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Differences between public finance accounting & private accounting roles

When you’re making the call about which direction you want to take within the accounting sector, your decision might be affected by the differences between public and private accounting. If that sounds alien to you – don’t panic! We’re here to give you the lowdown on the differences between the two and make your decision a whole lot more understandable.

The Basics

Essentially, public accounting is being part of an independent/third party company who do the accounting for other companies, whereas private accounting is working for a particular company and involves setting up systems and recording the transactions that make up the financial statements. Easy, right? Not quite!

Training

Public accountants are trained in analysis, data collection and testing, which allows them to look at accounts and see if the assumptions made are the correct ones. They are also trained in the legal framework that applies to financial statements in order to avoid any issues. On the other hand, private accountants are trained more in process issues – especially in terms of accounts payable and billing techniques, and are usually trained in more niche areas – making them less versatile.

Environment

A public accountant’s life is much more varied than that of a private one. Different clients in different locations mean a lot of travelling around, variable hours and tight deadlines for public accountants, whereas as a private accountant you’re likely to be in your own office and not moving about, with regular hours to boot.

Exposure

Not only does working for a big public accountancy firm (such as the Big Four) expose you to a variety of different types of accountancy job within a whole host of industries, which is invaluable experience, but it also is a major CV-booster when it comes to looking for other jobs. This is not so much the case in private accounting, because most of the jobs are within smaller firms who are not so well known, and the experiences gained are more niche. This means it is much more common for someone to transfer from a public firm to a private firm than the other way around.

Stress

The life of a public accountant is notoriously much more stressful than that of their private counterparts. Analysing and commenting on the work of other accountants is tough work and you have to be confident and strong willed to be up to the challenge. On top of this, the inconsistency of location and clientele can be much more stressful than the equivalent in the private industry, which is a regular day-to-day workforce and a steady stream of work.

Of course there are more differences than just these but we hope this has given you a brief idea of what the basic split between the two industries consists of, and helps you decide on which side of this divide you would fit best!