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Generation Y Accountants Seek Success outside Big 4

  • Less than 40% of trainee accountants now see Big 4 as important to their future

Generation Y accountants are increasingly enticed by smaller firms to house their careers in their formative years, according to a study carried out by accountancy & finance recruiter Marks Sattin.

The research shows a growing ambivalence among the trainee accountants towards the Big 4. Only 40% of accountants with less than 3 years’ experience said it was important to work for a big firm - compared to the industry average of 67%.

Laura Wilson, associate director of the professional services division at Marks Sattin says, “The credit crunch has convinced Generation Y that being involved in big business is not necessarily something to be proud of - 16.4% of our respondents said that they distrusted large organisations more since the downturn. The Big 4 firms suffered in the eyes of trainee accountants (more than 40% agreed that the big 4 had a ‘bruised’ reputation) thanks not only to appearing to be part of the machine, but also for having clients who are perceived as being part of the machine. That put many trainee accountants off working for the top firms and this has led to a rise in the number of trainee accountants seeking to begin their careers outside the Big 4.”

The research suggests accountants with less than three years’ experience think they are more likely to get deeper exposure to all facets of the accounting role by working for tier 2 firms – and are happy to sacrifice the chance to work with prestigious companies to get it. For instance, while 86% of workers with more than 5 years’ experience consider working on large clients important, only 67% of those with less than 3 years’ experience feel the same way.

Laura Wilson says, “The latest crop of post-credit crunch accountants are less interested in working on big-ticket FTSE 100 accounts than those who have been in the profession longer. We are entering a new era in financial services CV building, in which candidates want to sell themselves not by reeling off lists of FTSE 100 clients, but on their experience on smaller accounts providing higher levels of responsibility. Whether it’s true or not, candidates think they’ll be doing work that is more involved at an early stage in their careers by joining a smaller firm. The perception is counting against the Big 4 because candidates think that smaller firms offer more variety and more autonomy - and candidates are increasingly willing to sacrifice exposure to the FTSE 100 to get it.”

Brand magnetism

The findings also show that in the fight to build the most engaging public brands, the impact this has on attracting talent is increasingly limited. While 77% of experienced workers consider their employers’ public brand important, only 54% of workers with less than 3 years’ experience felt that company branding mattered to them.

Laura Wilson says: This research shows that while their brands remain relevant to experienced workers, trainee accountants prefer to think about their own profiles rather than those of their employees or clients.”

Work ethic

The research also shows that, although trainee accountants are increasingly ambivalent toward the largest firms, they are more willing to work long hours than those with more experience. While 92% of experienced professionals stated that work / life balance was important to them, only 79% of trainee accountants took the same view.

Laura Wilson says: “Generation Y is often dismissed as lazy and in it for themselves. Our research suggests, if anything, it’s Generation X who are more motivated by their lives outside work and achieving that all important ‘balance’. They’re also more driven by the scale and reflected glory of the larger brands, which at first seems surprising; but perhaps this demographic is more likely to take comfort from more robust HR policies, higher pay and maternity/paternity support. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the big 4 remain the powerhouses of finance hiring in the city, and for good reason. We’ve seen a lot of counter-offering recently in general across the sector but the most successful buy-backs are coming from the big 4 who have the pocket depth to win over most.”

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