When I think of my father, first of all I remember the wide grin that was never far from his face. He was a big, imposing man, standing well over six feet, with a powerful build – the result of many years working on construction sites. When you are pushing barrows of cement and hauling timber, steelwork and bricks every day, you have no need to visit the gym.

He worked for other people at the start, but in time he set up on his own and began to win contracts. He hired masons and skilled workers from all over West Africa to help him. This was in the 1970s and 80s, when Nigeria's oil boom contrasted neighbouring countries' real economic hardship. Dad’s small company offered a lifeline to many families, including his own.

These memories flooded back as I prepared to speak on behalf of ACCA at the Africa Congress of Accountants in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I was invited to talk about growth and opportunities in the SME sector, and I was eager to cut through the business jargon, statistics and acronyms, and to describe how small enterprises, like my dad’s, play a powerful role in people’s lives.

One of the joys of the ACCA qualification is its incredible flexibility. With those magic four letters after our names, we are equipped and ready to work in the mightiest companies – the giants that dominate the business news and the financial headlines. Yet we also serve the smallest concerns, adding our expertise to help them grow and prosper.


Joseph Owolabi is ACCA president

We can offer smaller businesses the expertise they simply don’t have

The little guy

It’s the small and medium businesses that are the engine of economies all over the world. They are the businesses that keep the wheels of commerce turning, providing the sometimes anonymous but crucial services that communities – and bigger companies – cannot do without.

My view, and ACCA’s view, is that accountants can add a huge amount of value to even the smallest business, down to the sole trader, or those existing offline or off-grid – perhaps barely existing in the twilight or grey economy. In fact, the value we bring to the smallest businesses is immeasurably greater than it is to bigger companies with much larger turnovers because we can offer the expertise and the advice that they simply don’t have.

The tech giants all began as just one or two ambitious kids in a garage or a workshop and a single great idea

I also like to remember that SMEs are small today by definition but aren’t necessarily destined to stay that way. The greatest businesses on Earth have one thing in common – they all began as tiny concerns.

The tech giants – Google, Microsoft, Apple – all began as just one or two ambitious kids in a garage or a workshop and a single great idea. But their journey to greatness didn’t really start with the fantasy. It started with the finance – and the early advice and backing that made the dream real.

It’s professionals like us who can make those dreams come true.