The best place to launch a career

I’m knee-deep into my third year working as an auditor, and that means I’ve nearly met my experience requirements to call myself a CA. By my calculations I’ll qualify somewhere around January.

Over those 2+ years I’ve gained valuable experience working with clients in many different industries. The opportunity to learn is literally limitless, and it’s probably the best thing about the profession.

Each year BusinessWeek ranks the best companies for new college graduates, and this year the top three spots were occupied by three quarters of the Big Four. Deloitte is tops, followed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young. KPMG finished a surprising 11th. Grant Thornton also made the list (73rd).

They are among the first to rethink how to recruit college grads, keep them happy on the job, or just keep them at all. Ernst & Young uses Facebook to let prospective employees talk freely with real ones. Deloitte will show a rap video about office life—made by interns—to give students a realistic view of the company. And PwC requires some bosses to get a second opinion on their evaluations of new hires to make sure the feedback is clear enough, the goals ambitious enough for kids who are uncomfortable with ambiguity.

Using Facebook to recruit better doesn’t necessarily make a place a solid career launch pad, nor would a rap video. (I think Facebook works a bit better. The video will probably alienate more people than it attracts.) Clear feedback and ambitious goals will make PwC a great place to launch a career because it will help new graduates get used to the work environment compared to university.

But it is the experience of working with a wide range of clients that is most valuable in terms of launching a career.


Most Chartered Accountants want interesting work above all

A recent CICA members survey has revealed what matters most to the Canadian Chartered Accountants who answer member surveys, and the August issue of CA Magazine highlights those findings:

Chartered accountants want work that is interesting and challenging, but only if it leaves them enough time to have a life.

Those are the results of a recent CICA member’s survey on workplace priorities, with 86% of CAs rating interesting work as “very important” and all respondents rating it as at least somewhat important. In addition, 20% ranked it as their top priority.

Retention of talented young CAs is a pressing issue facing all firms, as the demand for our services increases and opportunities outside the audit profession abound as the Canadian economy rolls along. Firms should make sure they are consistently challenging the brightest and best staff they have.


Mid-tier firms offer better experience

So says this recent story on Accountancy Age, quoting a Cantos interview with the ACCA’s head of development, Tony Osude:

“If you went to one of the mid-tier firms, one of the beauties about being there is you might not be paid as much necessarily, but you have much more hands on experience. You can expect to actually meet your clients in the flesh and have much more dealings with your clients and also, importantly, if you want to stay in practice and recognition is important to you, there’s a greater chance of being recognised and career tracked.”

I have worked only at my current mid-size firm, so I can’t give a first hand comparison of the difference between it and a Big Four firm.

I know that at my firm, I was given greater responsibility on files fairly quickly after starting, and when I started there I was as green as you can get. I thought a discontinued operation was an error message in Windows.

In a non Big Four firm, you’ll generally have more opportunity to effect change within the organization, and there’s a better chance the firm will be on the cutting edge technologically speaking. I have a feeling the first firm to truly go paperless, if that ever does happen, will be a small one.

In a non Big Four, you’ll have more direct client contact because the engagements are smaller – the team is smaller, the risks are lower, and the client is less complex. With fewer staff on the audit, the lower level employees will necessarily have to take on more responsibility, leading to more client face time. Because the work is less complex, lower level employees can work with the client and have the necessary expertise to do so.

There are great opportunities within small firms and students should know all the options when they are considering where to apply. It can mean the difference between a rewarding few years leading up to getting their designation versus doing nothing but low-level rote work.


CA Magazine knows information wants to be free

I need to commend the publication of my profession here in Canada, CA Magazine, for offering the full content of each issue online as soon as the physical copy of the issue arrives on my doorstep.

There are many magazines that charge for access to their full content, but CA Magazine realizes that increased readership of its articles will only help the profession’s stature in this country and internationally. It also helps bloggers like me link to and discuss the articles.

The source of the headline was Stewart Brand who, at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, said:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.

Read the June issue.

(Yes I realize we’re into July now, but you’ll have to trust me that the contents have been available for over a month now!)


Audit choice and competition in UK and G8

Jeremy Newman of BDO Stoy Hayward, highlights a key finding of the British Oxera Report on Audit Choice and Competition:

According to the report by Oxera on Competition and Choice published in April 2006 more than 70% of FTSE 100 companies had not held a competitive tender for the last 15 years. The incidence of companies switching auditors is even less frequent. According to the Oxera Report it is around 4% on average for listed companies and less than 3% for FTSE 350 companies.

It’s not just a problem in the UK, however. Grant Thornton researched the global audit market:

The levels of audit market concentration across the world’s eight largest economies are dangerously high, with the Big 4 firms responsible for up to 99% of large public company audits, according to research by leading accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP in the UK. […] Analysis of auditor concentration among the G8 economies revealed a high of 99% in Italy, followed by the UK (98%), the US (97%), Canada (96%) and Russia (90%).

That, after Grant Thornton’s US boss issues a call for a study to be performed on the US audit market. Not sure what a study of the US market would reveal since the above quote references a 97% concentration of Big 4 firms on public company audits already. Clearly there is a problem.

Investors and businesses are not being well served by the current situation. I hate to advocate increased intervention by governments of any kind, but it’s clear that public company audit committees also hate to advocate for shareholders’ best interests in terms of rotating audit firms and/or partners.

Maybe the solution is increased coverage of public companies that switched their audit to a non Big 4 firm. I would love to hear from any company in Canada that made the switch and is happier and better served for it.