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Small but mighty: Why working for a small firm might be right for you

Written by: ICAEW Insights
Published on: 15 May 2024

My name is Nikhil Sangani, I am 34 years old and I work with my father at our small accountancy practice in Northwood, Sage & Co.


Nikhil Sangani

My route to accountancy was somewhat unconventional. After graduating from the London School of Economics with a 1st class honours in Bsc Economics in 2010, I joined Goldman Sachs Investment Banking in their interest rate products team covering global Central Banks. After spending six and a half years at the firm and travelling to over 26 countries, I left as a Vice President in 2016.

I then joined PwC in their FTSE 100 London Top Tier Audit division  where I completed the ACA qualification over three years before joining my father at Sage & Co in September 2019.

I am a member of the ICAEW Practice Committee and an advisory member of ICAEW's Small Practitioners Community. Having met a wide variety of people from a host of different backgrounds during my career, here are my reflections on why working for a small accountancy firm might be right for you:

A lifestyle choice

Sage & Co is a ten minute drive from my home, a five minute drive from my daughter’s nursery and a seven minute drive to our local health club. This is a stark comparison to the one and a half hour commute in my first years of working in the city (not to mention the 5.30am starts!). During my time in Investment Banking, I had the experience of a “double red-eye” with an overnight flight to India, lunch, meetings and dinner, followed by a return to the office the following morning. During my time in audit, the intensity of late nights during busy season made it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. The advent of flexible working in larger organisations has moved the needle slightly but, in my opinion, it is very difficult to replicate the learning environment created by in-person working.


Smaller accountancy firms tend to have members of staff that live locally, individuals who enjoy working as part of a team but also appreciate the proximity to family members and friends. These strong foundations, when coupled with an intellectually curious work environment turn jobs into careers. Stronger flavours of permanence such as your own desk, your perfectly adjusted chair and fixed workplace neighbours, instil a real sense of ownership and community. We recently completed our office refurbishment and rather than focus workplace planning on breakout areas, we went for flexible seating and multi-use rooms. We created a fixed but collaborative space with a considered seating plan optimised for the skillsets and personalities of our team members. As the opportunity set for growth in small firms tends to be broad, capable individuals are given the time and space to find their purpose and the encouragement to build their own client portfolios. The ability to navigate internal politics is less of a factor in defining career trajectory and the work environment can feel much more straightforward.


For individuals with a purpose, being heard in the workplace and enacting meaningful change is an important part of job satisfaction. Small practices can be significantly more nimble than larger organisations, enhancing their ability to embrace innovations in technology and implement firmwide change. Our smaller practice size enabled us to accelerate the pace of our transition to paperless and our close-knit team were able to adapt quickly and effectively to the new way of working. The emergence of open APIs and collaborative third-party software created a world of technology stacks that are growing at a rapid pace. The ability for larger firms to capitalise on this can be restricted by legacy and proprietary software and, the pace of process transformation slowed by the sheer population of users. The ability of small practices to embrace technological change enhances productivity and paves the path for sustainable long-term growth. With fewer key decision makers, it is easier to create
regular incremental improvements, promoting an atmosphere of communal progress in the workplace.


In my opinion, the optimal workplace environment for a small accountancy practice is face-to-face in the office. Our practice was built on the principles of creating a true in-person learning environment to help every team member fulfil their potential. Encouraging team members to challenge themselves and each other fosters an atmosphere of collaboration, enhancing teamwork and boosting morale. During the Covid-19 pandemic, large firms were forced to move to remote or hybrid working, which lead to material shifts in culture, teamwork and training. As a smaller firm, as soon as practicably possible, we made the decision to retain in-person working by increasing our office space. Given our size, we found an appropriate location at short notice allowing us to preserve an important element of our culture. Since then, our commitment to in-person interaction has been positively received, particularly by younger graduates who had experienced the challenges of remote learning in their previous employment.


Trainees from larger firms typically join one specific department whilst completing the ACA (e.g. Tax, Audit, Valuations, etc) and thus many elements of the qualification are experienced through study material rather than real life examples. The ICAEW syllabus is often more accessible for trainees in smaller practice where a more holistic approach is taken to accounting and taxation. The foundations may take longer to build but obtaining a deeper understanding of how these topics interact results in a more relevant and connected experience for small and medium size clients. Smaller firms often pace the ACA qualification over a longer-term horizon, with exams able to be completed over four years rather than three years in larger organisations. This can reduce pressure on trainees, shifting the focus from taking exams quickly with marginal pass marks to a more measured approach with a focus on understanding.


Large practices are resourced and organised to meet the needs of large corporations with specialised departmental coverage to appropriately address the complexity and scale of each client. Interaction is typically with the finance department of the client organisation which is a very different experience to dealing directly with the owner of a small or medium-sized enterprise. In smaller practices, professional relationships built over time are often generational, with accountants relied on and appreciated as trusted advisors. The personal nature of helping smaller businesses navigate the challenges that they face provides a unique type of job satisfaction and a privileged understanding of the business behind the numbers.

Conclusion: Understand your indifference curve

I was introduced to the concept of an indifference curve in my first year of studying Economics at the London School of Economics. I distinctly remember applying the concept to the trade-off between work versus leisure and the idea of quantifying the value of an extra hour of leisure time to obtain the optimal work-life balance. Suffice to say that as your value set shifts over time, your outlook changes and the rose-tint to many elements of a role that were exciting at the start of your career may not necessarily be as appealing long-term.

As a university graduate with few personal responsibilities, I fully immersed myself into the world of work. I had the opportunity to travel to a wide variety of countries around the world and was able to serve, to the best of my ability, the needs of my employer. At the start of my career, I focused on the experience rather than the degree of control I had over my work commitments. Over time however, I yearned for the opportunity to work for myself and build on the foundations my father had created
over 30 years ago. As a father of two young girls, the concepts of nursery drop-offs and making it home for bedtime were non-existent in my early years of work but an important part of my life now.

As the recruitment lead for our practice and career mentor to several family and friends, I have come across a variety of drivers which change a person’s perspective. Often those that join and succeed in smaller practice have a strong sense of personal accountability, preferring to measure progress against their own internal benchmarks rather than feeling the need to compete. Depending on the evolution of your indifference curve, a small (but mighty!) firm may just be the perfect spot for you.

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