Choosing an Accounting Firm

The accounting industry is a complex beast. There are many different types of accounting firms out there, so finding the right one is definitely something you should do before you start applying for graduate-level accounting jobs.

The aim of this article is to provide you with a snapshot of the different kinds of accounting firms in the UK. The various categories into which accounting firms can be classified are listed below. This is by no means an exhaustive description, but should provide you with sufficient information from which to make a start…

The Big Four…

The Big Four is the collective term for the four largest professional services networks in the world: PwC, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte. These companies rule the roost in the accounting industry, conducting the majority of audits for public companies and other major private corporations.

Each of the Big Four firms generated revenues of over £20 billion in 2011. Now you can see why they’re called the ‘Big’ Four!

Each firm also employs over 140,000 people worldwide. Incidentally, plenty of graduate opportunities are available each year with these organisations. The competition for places, however, is still extremely fierce. To secure a place on a Big Four graduate scheme, you will need an excellent academic background, fantastic work experience and genuine enthusiasm.

The Big Four firms tend to employ people across a broad range of disciplines, from audit, assurance, business recovery, corporate finance, forensic accounting and tax to actuarial, transaction services, sustainability, pensions, insurance and risk.

Mid-tier accounting firms…

These medium-sized firms, such as Grant Thornton, BDORSM Tenon, Buzzacott, Mazars and Smith & Williamson, sit just below the Big Four. They are still sizeable companies with an international presence; however, they tend to have a smaller client base and focus more on working with middle market companies.

These firms are constantly nipping at the heels of the Big Four, though; constantly attempting to secure business from larger clients and expanding all the time.

The majority of mid-tier accounting firms have well-established graduate schemes, with plenty of opportunities available across the UK.

Competition for places on these programmes is almost equally as intense as it is for Big Four graduate schemes. Once again, you’re going to need a solid academic background and something on your application that is going to set you apart from other people.

Regional accounting firms…

A regional accounting firm’s expertise and business is usually confined to one or two regional hubs. These decent-sized accounting firms tend to have more than office across a specific region. Many of these accounting firms also have established graduate trainee programmes.

Competition for places with these firms is undoubtedly lower, but most firms will still be looking for talented grads with a strong academic background.

Examples include: Larking Gowen, Wilkins Kennedy, Price Bailey, Dains and Mitchell Charlesworth, 

Boutique accounting firms…

These smaller accounting firms tend to focus on a highly-specific, but lucrative, area of accounting; providing world-class customer service to a range of middle market clients. A step above small local accounting firms in terms of size and prestige, many of these firms are started by experienced Chartered Accountants who have learnt their trade at a Big Four or mid-tier firm, before branching out on their own and taking a handful of loyal clients with them in the process.

Whilst these firms may not boast established graduate schemes, they will be keen to take on talented and dynamic young people who have amassed a decent amount of work experience prior to applying.

Local accounting firms…

These firms do exactly what it says on the tin. They are small companies that focus their efforts on a specific local market. These firms may not provide the same complex services for their clients as larger organisations; focusing instead on bookkeeping and other general accounting activities.

It’s unlikely that these small firms will have an established training programme. Consequently, a speculative application might be the best approach to take when looking for these opportunities.

Public finance accounting…

Accountants don’t only work in the private sector. Indeed, there are also graduate job opportunities for aspiring accountants in public finance. This route certainly shouldn’t be disregarded, as you can develop a fantastic career in accountancy within a central government department, an educational institution, a local council, the armed services, the European Union, the UN, the NHS, the Metropolitan Police or a national audit body, such as the National Audit Office. 

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