Big versus small accountancy firms

By Student Blog

1 December 2016

The ICAS tutor team report on the different advantages of working in big versus smaller accountancy firms.

The ICAS Education team have a wide range of experience to draw upon as they take you through the CA syllabus. Many of our tutors have worked for The Big Four, but also know what it’s like to work in medium and smaller sized firms as well. Whether you're already working for a small or large firm or are thinking of the future after qualification, find out the benefits of both. 

Advantages of big accountancy firms

Big clients

You get exposure to large clients, perhaps global companies, with complex issues and transactions taking place. For example, your audit client might be listing for the first time or they may be undergoing an acquisition. The companies you work with may also be very large, household names which can be exciting.

Specific expertise

Working for a big firm allows you to become more of an expert in a specific area of accountancy such as audit; being employed in one department allows you to really develop your technical knowledge in that particular area.

Career opportunities

The career opportunities that are presented to you in a big firm are more likely to be wide ranging. It’s likely that you’ll have the opportunity to consider secondments to different locations or different service lines which will help expand your experience. Most new graduates start out in audit, but not all will remain there.

More resources at your disposal

There is a huge range of resources available to you at bigger firms. This means that you’ll be able to access subject matter experts on different topics areas on international issues. What’s more, you’ll probably have an enviable range of in-house resources at your fingertips.

Social life

In a big firm, you’ll make lots of friends! You end up in a big year group with plenty of likeminded people. This offers a great support system for classes, exams and work experience, and dare we say it - lead to some brilliant nights out.

But …

Working in a larger firm can mean that sometimes you only see a small part of a much bigger picture when working with large clients or on big assignments. 

Your exposure to responsibility can vary - the level of responsibility will be shared, so you might only have a small part to play in the overall client engagement. This can also mean you may not find out about other areas you could potentially excel in. 

Working in a big firm often means long hours – particularly in ‘busy season’ when you can find yourself under a lot of pressure.

Advantages of small and medium-sized accountancy firms

Breadth of experience

At a smaller firm there may be a far greater breadth of work. For example, at a large firm you may just work in audit or tax. In a smaller firm you’re more likely to get involved in accounts preparation, tax and provision of more general business advice. 

You may get to work on every part of a process rather than just a discrete part of it. This allows you to see the whole picture of what’s involved in being an accountant and the different services that are provided to clients.

A more visible impact

In smaller firms, you are more likely to get the opportunity to work directly with small business owners who wish to drive their organisations forward – which is really inspiring. You can also see the impact of your advice and services in a much more tangible way.

Faster learning

You are more likely to be working on real projects in a shorter amount of time: although you have to learn quickly, in the longer-term this means you become able to deal with a wide variety of issues and are not shoe-horned or pigeon-holed into a particular specialism.

Close-knit teams

It’s far easier to get access to both partners and clients from an early stage in your career. This can be helpful from a career mentoring perspective, as you build up strong professional relationships with your senior partners and a closer knit team. 

It’s also easier to develop rapport both with clients and the owners of the firm. You also tend to socialise with a broader range of colleagues.

But …

There tends to be a more limited range of clients, so you’ll perhaps see fewer technical issues than you would in a larger practice. Working in lots of different areas does not necessarily allow time to develop technical skills in a specific area.  

You may find that you are helping across a range of different departments as part of relieving workloads, but this might not always be a learning experience. 

You can find that (occasionally) there is less structured career progression and you can’t expect to command the salary level that you could in a larger, prestigious firm.

Summary

Whether you work in a big or a smaller firm, you can still be sure that a career in accountancy will be a highly rewarding experience!

Topics

  • Become a Chartered Accountant
  • School leavers route
  • University route
  • CA Student blog

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