Moving from audit to the start-up and fast growth industryApr 07, 2023
There are many different career paths for accountants and many different ways that you can become a Finance Director or CFO for a start-up or fast growth business.
One route is to start at audit first, get your qualification and then move into industry.
I personally didn’t go this route, however I have mentored, trained and hired many qualified accountants who did (especially first role in industry post audit) and so I know how challenging this transition can be.
If you are currently working in audit, or recently finished working in audit and are now in industry, or have just hired an auditor, below are some suggestions to make the transition a little easier for either yourself or new member of your team.
Before leaving the firm
An Audit career path
To understand how to transition from audit to business, it is important to first understand the typical career path for auditors. Auditors typically start in entry-level positions and progress to more senior positions within the firm over time.
Entry-level positions typically involve performing routine tasks such as data entry and reconciliations. As auditors gain experience, they move on to more complex tasks such as analysing financial statements and developing audit strategies. Senior positions within the firm involve managing audit teams and overseeing the audit process for large clients.
Through an auditing career, accountants gain valuable skills and experiences that can be applied to other roles in the business world. These skills include attention to detail, critical thinking, problem-solving, and data analysis. Auditors also gain experience working with a variety of clients and industries, which can be valuable in a business setting.
Identify Transferable Skills
When transitioning from audit to business, it is important to identify your transferable skills. As an auditor, you have developed a variety of skills that can be applied to other roles in the business world. For example, communication skills are critical in audit, and can be applied to any financial leadership roles. Project management skills are also highly valued in the business world. Other valuable transferable skills include data analysis, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
Having strong technical skills is also useful, especially to a smaller business that doesn’t want to spend a fortune on external accountants. Just be prepared to answer how you are going to keep those technical skills current.
Identifying your transferable skills is essential when transitioning from audit to business. It allows you to showcase your strengths and highlight your value to potential employers. By highlighting your transferable skills, you can demonstrate how you can bring value to a new role and make a successful transition into a new career.
Exploring Different Career Paths
There are many different career paths available for auditors after leaving the audit field. These paths include roles in finance, accounting, consulting, and more. By leveraging your transferable skills, you can transition into a variety of different roles in the business world.
Financial analyst is one popular career path for former auditors. In this role, you will analyse financial data and make recommendations to improve financial performance. This would be more common in a large organisation, rather than a smaller business.
Corporate accountant (be it Financial Controller or Head of Finance) is another option, where you will be responsible for all things finance in a start-up or fast growth business. Your role would be narrower for a larger business.
Management consulting is another potential career path for former auditors. As a consultant, you will work with clients to identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to achieve business objectives. Investment banking is another option, where you will work with clients to raise capital and provide financial advisory services.
If leading a fast growth finance department is the end goal, there is no need to totally freak out when choosing your first industry role. I have seen many finance leaders in the fast growth world coming from:
- junior accounts roles only in industry
- straight from audit (be it Big 4 or a smaller firm)
- from Investment banking (with or without an audit background)
- large corporations (with or without an audit background)
- Internal audit (with or without an audit background)
As well as others. No matter which career path you choose, your transferable skills will always be valuable assets. Moving to different types of businesses can give you the broad range of skills that start-ups and fast growth businesses often need.
Check out “moving to a new industry” to get more tips on how to prepare for this.
After leaving the firm
Moving from audit to corporate finance requires a shift in mindset and skill set.
Looking forward, not just backwards. How to add value.
While auditors focus on verifying financial statements and identifying areas for improvement, corporate finance professionals focus on analysing financial data to make strategic business decisions in the future.
To successfully transition to corporate finance, it is important to develop the necessary skills. These skills include financial modelling, forecasting, and analysis.
This is also true with the reporting styles and how the financial numbers are presented.
There are a few different ways that financial numbers are reported for a start-up or fast growth business.
- The annual financial statements that auditors are very familiar with (and in general the rest of the business don’t ever really see)
- The internal management accounts whereby the P&L structure is completing different to the financial statements and is more useful to the business.
- Investor & Board reporting which is generally a summary of item 2.
Gone are the days of just looking at what has happened in a strict format and then telling the business what they have done and whether they did or didn’t hit budget.
A finance leader is now a business partner, adds value to the business and is very much sitting at the table to help make those Commercial decisions.
The faster this understanding is made and the quicker you can be part of the conversation with looking towards the future, the more value and impact you will make to the business.
(see: “How to upgrade your Management Accounts” course to ensure your internal reporting fits the business needs and is interesting to read)
Get used to the chaos (lack of structure)
In an auditing world, there is a lot of structure, systems, processes and risk analysis.
In industry, it is not the same and the smaller and younger the business is you could almost say it is the complete opposite!
I would say that this is the main area that can cause a new ex-auditor surprise and sometimes stress!
It is not uncommon for numbers to be a little “messy” (that you were probably hired to help fix!), that there are absolutely no documented processes and procedures, and you can probably identify multiple risks or best practices that are simply being ignored (separation of duties anyone?!).
Unfortunately, these issues will not be fixed overnight. Unfortunately, there may only be two of you in the entire business that actually cares about these issues.
Identifying these issues is a great first step, but then getting comfortable with them taking a while to fix and the business potentially not prioritising them over getting Product Market Fit / a fundraise / Commercial growth – is essential for your anxiety and stress levels.
Along with getting comfortable with imperfection, day-to-day tasks may also change dramatically from one day to the next, particularly in a start-up or fast growth business.
It’s harder to structure your weeks, as fires crop up quite regularly or the founder may decide that now is a good time to fundraise, even thought it was planned for 6 months’ time….
Being able to adapt to constant change is a trait that all workers with a start-up or fast growth business need to get comfortable with. (also see: “pros and cons of working in a start-up or fast growth business”)
In audit, you are moving around a lot, working with different businesses and many different finance teams.
However, when working for a company, you will be working with the same teams over a long period of time.
Which means that you need to develop good relationships with them in order to work well together.
The other challenge with this, is that most of the business are not qualified accountants and don’t understand (or even care) about technical accounting. Therefore, developing those softer skills with people that have a completely different professional background and understanding of numbers to you is very important. You need to be able to talk numbers to non-finance colleagues.
Networking is a key part of transitioning to corporate finance.
Attend industry events, connect with professionals on LinkedIn, and reach out to your network to learn about the job at hand.
Gaining relevant experience can also be helpful. Consider taking on additional responsibilities at work or volunteering in a finance-related role outside of work.
Obtaining relevant qualifications can also help you make the transition. Pursuing a certification such as a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) or a CIMA / CMA can demonstrate your commitment to the field and your knowledge of financial analysis.
Our new or aspiring Finance Director course is also for ex-auditors and is another course worth considering getting a good understanding of the role, what skills you need, how to demonstrate your value and how to fully support the founders, leadership team and the board.
In addition to developing the necessary skills and qualifications, it is important to approach the transition with a positive attitude and willingness to learn. Corporate finance is a complex and fast-paced field, and it may take time to adjust to the new role. By staying open-minded and proactive, you can successfully make the transition from audit to corporate finance.
- Get your FREE Guide: Stepping into the role of Finance Director or CFO
- Follow me and let me know what challenges you are having right now.
- Register for the mini-course, Upgrade your Management Accounts and get noticed by the business
- Work with me in the new / aspiring FD course and includes Q&A sessions where we can discuss all of your questions and how to apply your learnings to your current role.