Paul Gosling, journalist

As professional accountants in the public sector move into the later years of their careers, there are a number of opportunities out there for them to consider. But how best to continue sharing the valuable experience you will have acquired over the years, while allowing time to pursue other interests or just enjoy a change of pace?

After a career working for the Home Office, organising rail tours in India, seven years as chief executive of Afghanaid, then 20 years as deputy director of finance for the charity Blackfriars Settlement, Jackie Wray FCCA now works for two charities as a consultant. She says she finds her semi-retirement role immensely rewarding.

‘You need a technical head to make sure charities maintain that reputation for integrity,’ she says. ‘Accountants bring risk analysis, they understand ethics and the rules; all these things are so valuable to charities.

‘By the time you retire, your skills and experience are invaluable to small and medium-sized charities’

‘I do enjoy the nitty gritty, where you get a report in to a funder and you get the grant you have applied for. It is very practical, hands-on work. And it is so delightful when you get the right figures and the management committee really understands the financial risks and opportunities facing the charity.’

Wray says she is happy with this level of work, as it allows her time to pursue other interests. She urges others to consider how they might ‘give back’ in retirement. ‘By the time you retire, your skills and experience are invaluable to small and medium-sized charities,’ she says.

In the interim

Stephen Fitzgerald FCCA is currently full-time CFO for a West Midlands council but has been an interim financial manager in the public sector for several years. Though some way off retirement, he says interim financial management can be a very rewarding role as professional accountants with public sector experience begin the winding-down process towards the end of their careers.

‘One of the things that interim management gives you is more flexibility to do other things,’ he says. ‘I sit on the board of Status Employment in south London, supporting people with disabilities that make it more difficult for them to get jobs. Interim management also gives me scope to take more interest in professional development – for example, I’ve been on the ACCA Public Sector Panel and a member of Solace, a network for public sector professionals.’ (See also his AB article on interim roles.)

Fitzgerald says that he hopes in later years to provide support to international charities working in countries without publicly funded healthcare.

‘Accountants with public sector experience understand the inner workings, where financial priorities lie and the many protocols that exist’

Get on board

He advises that, when personal satisfaction becomes more important than the size of income, senior financial managers could consider taking board positions. Such opportunities for retiring public sector accountants need not be restricted to charities and the voluntary sector.

According to Charlie Grubb, managing director for executive search at Robert Half, ‘The skillset of public sector accountants will be appealing to organisations that are building a new board, or that need to strengthen audit and risk committees.’

He says in fact there are many of options available to retiring public sector accountants, particularly those who have been in more senior levels. ‘The expertise gathered over a lifetime makes senior accountancy talent very popular, as they can bring their knowledge of governance, finance and regulation to the private sector,’ he says.

There are also significant opportunities for public sector accountants to work for or act as consultants to companies that want to lobby or work more directly with public sector entities, he says. ‘Accountants with public sector experience understand the inner workings, where financial priorities lie and the many protocols that exist.’

These roles can also be done on reduced hours, as can working in thought-leadership or public speaking, which, according to Grubb, ‘can be very financially rewarding for a relatively low time commitment.’

Given the myriad ways in which the highly specialised skills of professionals in the public sector can be redirected, it seems the challenge will be choosing which route to take.