Lewis Daidone discusses the fundamental differences between public and private accountants. Lewis Daidone is a Certified Public Accountant and consultant to tech companies and financial firms.
What makes accounting careers so attractive? Although they are definitely appealing to those of us with a natural facility for analysis, calculation, and finance, it’s the diversity of professional applications that makes them so dynamic. While there are numerous branches of accounting with slightly different focuses, there are two major career tracks accounting students can choose: public accounting or private accounting.
Those who work in a public accounting capacity will offer advisory, tax, analysis, auditing, and consulting services. They will typically work for public accounting firms—the largest being Ernst and Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG (known as the Big Four) —and will serve a broad array of clients from different industries. It is essential that public accountants not only have an accounting degree, but also be in possession of a Certified Public Accounting credential. Furthermore, it is extremely helpful for a public accountant to develop a strong and flexible understanding of a wide variety of industry practices and accounting transactions.
While public accountants will have to be in possession of a CPA designation, private accountants may only need a bachelor’s degree—although those who hold CPAs will command higher salaries. The main difference between public and private accountants is the private accountant’s dedication to a single organization; rather than having to constantly adjust to different industries and practices, the private accountant must only focus on one. It is the job of the private accountant to process company transactions (billing and payable), as well as to develop expertise in their industry in order to help management with daily operations. This means liaising with the heads of different departments, so developing excellent team building skills is critical.
Which to Choose?
Public accounting can be quite exciting—the client base is constantly changing, and public accountancy often requires a great deal of travel. Private accountants, on the other hand, work from a single office, and are surrounded by the same team every day, which might be more comfortable for a homebody kind of personality. There might also be more room for work-life flexibility, depending upon the private accountant’s industry.
Your decision to become a public or private accountant may depend upon your desired career trajectory, your need for variety, and your personal disposition. Nevertheless, both public and private accounting careers can be thoroughly rewarding, challenging, and satisfying.Lewis Daidone, a certified public accountant, works as an investment management consultant with BlackRock. Learn more about him by visiting this blog.