Public Accounting vs. Industry—A Member’s Perspective

In the Public Accounting vs. Industry blog series, NCACPA member Abby Smith outlines how a career in public accounting is different (or in some cases, not so different) from one in industry when it comes to: Work-life balance, technical resources, training, development of business acumen, human capital, control of information, and stress level. Abby offers a balanced perspective, drawing on her experiences in both worlds.

A new post in the series will be added every Tuesday through the end of April.

By: Abby Smith, CPA

Shortly after starting classes in my bachelor’s accounting program, my professors began preparing me for my first career fair. I remember the single looming question: “Are you going into public or industry?” What did this mean? I just wanted to graduate college with a job where I could be a good accountant. Yet there was no denying that one option was held to a higher regard than the other, and that was public accounting. I felt like the information was extremely biased—after all, the public accounting firms had 10 recruiters on campus for every 1 person from industry. Regardless, I jumped on the bandwagon, and into public accounting I went.

I spent 9 years in public accounting and I loved it. I loved tax season—well, maybe not every aspect of it—but generally. I loved the excitement and pace with which work was completed and sent to clients, the sense of job security, the feeling of importance and significance, the appreciation both internally and externally. I loved schmoozing clients—drinks at the best bars, dinners at the most delicious restaurants, telling clients what they needed and explaining how we could help them, the feel of “the win” after getting a new engagement letter. I loved recruiting—selling the success of my life to students, selecting the best candidates to interview, celebrating when someone accepted a new position, and helping wide-eyed hopefuls piece together trial balances and review their first tax returns hot off the printer. I noticed, however, that some of the best partners in public accounting had something I didn’t—personal experience in an industry position. They connected with clients in a way that I couldn’t. They sympathized with needs that I didn’t personally understand. I began to question my foundation. Was I well-rounded enough? Then a colleague passed me a job posting for a company that he said I should consider. It was a great company with great benefits, lots of responsibility, and strong growth potential.

The more I thought about making the change, the more I realized that I had strong reservations about taking a job in industry. After struggling to figure out the next steps in my career and deliberating the pros and cons, I finally decided to make the seemingly drastic transition. Now, just over a year after joining the ranks of industry professionals, I can say that my understanding of the differences between public and industry is pretty different than a year ago.

I connected with other colleagues that made the transition either from industry to public or public to industry and found the general consensus intriguing. I hope the weekly posts that follow in this series provide other CPAs a helpful perspective.

Stay tuned next week when I cover work-life balance!

Abby SmithAbby’s career began in 2005 at a small public accounting firm in North Georgia, where she largely worked with clients in the music and entertainment industry, as well as in real estate. In 2007, Abby joined a regional public accounting firm based in South Carolina, where she focused on pass-through entity taxation for partnerships and subchapter S corporations in the health care, real estate, agricultural, and not-for-profit industries. Abby joined KPMG in 2010 to focus on alternative investments, a melding of pass-through taxation and not-for-profit unrelated business taxation. Since 2014, Abby has worked with TIAA assisting with US tax compliance, structuring objectives for alternative investments, and specifically building out TIAA’s REIT expertise and US tax analysis of financial instruments.