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Bigger firms may not be better

Is bigger always better when it comes to accountancy firms, asks Morgan McKinley’s Sinéad Byrne, Senior Consultant Public Practice.

Sinéad Byrne

July 2018

It’s a common and wide-held belief that bigger is always better when it comes to the Top 100 accountancy firms and where you should be aiming to progress your career after qualifying. The prestige, the sense of achievement and the future career opportunities that arise from working for one of the large firms is undeniable.

Before you automatically decide to aim for a Big Four firm however, it might be worth considering if it’s what you really want. Very often I meet people making a decision on what their mentors/parents/society/friends think they should do, and not what will actually suit them best in reality.

As well as recruiting for the Big Four firms, I work with some smaller firms too. One in particular is a 10-partner firm in the City. The partner I deal with qualified with a Big Four firm, then took the decision to join this firm upon qualifying. He loves his job and feels as if it was the best career move he has ever made.

I thought I would share his reasons why:

  • He feels he is far better equipped to advise his clients on their businesses than if he was still at his Big Four firm as he is really able to get under their skin and get to know them individually.
  • Clients love the firm’s speed of response, passion and genuine interest in their business.
  • He worked hard and made partner in five years.
  • He can make his own decisions without the need for months of delays, meetings and escalations.
  • The firm’s staff are individually valued and get to know each other very well.
  • There is an excellent work life balance with a flexibility that takes individuals and their situations into account.
  • He enjoys working in a less corporate environment. They retain their professionalism but feels as if the working environment ‘has a soul’.
  • He has a varied client portfolio with clients in interesting industries. He also continues to have a mix of audit, accounts and tax clients that offer the variety and stimulation that a specialisation might not.
  • He has a genuine feeling that the decisions he takes can make a difference towards the future direction and growth of the firm. Staff at the most junior level are also given lots of autonomy and have opportunities to voice their opinions.

So even though there are some obvious limitations a smaller firm has that larger firms don’t, the above points are worth taking into account. It might be worth writing down what your own personal priorities and longer-term goals are. Keeping an open mind in considering a reputable smaller firm alongside your top tier search might help you weigh up what’s going to be the right move for you.

Sinéad Byrne is a public practice senior consultant at recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley


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