Felicity Hawksley, journalist

If you’ve recently qualified having paid your own way through ACCA’s courses and exams, you might well be considering your next move, wondering where your new skills and credentials could take you. In the Middle East, small and medium-sized practices (SMPs) are a growing force, and they offer significant opportunities for the right fit.

‘You get a greater diversity of experience at a small firm and much more access to senior staff’

Good picks for new starters

Nasheeda CC, founder and managing director of Nishe Consulting, a small, currently female-only, firm in Dubai, says that there are practical and personal reasons SMPs are a good pick for newly qualified professionals. ‘First of all, you get a greater diversity of experience at a small firm,’ she points out, ‘and you also get much more access to senior staff, which can quickly shape the direction and quality of your career.’

CC has seen both sides herself. She started out in 2005 working for PwC in Dubai and spent just over 11 years with the firm. ‘There are benefits to the Big Four – don’t get me wrong,’ she says. She cites a project she worked on in the early stages of her career: ‘I helped to write a VAT audit manual for a country that was moving towards a VAT regime. That is the kind of experience you simply won’t get at a small firm.’

But, she adds, while she gained in many ways, she also lost her motivation there. ‘The bigger the firm, the more processes there are to follow, and it makes life boring. The processes are mainly for risk management and probably don’t affect 99% of clients, but you have to do them. They take the imagination out of you!’

She left PwC in 2016 as a director and set up her own firm. ‘We do outsourced accounting for our clients, we help them with standards, we do some consulting, and some audits.’ She says that Nishe employees get a lot of attention and client interaction. ‘I really enjoy my work. There is a lot of passion for the job here, and a lot of camaraderie and bonding.’

Keeping the firm small means new joiners have to get stuck into everything. ‘When a client has a problem, you can’t just pass them to a different department. You have to work with them on everything, and there’s better bonding with the client as a result.’

She says that while the people Nishe attracts are fundamentally no different from those the Big Four attract, her recruits soon become quite different to those who pursue a career with a larger firm. ‘They become more independent, and they’re not in the cocoon of a brand. They know they aren’t just a cog, but a wheel,’ she explains.

‘I want people with confidence, not necessarily the best credentials, and the hunger to do something different’

Avoiding the crowd

Arshad Gadit, CEO of accountancy firm AthGadlang, has similar views. He too spent time at a Big Four firm – in his case, Deloitte in London – before going on to found his own firm in Bahrain.

Gadit says he actively looks to hire people who don’t want to be part of the crowd. ‘I want people with confidence, not necessarily the best credentials. I want them to have the hunger to do something different.’ He has even hired people with bad exam results because he saw a spark in them that he thought he could harness.

He agrees that new hires in small firms get a lot more attention than in big firms. ‘Everything is hierarchical at the big companies,’ he says. ‘Here you get high exposure, and there is a high price for getting things wrong simply because you are much more visible.’ But, he adds, people shouldn’t be put off by that. ‘It’s a matter of what you see in yourself,’ he says.

‘It comes down to one question: do you want to go with the crowd? Or would you rather be somewhere less structured and a much bigger part of something smaller? Anyone who is qualified should seriously consider working in a small firm.’

More information

Look out for new ACCA research on Gen Z and our new ‘Rethinking careers’ hub next month