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AAT Accountancy: Should I work in an SME or a large company?

CMS Vocational Training Hadyn Luke posted this on Wednesday 13th of February 2019 Hadyn Luke 13/02/2019

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AAT Accountancy: Should I work in an SME or a large company?

Whether you are considering starting an accountancy apprenticeship or are close to finishing your training and becoming qualified, it’s never too soon to think about your future career path.

One of your key decisions will be whether to apply for an accountancy apprenticeship or a job, in an SME or a larger corporation – and there can be advantages and disadvantages to either.

This blog has been written to support those learners enrolled on classroom and distance learning based AAT courses, as well as those interested in learning more about accountancy technician practises or wanting to become qualified as a AAT Accountancy Technician in the Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leeds region.

AAT accountancy courses available include:

What is an SME?

An SME is a small to medium-size enterprise. At present, the government follows the definition of an SME set out by the European Commission, as an organisation that:

  • employs up to 250 people
  • has a yearly turnover €50m (£45m) or under, or
  • has a balance sheet total of €43m (£38.6m) or under

If you want to get in early with a start-up company, it can be useful to attend networking sessions or events aimed at entrepreneurs, and to investigate local business hubs that are home to small companies.

Which offers better training, an SME or a large company?

This will vary from company to company but there are a few issues worth considering.

For example, a small company can potentially have a more personal approach. The director(s) will be investing a lot of their time, money and energy into training you and will want to see you succeed.

However, a large company may have a bigger training budget. You may also be allocated a mentor or a line manager, who will take a personal interest in your training and career development.

What about experience?

You might think you’d learn more skills in a larger company, however, an apprentice at a large company might only work on auditing, while someone following an apprenticeship at an SME could find themselves also getting experience of payroll, tax and accounts. Working for an SME could give you the opportunity to experience the various roles at first hand. This could help you decide where you’d like to specialise later. The downside of this could be that the business owners might have less experience of finance, which could put you on a steep learning curve.

If you are considering taking on an accountancy apprenticeship or job role in a large company, it’s worth asking in the early stages whether you will be mostly confined to one department, or whether you’ll have the opportunity to experience different aspects of the job.

And job security?

If your apprenticeship or first job is with a start-up company, make sure that they have the financial backing, experience and know-how to build a successful company.

Being there at the start of a new company can offer some great opportunities and you may find your loyalty is rewarded in years to come by a good career trajectory. However, a 2017 study by Turner Little (www.turnerlittle.com) – a company that specialises in UK and offshore company foundation – found that eight out of 10 start-ups fail within the first year.

One of the biggest issues for start-ups is cash flow. Even with experienced people in place and a good business plan, a new business will fail if there isn’t sufficient capital to keep it going through the early stages.

The last thing you want is to find yourself working for a company that subsequently folds, potentially owing you money and forcing you to start over elsewhere.


As long as you have done your homework on a company, there can be many good reasons for training with either an SME or a large corporation. Each option will have its strengths and weakness. The key is to find an organisation that suits you, will develop you at the right pace and that will place different demands requiring you take on more responsibilities.

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