It pays to think small

October 2020

Don’t overlook a small medium-sized practice for your next career move, says Aleksandra Zaronina-Kirillova.

As a PQ you’re probably now at the stage where you’re figuring out the next steps on your career ladder.

Perhaps the trans-national operations of a global Big 4 powerhouse have always been an aspiration of yours? Or maybe working for government or a non-profit ticks the box. But have you ever considered working for a small medium-sized practice (SMP), having more of a direct relationship with local business? As we all know there are not many professions as diverse as accounting, so setting time aside to really weigh up your options would be time well spent. I hope by reading this article you’ll gain some perspective as to why a SMP shouldn’t be overlooked as a career destination and could potentially be your next major move.

ACCA recently launched a report entitled ‘Careers in small medium-sized accountancy practices’ with the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. We spoke to over 60 SMP experts from 20 different countries about talent, attraction, development and retention within smaller accountancy firms. And below are 10 key takeaways as to why SMPs provide a fantastic opportunity for all ambitious accountants:

1: SMPs help businesses and society as a whole

Does the idea of talking directly to the business, the owner and the decision-maker interest you? If you want to achieve direct impact, then a SMP is definitely worth considering. Accountants not only provide vital support to business owners, but they also have an extensive social role.

2: SMPs offer personal growth development and a ‘long-term’ career

The smaller accountancy firms focus closely on learning and are keen to develop their employees in a number of ways. They offer opportunity to develop skills not just for the job in hand, but relevant to an entire professional career. This can be through formal and informal training for professional qualifications, training in technologies and data-management or needs-based training, which is often led by the employee.

3: SMPs have embraced a multi-generational workforce

Some people thrive in a family atmosphere with the mixing up of age groups. Various age groups provides an array of opportunities for inter generational collaboration and teamwork, mentoring and talent development.

4: SMPs are a springboard for career mobility

A smaller practice offers the chance to work with a variety of business owners, but not limited to just local clients. There’s a real opportunity to engage with a variety of experts across the business, including mentorship from leaders.

The thorough business and financial grounding a professional will receive by working at a smaller firm can lead to a move to a much larger practice or even entrepreneurship in either accountancy or another field.

5: SMPs are creative

Accountants are expected to spot problems and be proactive with their solutions. Practices are organised in a non-hierarchical structure that encourages innovation and agility, allowing all employees to contribute ideas, no matter the level of experience.

Smaller firms are often at the forefront of adopting digital accounting software and are linking up with major fields, such as big data, block chain and cybersecurity. They are also working with some of the most exciting clients, for example: rapidly growing start-ups – often digital pioneers themselves. Many of these smaller firms have started from scratch and have no legacy systems, which might hinder or delay upgrading to a new, advanced system.

6: SMPs are ethical

SMPs are assurance providers for small businesses. Accountants are expected to hold them to account and are supported by a strong ethical code in defining what is right and doing the right thing.

7: SMPs are a people business

Their work involves regular direct contact with a variety of clients and will suit and further develop outgoing, confident communicators.

8: SMPs offer employees the chance to see results of their work

Employees get to see the concrete results of their work when working for a smaller practice, due to the size of the teams and the close interaction with businesses. This component is often missed when working for larger corporations where there is a high degree of disconnection between an individual’s work and achieved results. SMPs provide the opportunity for professionals to shape the success of concrete businesses and seeing the impact of their work.

9: SMPs provide the chance to share in the success of the business

A number of SMPs have ownership structures where an employee can be rewarded for high work achievement by sharing in the business’ success, via different types of reward structures, such as a share of company equity.

10): SMPs offer a good work-life balance

Smaller firms are taking advantage of digitalisation to offer individuals benefits such as flexible and remote working. They want their offices to be informal and enjoyable places where people want to come to work.

Many of us have had to press pause, re-evaluate and adjust to a new world due to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. The crisis has emphasised how SMPs are not only resilient, but how they’re showing their wider contribution to society; and how professionals are increasingly looking for more purposeful and meaningful careers, which is why a move to an SMP is such an attractive route to success.

• Aleksandra Zaronina-Kirillova is ACCA’s head of SME