Big versus small accountancy firms

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.

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.  Working 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 are 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 out in the 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 smaller accountancy firms

Breadth of experience

At a smaller firm there may be far more breadth in terms of work you get involved in. 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’ll get the opportunity to work directly with people in smaller organisations who want to drive their business forward – that’s really inspiring. You can also see the impact of your advice and the services you provide in a much more tangible way.

Faster learning

In a small firm you are quickly on-the-job and getting stuck into real work. 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 pigeonholed into a particular specialism.

Close-knit teams

At smaller firms 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 easier to develop rapport both with clients and the owners of the firm. You also tend to socialise with a broader range of colleagues so nights out involve a more diverse group, rather than just being an extension of a university night out with the same faces.

But …

Working in smaller firms, 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 feel you get to work in the different departments more to ‘help out’ rather than to learn more. In smaller firms you can find that occasionally there is a bit of a lack of structured career progression and slightly less focus on your training and development. In smaller firms you can’t expect to command the small salary level that you would in a larger, prestigious firm.


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

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