Mimi Chak is manager - transactional services (operational services) at Robert Walters Hong Kong.
Is it worth taking the jump from a Big Four accountancy firm?
I am a tax accountant with five years of experience at a Big Four firm. Following the lead of a former colleague, I am considering a move to a smaller firm, which is likely to offer me a slightly higher salary, with the opportunity for international travel.
I wouldn’t rule out moving back to a Big Four at a later date but I wonder if such a move might be viewed negatively by potential future employers. Are my fears well-founded? Would it be better to build a career gradually in the bigger company?
More than half of the professionals working for Big four accountancy firms think about a career change during their third or fourth year once they have completed their CPA qualification and achieved promotions.
Some decide to remain with their employer because there is a well-defined career structure, clear promotion requirements, attractive pay, and opportunities to progress to partner level. Big Four firms also provide leadership and supervisory opportunities at an early stage, and a platform for building strong networks with professionals across different industries.
However, overtime is inevitable. Remember also that working too long in a client-servicing environment might make it difficult to move on to a commercial company, because of your high pay expectations and limited experience of a corporate environment.
Moving from the Big Four to commercial industry can give you a great opportunity to build your career up to finance director level and ultimately CFO. You can experience in depth how a finance department works in a specific business, within a given industry. Regional experience can give you a valuable competitive advantage when it comes to globalisation, business diversity and continuous economic growth among Asia-Pacific businesses.
When choosing where to go within the corporate field, it is important to consider.
One is the nature of the job. Do you want to develop your current area of expertise or build skills in other areas such as financial reporting and financial analysis?
Another is company size. While small companies provide a more rounded job scope, if possible, we would recommend larger corporations (e.g. multinationals who have their regional office in Hong Kong, listed companies or conglomerates) over small companies because they enjoy high status in the job market. They will also give you the opportunity to familiarise yourself with current accounting standards. Working hours and deadlines are relatively demanding in larger firms.
A third consideration is the local or regional role. Overseas work experience can polish your CV and make your application stand out. By immersing yourself in a different culture, you will learn about the norms and work style from different countries, how organisations operate internationally, and you will gain greater knowledge about global markets.
In short, moving to a big corporation would be the best option to help you build your career profile. However, an offer from a small firm can have value as a stepping stone to help you progress your career in the corporate field.