The Industry CPA by Guest Blogger Bill Moss

What differentiates the CPA working in industry from those in public practice? And how difficult is it to move from public practice to industry, or vice versa? In order to answer these questions we need to look at the typical progression of CPAs who have gone down these career paths.

During the college/university years, accounting professors tend to promote the public practice arena, upon which potential CPAs can obtain the most diverse experience in the application and practice of accounting. This career path allows the CPA options to stay in public practice or move into industry. However, today the opportunities in industry are varied and may provide the same diversity of work that public practice provides, except in a specialized industry.

The real difference is in the work itself. Public practice largely is made up of either auditing, tax or consulting. Industry initially offers opportunity in the accounting/finance department with upward mobility to Controller or Chief Financial Officer. Internal audit is also an opportunity for the CPA within industry, which might also offer diversity in the types of audits a CPA would perform.

When potential CPAs are considering career paths in industry, my recommendation is to 1) give consideration to the industry in terms of the economic importance, future development and other such global issues; 2) next consider your potential role and whether that role would be challenging and permit a solid career path for the future.

Let’s dive a little into the role of the Controller. First let’s agree that preparation for such a role generally comes from your education and experience. Is the required accounting curriculum adequate to teach one to be proficient at such areas as human resource management or IT management. Let’s not forget risk management, contract negotiations, security issues and quite frankly anything else the CEO decides the Controller should be responsible for. Most Controllers I’ve met would agree that their education and prior experience did not adequately prepare them for these varied responsibilities.

Those that migrated from public practice to industry in such a role as Controller, probably thought they were well equipped to take on that role, but were ultimately overwhelmed. You see, responsibilities such as human resource management, IT management, etc. are very specialized and require an in-depth understanding to manage them. These are skill sets that many times are not learned in the public practice arena while performing audits, tax or consulting.

So, how do we position ourselves to gain the knowledge and experience to manage these areas? You will notice I have not mentioned managing of the accounting department, which includes financial reporting, internal controls and cash management. The reason is I believe most CPAs have the requisite knowledge base to manage these. It is the peripheral areas of responsibility that is the challenge.

The best way to “get up to speed” is to hire the experts and listen to them. Obviously managing experts in such areas as IT or human resource management requires attention and on-going consideration, but the experts in these fields have the requisite experience (assuming you did your due-diligence when hiring them) and what you are paying for is that experience. It is far better to seek their guidance than to make one bad decision after another.

Whatever path you take, prepare yourself first to ensure success!

Bill Moss01

Bill is a sole proprietor of a CPA practice in Richardson Texas performing internal and external audits for public and non-public companies as well as providing financial consulting and management services to various corporations.

With over 30 years as a licensed CPA, Bill has been a discussion leader and speaker for over 25 years. Bill utilizes various adult learning techniques to keep the audience entertained and engaged in the program. He has become expert in delivering complicated financial information to non-financial types with great success.

Bill began teaching with Deloitte, teaching both at the local office level and at the national level. He has taught in the local community college and is a seasoned discussion leader for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, delivering financial programs to CPAs in various states throughout the U.S.

Bill has presented programs for management continuing education to corporations including two courses which he authored which deal with training non-financial management on the use of financial tools.


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