A chartered public finance accountant is responsible for ensuring the effective operation of accounting and financial activities within public sector organisations.
While many work for public bodies, such as local and central government and publicly funded organisations, an increasing number are employed in industry or private accountancy firms.
Roles within 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.
The role varies widely from general financial administration to management accounting. Whether employed directly within the public sector or working on a consultative basis, chartered public finance accountants ensure that public money is used as effectively and efficiently as possible and that a high level of transparency is maintained.
Tasks may include:
- developing and managing financial management systems and policies;
- ensuring the effective financial management of public money by supporting the planning and implementation of policy objectives;
- making financial decisions and advising key bodies and individuals, such as management boards and budget holders, using financial management information;
- preparing and monitoring budgets and accounts;
- controlling expenditure and cash flow;
- undertaking financial administration;
- preparing reports on annual accounts and budget information for the auditor;
- controlling the overall capital and revenue budgets for departments;
- assessing and advising on estimates for project funding and continuing running costs;
- preparing recommendations on large-scale projects;
- checking that funding is properly distributed;
- conducting internal audits, e.g. working on wage reviews;
- checking creditors' invoices;
- charging customers for services;
- liaising with managerial staff, colleagues and clients;
- examining financial records and statements to check for accuracy;
- balancing the costs of specific public services against income;
- keeping up to date with developments in public sector financial and management accounting practices;
- managing and training staff, when employed at a senior level.
- Typical starting salaries range from £18,000 to £30,000.
- With two to three years' post-qualifying experience, chartered public finance accountants can expect to earn between £32,000 and £65,000.
- 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 there is a need to study whilst working, which requires commitment, dedication and long hours.
What to expect
- Most of the work is undertaken in an office setting, but some travel to meetings is required. Some jobs in this profession require intensive meetings and involve liaising with clients and key personnel, for example if working in a consultative or audit role.
- 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.
- The profession is fairly evenly balanced between men and women with some increase in the number of female entrants.
- Self-employment is sometimes possible for professionals with a good level of 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 and in a wide variety of employment environments.
- After qualification, part-time careers and job sharing are also possible ways of working.
- 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 a degree, (preferably a 2:1), in the following subjects is often sought:
- politics/government/public administration;
Although any degree subject may be accepted, entrants with relevant degrees will be exempt from the certificate level of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) Professional Qualification.
A HND in the following subjects may also increase your chances:
- politics/government/public administration.
As with degrees, a relevant HND will give exemption from the certificate level of the CIPFA qualification.
The minimum academic standard of entry for the CIPFA qualification is three GCSE passes (A-C) and two A-levels (A-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 will need to show:
- 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 that responds positively to the demands of the job and successfully combines professional training and working.
Pre-entry experience, while beneficial, is not essential. However, familiarity with a range of environments and cultures, and an understanding of the ethos and aims of the public and not-for-profit sector, are helpful.
Typical employers include:
- local and central government;
- educational institutions;
- housing associations and charities;
- police authorities;
- utilities bodies;
- healthcare bodies, including the National Health Service (NHS);
- national and district audit 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 wide range of public sector organisations, such as healthcare bodies, charities and local and central government. The 'Big Four' are:
- Ernst & Young;
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 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.
- National and local press.
Recruitment agencies sometimes handle vacancies for qualified and part-qualified applicants. These include:
The main professional body is the CIPFA, its qualifications develop candidates as accountants and financial managers tailored to the public services.
An open learning system exists, as well as day release. Many employers offer paid study leave and structured training schemes. Trainees are also 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 Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
- Chartered Accountants Ireland
- 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 a number of departments to gain experience of areas such as:
- financial planning;
- audit and financial systems;
- service-based accountancy;
- treasury management.
The CIPFA Professional Qualification is made up of three stages and takes approximately three years to complete. Candidates are assessed through examinations and must keep a detailed record of their professional experience in the Practical Experience Portfolio (PEP). The qualification is structured as follows:
- Professional Certificate: financial accounting; management accounting; financial reporting; and audit and assurance. Completion of this stage leads to eligibility for affiliate membership of CIPFA.
- Professional Diploma: public finance and taxation; public sector financial reporting; governance, public policy and ethics; financial management; business strategy; and business management. Completion of this leads to eligibility for associate membership of CIPFA.
- Strategic Level: strategic leadership and strategic financial management. Completion of this final level leads to full membership of CIPFA.
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.
Many large public sector bodies provide well-structured career paths with many opportunities to develop and specialise. A career in public sector financial management offers a wide range of challenging and rewarding opportunities.
Employment opportunities can be found in areas ranging from local government to the NHS, and from education to central government and all its specialist agencies. Career development is based on both ability and geographical mobility.
Public finance accountants working in local government are appointed to a specific accounting or auditing role on qualification and are responsible for the overall financial provision of the department or service. Within a couple of years, many chartered qualified accountants are in a position to progress in their careers, and this may involve responsibility for larger resources or the management of entire departments.
Opportunities exist with a wide range of employers, and movement between public and private sectors is also possible.
CIPFA specifies that members must undertake mandatory continuing professional development (CPD) as 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.