Public Accounting vs. Industry—Business Acumen

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

In public accounting, I was a component of the business’ profit center. I understood our revenue line drivers, sales of accounting services, major expenses, and the number of working hours it took to complete a project. I spent the majority of my client time dealing with business professionals who were not intimately familiar with US tax principles, and I could readily brainstorm solutions to help with various business needs. Miraculously, the solutions were typically a service we provided. I could take projects from other managers and locate inefficiencies, reduce redundancies, and increase profitability. I was highly rated on my business acumen. Initially, I was concerned that I would lose momentum in further developing this skill on my transition to industry.

During my first few months in industry, I didn’t have a dedicated staff-level resource to help me.  I spent several months in the nitty-gritty minutia of tax returns that I hadn’t experienced in years, including printing my own filing copies, completing dozens of certified mail slips, stuffing envelopes, and scanning. Everything was going out just before the due date and there was very little time to connect and understand the business I was supporting. I needed a senior associate just to translate what I needed to do for myself because I had definitely forgotten some of the finer points (previously referred to as minutia) of these processes.

Fortunately, six months after starting my new job, I was able to hire an amazing associate who had spent one year in a Big Four firm before she decided it was time for a better experience. Once I had her help and I redefined the relationship and expectations with our service providers, I was able to better define my relationship with my company’s revenue line drivers—the asset managers. About 11 months after my transition to industry, my boss mentioned that he highly regarded my business acumen. I’m certainly no longer afraid of losing this skill and am finding ways to better myself regularly. My time spent printing tax returns also reinvigorated my appreciation for my associate, and I regularly spend time thinking about what would be interesting to her so she can grow in her understanding of the business as well. Highly-qualified candidates want to gain experience and grow in their careers. Finding solutions to keep my associate intrigued with her job is another way I am learning to demonstrate my business acumen.

Stay tuned for next week’s post when I cover human capital!


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.