking commute to work;
- received double-pay overtime (yes, overtime!) alongside a healthy salary, pension and even healthier annual bonus;
and the most surreal part…
- I had Investment Banking Partners doing work for me as part of my client projects;
Make no mistake, it was tough when I’d hear friends bragging about the big-named corporations they were working for. I was certainly insecure about the (relatively) weak brand name & size of the consultancy I worked for.
But it’s important not to make career decisions to please your peers.
The 2 years spent at the consultancy were some of the best times I’ve ever had, and I look back on my time there fondly.
There are plenty of roles out there like this – and with very limited competition. You just have to step away from the herd and look in places your peers aren’t.
Other than Investment Banking & Corporate Finance, other paths you’ll probably hear most of your newly-qualified Accounting peers considering will probably include:
- Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A)
- Senior Accountant
- Product Control within an investment bank
- Equity Research
- Internal / External Audit
- Staying on within your existing role to work your way up the ranks
It’s important to consider exactly what skills you will develop within these roles and where they have the power to take you. What doors are they actually closing off?
I’ll be sure to cover each of these in detail at some point. But for now, I wanted to give you a flavour of a few of the less-beaten paths that are available to you as a newly-qualified Accountant.
All of them will help you build your commercial, strategic skill set and have a solid benefits package too (if that’s what you’re after).
1) Commercial Finance in-industry
Straight out of Accounting, you could be acting as a Financial Director for a product or service-line within a large corporate. You might be working as a “Finance Business Partner” and be the financial thread that ties the sales, marketing, or other teams into the senior, strategic decision making process.
You could be helping develop, launch and review new products & services or deciding which clients to sell to and improving sales execution.
The detail within the job spec might include most of the following:
- Product, brand and customer assessment, ownership & management
- New proposal & plan development including pitching to the senior Executives
- Performance reviews and analysis with recommended next steps
- Managing crisis such as a recession and the impact on the business
- Financial modelling, budgets & forecasting
- Competitor analysis
There are an endless number of major corporates that require such commercial accountants, but whom struggle to find an adequate quality supply of them. And you know what traditional market theory says about lack of supply, but high demand, right? Fantastic leverage to bargain for a nice compensation & benefits package 😉
Corporates within industry (e.g. FMCG, Education, Oil & Gas, etc. as opposed to professional services firms) also tend to operate a 9 to 5 pm culture, so you’ll find it much easier to impress and excel.
2) Project Finance
Here’s a role where you could put use your skills to use for implementing massive scale, massive impact projects (think: building dams, airports, energy infrastructure).
You’ll be playing a central role in getting such projects approved, implemented on time and on budget. You’ll also gain some pretty unique exposure to senior government decision-makers & institutions too, with extensive opportunities to travel the globe.
The detailed job spec might include most of the following:
- Facilitating relationships with lenders, developers, investors, the government & any other stakeholders
- Taking ownership for developing the overarching project plan
- Modelling the financial & operational impacts & outcomes for senior strategic decision making purposes
- Determining the fundraising required, forecasted payback and structuring the fundraising strategy
- Legal and contract management
- Due diligence & site visits (think: travel to exciting regions of the world)
- Ongoing project execution (tracking performance vs. plan) and managing stakeholders.
3) School/University Bursar
Hear me out on this one.
A school is just another type of business, and being a Bursar is basically like being a CFO.
Straight after qualifying, you could be working for one school or a chain of multiple schools, running a multi-million £ budget whilst helping improve the lives of teachers and students across the country.
You’d be part of the senior management team, working directly with the Head Teacher(s) / Managing Director and Board of Trustees to run the operations and decide upon the school strategic direction.
Most big decisions will need to be signed off by you too.
The detailed job spec might include most of the following:
- Taking ownership for the management and financial accounts, reporting directly to the Head Teacher / Managing Director & Board
- Responsibility for school budgets and resource management
- Reviewing performance and deciding upon future strategy with the school governors / Board of Directors & other senior leadership
- Aiding with stakeholder management (incl. government, Ofsted, etc.)
- Fundraising (writing bids, running an alumni network, pitching)
- Identifying revenue-generating opportunities for the school, incl. more efficient ways of utilising the schools assets
- Hiring and running your own team of financial administrators
With schools, colleges & universities up and down the country, there’s no shortage of need for Bursars.
You can typically command a salary in the £60-80k range (+ benefits … which may include having your children’s school fees paid for if you work for an Independent School), and your hours will also be reasonably relaxed (likely with school holidays off too).
And there’s money & opportunity for progression within the Education sector. Among other duties, University Vice Chancellors are responsible for securing a “financial base sufficient to allow the university to deliver on it’s mission, aims and objectives”. A role that might be open to you down the line, with exciting responsibilities and a big pay check to boot (sometimes controversially so).
I’m not going to pretend that getting these roles is a piece of cake.
You wouldn’t expect to have Investment Banks begging you to join them as soon as you’ve qualified. And the employers seeking to fill these roles will be just the same.
In fact, some of these roles may have just as many people applying to them, but the dynamics of your competition will be different (and relatively easier to handle).
To help, we have plenty of tried-and-tested CV and application tips for newly-qualified accountants … and we’re trying our best to share many more on here for you guys as soon as possible [where we can find time in between our other jobs 😉].
Going against the grain and doing something different to your peers and current colleagues might seem like a scary prospect. I know it is. I’ve been there.
But I promise you … if you do the research, commit to making the leap, and get recruiters to take you seriously, you will not regret it.
“Risk something or forever sit with your dreams” – Herb Brooks
There are many more similar opportunities out there. It’s just about finding the industry or sector niche that suits you best. If you have in mind a particular industry or role you’d like us to write about, we’d love to hear from you – talk to us!
Exit Options | Mapping the post-accounting & audit landscape
A lot of the clients we coach ask about moving into more strategic & commercial roles after spending time in traditional accounting & audit, but don’t know where to start or even what opportunities exist …so-much-so that we’ve put together a map of the , which I encourage you to check out!
Want personalised advice from one of our Co-Founders?
We’ve been where you are and can help you forge your swift exit. Click here to Get Coached.