From middle market to public sector audit

Ally Douglas By Ali Douglas, ICAS Tutor

6 October 2016

ICAS Tutor Ali Douglas has had a varied career journey moving from middle market to public sector audit, before joining the ICAS Education team. Here he gives us the lowdown on his career highlights.

Where it all started

I qualified in 2008 with Tenon Limited, and gained lots of experience in tax, audit and accounts preparation. I would recommend working in a variety of service lines where possible - it really helps develop your understanding of different technical requirements which can be applied across all of your exams.

Public sector audit

In my final year at Tenon, I was focusing on audit but had begun to question whether I wanted to continue in that area. To shake things up a bit I accepted a job as an assistant manager within KPMG’s public sector audit department.

Pretty much straight away I was leading the audit of a hospital. I was thrown in at the deep-end and had to learn so many new procedures. Never would I have thought I’d be meeting with the exec board of a hospital learning how to improve patient waiting times or control the hours of junior doctors.

I had always been concerned with numbers, but in a public sector job the additional reporting requirements mean that interaction with the ‘client’ and ‘understanding of the entity’ take on a whole new meaning. As part of the audit process, there was increased focus on key business areas such as corporate governance, risk management, as well as the ongoing pressure on the public sector to provide value for money.

Time for a change

I had always had an interest in the education side of things, so when the opportunity arose, I moved to KPMG’s L&D team on a secondment. As well as updating technical materials, I delivered education courses to KPMG employees across the UK. I quickly realised that working in education was my calling. When my secondment was up I joined the lecturing team at ICAS as an audit lecturer.

Inside ICAS

Since joining ICAS I have had a chance to reflect on my time in the public sector. As a CA moving from middle market to the public sector meant I had a lot to learn about public sector reporting and new technical requirements. 

This was especially interesting as I was working with students, mainly studying with The Certified Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). At times, they often had a better understanding of the reporting requirements for different public sector bodies than their team leader!

On the flip-side, a number of public sector bodies had subsidiary companies whose reporting requirements were covered by the Companies Act. It became apparent that many students had limited knowledge of how to approach key accounts in these types of organisations. It wasn’t a core part of what they were being taught.

As auditing firms expand their client portfolios, students are finding themselves being involved in the audits of a diverse client base. Students in this environment often need to learn technical skills in more diverse areas as part of their qualification, rather than just through on-the-job training.

Addressing student needs

Together with CIPFA, ICAS has launched a new integrated qualification which allows students to develop technical and professional skills in both public and corporate sector audit, giving them a much more diverse knowledge base. However, this is not just aimed at new students as plans are afoot to allow existing CAs and CPFAs to pick up the skills they need to work in audit across different markets.


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