The biggest player in the field is always an option when choosing your team, but I wish someone had told me to be sure not to overlook the agile and versatile small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs)!
Each to their own, and it depends on what you are looking to get out of your career/articles. But with as much bias as possible, here are a few thoughts to chew on:
- It’s ‘all-hands-on-deck’ at an SMP! You will get an A in audit wherever you do your articles, but at an SMP the experience one gains in dealing with clients, performing tax tasks, statutory work, etc., is much more prevalent than at our big board-roomed counterparts. A generalisation this may be, but if you are looking for anything but general, consider an SMP. At best, you’ll discover the type of work you love and at worst, you’ll find out the type you love a bit less. Either way, you’re on a road of self-discovery, learning more and more about yourself and your capabilities every day.
- Whether it be casual Fridays or an easy-going work-from-home policy, increased flexibility is definitely a tangible perk of working for an SMP. With that being said, Neutral-Ned made sure I mention that COVID-19 accelerated the entire world’s appetite for flexibility. Therefore, with as little bias as possible, credit is due to most of the bigger firms who are now showing an impressive and commendable degree of agility in this space.
- ‘Keep your circle ’mall’ sounds like the cliché advice one would hear from a new podcast channel trying to gain a following, but there’s a reason it’s a cliché! At an SMP you get the opportunity to form genuine and lasting relationships with your colleagues through consistent engagement. Of course, it is important to network, but there is no harm in leaving that for the many events hosted by SAICA, IRBA, banks, etc.
- Hierarchical reporting trenches are dug wherever you go (and accountants surely don’t need a(nother) lecture on the importance of structure) but there’s value in the added time one gets to spend with accomplished partners and client executives when clocking time at a smaller firm.
- While every registered audit/accounting firm adheres to the rigorous IRBA and International Standards which sustain our profession’s credibility, SMPs aren’t as exposed to the internal red tape that inherently comes with being a part of a multinational organisation. This can be a positive or a negative aspect but nevertheless, it’s food for thought.
- Less chopping and changing! SMPs often have their stable and loyal set of clients/engagements which staff work on year after year. Whilst one may envisage this as a less exciting aspect. there is a lot to be said for working on an engagement from start to finish.
- Study time is hardly a bargaining chip after X+ years at university, but small firms tend to be more lenient with allowing extra time off to prepare for SAICA’s Initial Test of Competence (ITC) and Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) exams.
- At an SMP you may get to share a boardroom with CEOs who slip a perspective-changing quote into casual conversation. So, if you are anything like me and entrepreneurship just does it for you, then exposure to owner-managed entities is my trump card. Take it or leave it, but at least take a non-billable moment to ponder over it (thank you in advance).
I’d like to thank you for reading this article in the same light-hearted fashion in which it was written. Anyone who has had working experience at both an SMP and a large firm will know that there is a list equally as long for the benefits of ‘going big.
With this in mind and to end off with reasonable assurance, I’ll be taking a neutral and honest turn to highlight that, nowadays, no one is just a number. Big or small does not matter when it comes to happiness and career progression. I humbly believe it’s all about your attitude − pressure is a privilege!
Kenyon Torr CA(SA), Accounting & Audit Compliance Department, RI Kennedy and Associates