Which accountancy specialisation should you choose?
Service line, business area, division… whatever they call them, most accountancy and financial management employers will ask you to indicate an area of specialisation when you apply to their graduate and internship programmes.
Help is at hand
Our areas of work and employer hubs will help you to research accountancy specialisations. Employer websites are another excellent source of information and advice. Grant Thornton tells students, for example, ‘As far as determining which business area is right for you, we tend to find tax attracts students of law or maths and business studies students apply to audit.’ KPMG’s graduate website provides applicants with a self-selection test to help them see which areas of the business they are best suited to (this is not part of the assessment process).
You may find that your grades or choice of degree subject directly affect your options. If, for example, you want to join one of the two actuarial schemes in the consulting division at Deloitte, you’ll need a degree with some grounding in mathematics, plus an A in A level maths. At BDO, to work in the forensic services department you’ll need a 2.1 or above in an IT-related degree.
With the exception of divisions for which firms have specific entrance criteria, however, choosing your specialisation is a really a matter of figuring out what best suits your personality, as Grant Thornton points out. Below we’ve provided a snapshot of the main areas of specialisation in accountancy and the type of person they will most likely appeal to:
Assurance could suit you if you have a strong academic record, great communication skills and self-confidence. It is the review of financial data and procedures within a company to ensure that shareholders’ money is being put to proper use, and to provide them with the information they need when considering investing in an organisation.
Commercial finance could suit you if you have a good dose of business awareness and strong analytical skills. It is at the heart of industry and commerce and has a strong focus on consumer transactions. Sectors such as retail, manufacturing, fast-moving consumer goods and leisure employ commercial finance managers to analyse the performance of their products or services and make recommendations to maximize profits.
Corporate finance could suit you if you have confidence, excellent communication skills, good numeracy skills and the resilience to be able to work long hours under a high degree of pressure. It primarily involves adding value to businesses through buying and selling. Roles range from lead advisers, who project manage the process of raising capital, through to reporting accountants and auditors, who are responsible for making sure that the accounts of any target company are in good order, to lawyers, who ensure that any transactions are carried out in the correct legally binding way.
Corporate recovery could suit you if you have an interest in the way that companies work, good negotiation skills, an ability to deal with complex financial information and sensitivity. It involves the processes behind ensuring that creditors, suppliers or employees of failing businesses get the best deal. Specialists in this field are normally appointed through referrals from banks, lawyers and accountants.
Corporate treasury could suit you if you have a good understanding of business and economics, excellent analytical skills and an ability to work well under pressure. Corporate treasurers work within the heart of an organisation, ensuring that it has enough cash to meet any demands that are likely to be made upon it. This involves monitoring liquidity in the company’s finances and being aware of any developments in the business that generate risk and ensuring that capital is available to cover these.
Financial accounting could suit you if you have an analytical, enquiring mind, excellent communication skills and a desire to challenge and improve the way in which an organisation works. Financial accountants analyse and report on financial transactions that can yield vital information on how a business is performing. They are often required to explain complex financial arrangements to those with little or no financial background so they need excellent communication skills.
Forensic accounting could suit you if you have the inquisitiveness and sound judgment of a detective as well as the numerical and communication skills to effectively convey complex conclusions to people from a non finance background. Forensic accountants help clients resolve financial problems such as fraud, disputes and suspected misconduct. They carry out investigations to uncover key information about the person or organisation in question and quantify the losses involved.
Internal audit could suit you if you have an eye for detail, while being able to see the bigger picture, a good knowledge of how businesses are run and an ability to liaise and communicate effectively, sometimes in awkward situations. Internal auditing teams look closely at key areas of the business and report their findings to management; the information that they gather is used by senior management. Internal auditors can advise management if important areas of the business are being run in an inefficient, financially risky or even fraudulent way.
Management accounting could suit you if you have good decision making skills, a high degree of numeracy and a good level of business acumen, as well as the ability able to present often complex financial information to management staff in an easy-to-understand manner. It deals with the supply of economic information that can aid in decision-making processes. Management accountants have acquired an in-depth knowledge of the business sectors they work in and a wide range of different skills such as planning, management and strategy in addition to their accounting abilities; it is this combination that allows them to provide specialised, business-specific guidance.
Risk assessment could suit you if you possess a questioning, logical mindset to identify problems and the creativity to come up with solutions as well as strong interpersonal skills and confidence. Risk assessment plays an important role in helping organisations to understand, prioritise and manage risk in order to avoid problems and capitalise on opportunities. It enables clients to achieve their objectives, which might include expanding their business, outperforming competition or protecting their reputation.
Tax could suit you if you have a talent for analysis and problem solving, a high level of numeracy, the ability to build good working relationships based on trust and can practise discretion. Tax advisers may be called in by businesses (corporate tax) or highly paid individuals (private client tax) as consultants to offer one-off solutions to a particular tax problem, or they may be employed on an ongoing basis, ensuring compliance and cost-effective solutions to taxation demands made on their client.