Chartered public finance accountants ensure the effective operation of accounting and financial activities in public sector organisations
A key part of your role as a chartered public finance accountant is to make sure that public money is being spent properly.
Public finance accountants work for public bodies, such as local and central government, and for publicly-funded organisations such as the police, the military, the NHS, and charities. A growing number are also employed in industry or private accountancy firms.
Your main duty will be financial reporting and control. Roles in private sector companies that provide services to the public or not-for-profit sector on a consultative basis tend to focus more on reviewing financial systems and efficiency than on central accountancy activities.
As a chartered public finance accountant, you'll need to:
- develop and manage financial management systems and policies
- ensure the effective financial management of public money by supporting the planning and implementation of policy objectives
- make financial decisions and advise key bodies and individuals, such as management boards and budget holders, using financial management information
- prepare and monitor budgets and accounts
- control expenditure and cash flow
- undertake financial administration
- prepare reports on annual accounts and budget information for the auditor
- control the overall capital and revenue budgets for departments
- assess and advise on estimates for project funding and continue running costs
- prepare recommendations on large-scale projects
- check that funding is properly distributed
- conduct internal audits, e.g. working on wage reviews
- check creditors' invoices
- charge customers for services
- liaise with managerial staff, colleagues and clients
- examine financial records and statements to check for accuracy
- balance the costs of specific public services against income
- keep up to date with developments in public sector financial and management accounting practices
- manage and train staff, when employed at a senior level.
- You'll typically start on a salary of £20,000 to £35,000. Once you're qualified, you can expect this to rise to between £35,000 and £50,000.
- With over five years' post-qualifying experience, chartered public finance accountants can expect to earn between £50,000 and £70,000.
- Salaries at senior level can be £80,000+, but there is potential to earn considerably more in certain circumstances.
Exact pay rates vary depending on employer, location, experience and responsibility. Additional benefits such as share options, bonuses, health insurance, pension contributions and company cars are common.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
The average working week is usually between 35 and 40 hours, Monday to Friday. However, extra hours are often required at peak times of the year, and this will include late evening and weekend work.
During training you'll need to study while you're working, which requires commitment, dedication and long hours.
After qualification, part-time careers and job sharing are also possible.
What to expect
- The role is mainly office based, but some travel to meetings will be necessary.
- Although the work is not generally pressured, specific periods, such as financial year ends, can be stressful. In addition, taking responsibility for the successful management of key financial resources can be demanding.
- There is a fairly even ratio of men and women working in the profession.
- Self-employment is sometimes possible for professionals with experience.
- There are opportunities to work on a freelance basis, although this is more likely for those with experience or who have retired. Companies employ freelance staff when the workload is particularly heavy in areas such as audit work. Freelance work involves spending a lot of time away from your desk in a variety of employment environments.
- Jobs exist in most areas throughout the country, particularly in cities and larger towns.
- The role provides the satisfaction of working to support often vital not-for-profit and public sector services.
- Absence from home at night is occasionally needed, but overseas travel is uncommon.
Chartered public finance accountancy is open to all graduates, although preferably a 2:1 degree in the following subjects is often sought:
- accounting or finance
- business or management
- politics, government or public administration.
Although any degree subject may be accepted, entrants with relevant degrees or HNDs may be exempt from the certificate level of the CIPFA Professional Accountancy Qualification (PAQ). Find out more about how to check for exemptions.
Relevant HNDs include:
- accounting or finance
- business or management
- politics, government or public administration.
The minimum academic standard of entry for the CIPFA qualification is three GCSE passes (A to C or equivalent) and two A-levels (A to C), or the Scottish or Republic of Ireland equivalents.
The minimum academic standard of entry for the CIPFA qualification is a minimum of three GCSE passes (A to C or equivalent) and two A-levels (A to C), including English and mathematics at either level.
The minimum vocational qualification is an NVQ/GNVQ at Level 3, or the Scottish equivalent.
Competition for traineeships is keen but, once qualified, movement is relatively easy. Employers may visit your institution to recruit or notify careers services of any vacancies directly.
If you have a geographical preference, it might be worth identifying appropriate organisations and applying to them directly. Find organisations via:
You'll need to show:
- numerical ability
- strong oral and written communication skills
- attention to detail
- teamworking skills
- IT proficiency
- analytical and problem-solving skills
- integrity and a high level of ethical standards
- a well-motivated approach to respond positively to the demands of the job, successfully combining professional training and working.
Pre-entry experience, while beneficial, is not essential.
However, being familiar with a range of environments and cultures and having an understanding of the ethos and aims of the public and not-for-profit sector will be advantageous.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
Typical employers include:
- educational institutions
- healthcare bodies, including the National Health Service (NHS)
- housing associations and charities
- local and central government
- national and district audit bodies
- police authorities
- utilities bodies.
The public sector covers a range of organisations. The term generally refers to bodies that provide services to the public, although this does not necessarily have to be within the public sector.
Public services are typically funded through taxation, and work relates to the balancing of costs rather than the maximisation of profits.
Chartered public finance accountants are employed by large private sector organisations and in industry and commerce. Some work for accountancy firms, which provide services to a range of public sector organisations, such as healthcare bodies, charities and local and central government. The 'big four' are:
There are also a growing number of opportunities to work for specialist accountancy and management consultancy partnerships. These provide a range of advisory, consultative and audit services for the public sector. Some chartered public finance accountants with a good level of experience set up in private practice.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Accounting Web
- CIPFA Recruitment services - provider of professional interim and permanent public sector resources
- CIPFA trainee vacancies - for details of financial management trainee posts
- Local Government Jobs
- NHS Jobs
- Public Finance - CIPFA newsletter containing news and expert comment on public policy and public sector finance
Recruitment agencies sometimes handle vacancies for qualified and part-qualified applicants. These include:
The main professional body is CIPFA. Its qualifications develop candidates as accountants and financial managers tailored to the public services.
CIPFA offers flexible study options, with online learning and distance learning, for its Professional Accountancy Qualification (PAQ). Face-to face-learning is currently not provided due to the pandemic.
Many employers offer paid study leave and structured training schemes. Trainees are required to experience a range of finance, accountancy and audit functions in the workplace, normally guided by a qualified colleague.
Fast-track routes are available to members of the:
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland
- Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
Some exemptions are available for qualified members of a variety of professional bodies, including the:
In larger organisations, such as local government councils, trainees rotate between departments to gain experience in areas such as:
- audit and financial systems
- financial planning
- service-based accountancy
- treasury management.
The PAQ consists of 12 modules, which are completed in 4 stages, resulting in 1 certificate and 3 diplomas.
CIPFA's pass rate compares favourably with other accountancy institutes and is often higher for graduate entrants. Students may re-sit failed examinations. Employers' attitudes to examination failures vary, but progress is generally dependent on exam performance.
A career in public sector financial management offers many challenging and rewarding opportunities and large public sector bodies provide well-structured career paths, enabling you to develop and specialise.
Prospects are good as opportunities exist with a variety of employers, ranging from local government to the NHS, central government (and all its specialist agencies) to education institutions. It's possible to move between the public and private sectors.
Public finance accountants in local government are appointed to a specific accounting or auditing role on qualification where they are responsible for the overall financial provision of the department or service. Progression is usually possible within a couple of years, when they are given responsibility for larger resources or the management of entire departments.
CIPFA members must undertake continuing professional development (CPD) and career progress is linked to continued learning through training events, conferences and meetings. An increasing number of public sector employers operate staff development schemes accredited by CIPFA to enable staff development and CPD to run concurrently.