Public Accounting vs. Industry—Technical Resources

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 inundated with the concept of my firm being on the forefront of “thought leadership.” If I needed an analysis of how a new regulation might impact a specific situation, I could pick up the phone and call any one of our national tax specialists. If I needed transaction documents translated from Portuguese to English with a synopsis of the US tax impact, I could pick up the phone and call a translator that specialized in mergers and acquisitions. I had managers and partners in my office and across the globe that were part of my network and dealt with many of the same issues I dealt with every day. I could walk to the office next to mine and knew I had great friends and confidants with whom I could talk through any issue.

Over time, I developed a fear that working for a private company would mean my technical resources would be diminished and that I would experience significant barriers to technical knowledge. Since transitioning to industry, my technical world has not been minimalized—rather, it has grown significantly. I have access to the national tax departments of a myriad of firms and can benefit from the competition between firms. If any one firm is too slow to respond or provides an opinion that seems less than sound, I have the ability to garner the resources of a different firm to discuss ideas and technical solutions. Being in industry, I am not limited to the resources available in public accounting firms either. I have the top legal firms in the world at my disposal. While cost is always a significant consideration, the cost component in industry is fairly equal to that in public accounting where specialists charged time at very high rates for contracts I managed. At least now, I can seek a competitive bid.

Another surprising aspect of being in industry is the depth and expansiveness of resources that are not widely available to public accountants. Almost all industries have a formal organization with paid memberships. The organization sorts through all legal and regulatory updates to provide direct access to industry-specific updates. Typically, the organization produces regular publications to discuss industry-specific issues and commentary on how other professionals are managing such issues. In addition to these well-known benefits, industry professionals are very active in open forum discussions where memberships aren’t paid as much with dollars as with participation.

I was only in my new industry position for a short period of time when I was highly encouraged by my company’s senior leadership to find a “study group” for my specific field. I found that study groups are available across many business lines, and my field is no exception. Study groups can be small, ranging from a few people across a few companies to hundreds of people across dozens of companies. An industry study group is not so different from an informal study group that starts in college except that most communication is via telephone, email, or online forums. Public accountants are generally not allowed to participate because the knowledge they can provide isn’t first-hand, directly relevant experience that would be applicable to industry professionals. All study groups I’ve seen evaluate their participant list at least annually and determine which people did or did not attend a minimum number of meetings or respond to a minimum number of electronic communications. Some groups monitor their lists monthly and promptly notify people of their lack of participation, which may place them in a probation period. I find the knowledge and passion in the study groups highly encouraging. I feel connected to other accountants and still have a sense of camaraderie that I was quite afraid of losing by transitioning out of public accounting.

Finally, I have access to all of the essential technical resources in industry that every accounting professional should expect, such as RIA Checkpoint, BNA, LexisNexis, AICPA, and—of course—NCACPA.

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


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.