Picture the scene; it’s a rainy summer’s day in Auckland as I sit down with a client over a coffee on High Street, and the question is posed to me “why do accountants want to move from Public Practice to Commercial?”

I laugh and rattle off a list that I hear from most candidates every day. We then discussed the reasons why someone from Commercial/Industry/Private would move back to Public Practice/Professional Services or a CA firm/Accounting firm. 

After our catch up it got me thinking it would be a fair idea to share, as some people in the market haven’t thought about the other side of the coin. I have been specialising in recruitment within the CA space for the past seven years. From my experience, many people who go to Industry move back to Public Practice at a point in their career. 

These are the main themes that occur:

Variety of Work

In Professional Services, you’re constantly exposed to various industries and entity types. This continues to build a broad knowledge of businesses, how they run, and why, so you are always learning. A common complaint I hear from candidates who make the switch to Commercial is that it’s like doing ‘Year End’ 12 months in a row for one industry, with fewer entities, and is repetitive. 

If you get a kick out of variety and helping multiple businesses, Public Practice is a better fit for you.

The salary disparity isn’t too different the more senior you get

CAANZ recently released their Rumeneration Survey in December 2022. On page 3 you will find the median total remuneration by position. I won’t spoil the fun, as CAANZ has gone to an immense amount of effort for this report. You will find the average full-time salary for Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Financial Controller, Financial Manager, Financial Business Partner, and Finance Manager, as well as Partner, Director, and Accounting Manager. 

Numbers don’t lie – when you get to manager level in Professional Services, there isn’t much salary disparity between the sectors.

Job Security

There is a higher demand in Public Practice to hire talent than in the Commercial sector – this is due to a range of factors, which include the volume of candidates seeking a role in Public Practice compared to Commercial, as well as the volume of available jobs in each area. Many roles in Commercial also do not require the CAANZ qualification in order to perform the roles. 

With the potential economic downturn forecast for the second half of 2023, it’s a fair assumption there will be a rise in restructures and redundancies in Commercial to increase efficiency, lower the bottom line, and mitigate risk. Due to the skill shortage in Accounting Firms, you are in a safer, more stable environment that is likely to offer job security. Since March 2020, there have been fewer restructures and redundancies in Practice because clients typically reach out for advice when there is a crisis. This makes Professional Services incredibly resilient as businesses still require audits, year-end accounts producing, various tax returns filing, and business advice.

Less competition for progression

Once staff serve three years of experience in a CA firm and obtain their CA qualification, traditionally Accountants move to Industry or Overseas. This creates constant movement and a gap from Senior level upwards. 

In Commercial, the CFO, Finance Manager, or Financial Controller stay for 2-5 years due to limited opportunities at their own level within a small to medium size business. The knock-on effect creates a lack of career progression, whereas in Practice (depending on the size of the firm) you will have multiple senior spots that you can grow into.

So if you enjoy the variety of Practice and there are fewer people in the queue to progress, the benefit to you is you can climb the career ladder faster with less competition, which is a win-win.

Team of like-minded people

Professional Services generally have larger teams whether you’re in Big Four, a Mid Tier, a large international, or a boutique firm. Depending on your employer, the Finance Team will have mixed backgrounds of experience and you might even be the only one in the Finance team. (Most of NZ’s commercial industry is made up of SMEs – with an average team of 4 in the Finance team).

In a Practice firm,you’re grabbing someone for a coffee to pick their brains on a tax issue or popping your head into the Partner’s office to make sure you’re on the right track after your research. There is a different vibe and accessibility when working with like-minded people.

Surprisingly, collating my thoughts around this topic has been quite enlightening. As a general rule, you can stay in Commercial for two years before coming back to Professional Services. Like with anything though, there is always an exception to the rule. I have assisted a number of candidates who have moved from Commercial back to Professional Services, particularly in Business Advisory Services (BAS), External Audit, and Tax. 

Want to learn more

I’m interested to hear what other reasons you think there are for moving back to Public Practice. Reach out to discuss this article or your career plans for 2023 and how I can help. Learn more about the public practice salaries and benefits we are noticing.

Tasha Toehemotu


09 930 9827

I am a Specialist Recruiter within the CA space which means I help Chartered Accountants / Certified Public Accountants and those studying toward their CA or CPA qualification. My clients are Public Practice firms and Accounting firms and the roles are within Business Advisory Services (BAS), External Audit, Tax, Corporate Finance, Risk Advisory and Insolvency. Our Accounting & Finance specialist team works across New Zealand and Australia in both Professional Services and Commercial/Industry.