Public vs. Private Accounting – two main career areas within the Accounting professionals. Some people, even after completing their accounting degrees, don’t even know the differences between these two. As a result, they are quite ambiguous about which direction to take for their careers.
By understanding the pros and cons of Public vs. Private Accounting, you can see whether you’re better suited for public or private accounting and make the right decision for your future career.
Public Practice Accounting
Public Practice Accounting provides accounting work for the general public. That means that you may have a variety of clients from individuals, partnerships, Trusts, Super funds, or companies. They can come from all walks of life and any kind of industry. The largest Accounting firms in this field are Big Four (Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PWC).
Here are some pros and cons for working in public practice.
The pros are:
- There is a wide variety of work that you can expose to from your clients.
- Your knowledge can help others including yourself and your family
- It is more prestigious as you work for big companies.
- Opportunity to start your own business (an Accounting or Tax practice).
- Opportunity to become a partner in an Accounting firm.
The cons are:
- Highly competitive entry resulting in very low paid at the junior level
- Long hours, especially overtime and weekend work.
- Constant deadline pressure, known as the “peak seasons”.
- You may get stuck doing individual tax returns only.
- You have to be comfortable at reading tax law in order to be promoted faster.
Private Accounting is where you do the accounting tasks for one group of specific businesses. For example, you work in the Finance Department of a telecommunications group – Optus. You will deal with their accounts payable, or budgeting or any other accounting task within the Finance Department.
Here are some pros and cons for working in Private Accounting.
The pros include:
- You have reasonable work life balance.
- There may be greater job stability working in a large organisation.
- Pay is higher at the junior level, however tapers off later in the career
The cons are:
- The work may be repetitive, ie. doing month end for the same group each month.
- There is reasonably low turnover, so it may be hard to get your next promotion.
- You may need to learn specific software tailored to that organisation which is not transferable.
- You are a cost- centre. While pay is decent at junior levels, managemers are always seeking to limit the pay rises of middle and senior level accountants.
Public vs. Private Accounting, which one is right for me?
Given the comments above about Public vs. Private Accounting , here are some recommendations for your future career path in the Accounting industry:
- Follow your passion. If you feel you prefer one over the other, start to target that area in your resume and your studies (CPA vs. CA).
- Note that one is not better than the other, but they are different. Choose the one that you will thrive in. You will be noticed and promoted faster in the area you excel in.
- Switching between the two is possible, especially at the junior level. At the middle- level roles, switching across can be more difficult because you may have to take a serious pay cut and start from the bottom again.
- Ask for advice from your teachers, your friends, seniors, and from our professional Accounting specialists here.