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Why a financial control role should be top of any ACAs wishlist

Written by: Rory McDermott, ICAEW
Published on: 11 Dec 2017

Over the years I have interacted with countless numbers of recently qualified accountants looking at moving into a finance role. More often than not the first words I hear are “I want a commercial role” or “I would consider management accounting or financial accounting as a second choice…. but I don’t want audit”. 

Equally, organisations looking to recruit commercial finance roles will have to invest a significant amount of time with a chartered accountant making their first move from practice.  

This is especially true when comparing applicants with experience in a similar sector or role. Those without the relevant skills or industry experience can therefore be at a huge disadvantage. 

Managing the expectations of both parties is often a problem as both are taking a gamble!  

The organisation is gambling that with several months invested in training and development, the talented but inexperienced ACA will be at the same level as a candidate who already has three years experience under their belt.  

The ACA is taking a risk too. If they are not able to get up to speed or the commercial role wasn’t the dream job they thought it would be, they can be left looking for another role.  

Worse still, they may not even make it through their probation period. 

Most finance directors and leaders I speak to (many of whom are chartered accountants) suggest that chartered accountants looking for that first move should “cut their teeth in industry” by securing an audit, controls or reporting type role as their first move. 

Three Reasons Why a Controls Role is a Great First Move 

1.  Career Progression is About Impact 

By staying within your comfort zone on your first move to industry, you can make a larger impact than by moving into the unknown. 

Impress using your existing experience and be seen as a high potential candidate for an internal move. These are usually commercial roles within 12-18 months.

2. Build your Knowledge, Reputation and Networks Internally 

Control and risk roles touch most points of the business so you will have the ability to engage with and learn about the business from a wide range of stakeholders both within finance and operations.  

This will allow you to learn as you showcase your existing skills and build strong relationships that will serve you well once in a more commercial setting.

3. Take the Risk out of Your Move 

As discussed earlier, you are taking on a new role, a new company, and will have a new set of work colleagues. By at least keeping one of these consistent you will be able to make a smooth transition. Generally, you will also get a much healthier work-life balance than you would in an external audit role. 

A company getting it right 

An example of an organisation who are demonstrating how internal control opportunities can be great for your career is Whitbread Plc, a FTSE 100 based in Bedfordshire and the owners of Premier Inn, Beefeater and Bar & Block. 

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