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How mid-tier accounting firms are driving economic growth

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In the business environment, there appears to be a widely held belief that value resides at either end of the spectrum: in the ‘Big Four’ networks offering scale and clout, or in the boutique firms that focus on a specific niche. As for the middle – well, nothing much happens there, right?

Wrong, insists Anton Colella, who was recently appointed Global CEO of Moore Stephens. In fact, with a 33 000-strong staff complement, his new home proves his point: “Moore Stephens may not be the largest network in the world, but we aim to be one of the most respected. With a growing reputation for integrity, trust and moral courage – we want to do doing things that are not just good for business, but which are good for society, too,” he says.

Those aren’t simply stirring words. Because of its size, Moore Stephens – and firms of a similar size – are able to work more closely with their clients, Colella points out. This model is of particular benefit to entrepreneurs, who often find that their businesses fail not because of a lack of demand or inferior quality products or services, but because their owners are more focused on the technical skills required by their chosen field than the general business competencies which ultimately keep a business afloat. Choosing to partner with a mid-tier firm means that entrepreneurs enjoy more access to that firm’s leadership than they would at a larger practice, and this translates into more effective business support. “A mid-tier firm will walk with you every step way on your journey to success. We’re strong on relationships; we invest in them. And this gives rise to an intimacy that provides a fertile platform for entrepreneurs to grow,” Colella maintains. This is borne out by the experience of Moore Stephens partners who have worked at larger firms. They note that, free of the additional administrative requirements of larger firms, they have far more time to be hands-on with their clients.

It is, perhaps, this proximity to entrepreneurs – and the cross-pollination of ideas and insights that results – that sees many CAs leaving the profession to become business owners themselves. This is a growing trend in Colella’s home country of Scotland but, he says, it has significance for the South African business landscape, too. “It’s no secret that the country’s economic growth relies strongly on the success of its start-ups. Entrepreneurs have the potential to make a major contribution to fiscal recovery,” Colella comments. This is where accountants have a role to play. Given their acumen and understanding of business processes, they often enjoy an advantage when it comes to establishing ventures that go onto thrive.

Not that every accountant who completed their articles at a mid-tier firm will go on to create a start-up, of course. Far from it: Colella reports that mid-tier firms produce more CAs than their larger counterparts, thanks usually to their efforts and investment in training, articles and mentorship.

“Obviously, there is place for firms of all sizes in our business environment; each has its unique strengths and can offer something different to the client. However, we believe it is time mid-tier firms took ownership of their special contribution to the growth, and health, of the economy,” Colella concludes.