Accountancy Age Awards – Standing out

The Accountancy Age award for Medium-Sized Firm of the Year, sponsored by Systems Union, is expected to be one of the most hotly contested of the categories.

Around 50 firms meet the criteria of having between 11 and 100 partners – opening up a wide spread of firms in terms of size, location and culture.

The winner will therefore have to show how its stands out not just from a large crowd but from an array of working cultures.

Entrants will be judged on their ability to produce top-quality work, satisfy customer expectations and develop cost-effective solutions.

Judges will consider the entire range of accountancy and professional services, including tax, audit, business advice and IT. They will also be looking for evidence of initiatives that have driven the firm forward and delivered a commercial advantage.

Entries should state why the firm should win, and provide evidence of what has been achieved and how. For example, judges will want to see how a firm has broken into new markets, or improved its profit margins.

Human resource issues will also be considered. The gaining of Investors in People certification, for example, will be seen as a sign of a healthy approach as an employer.

The winner of the last awards in 1996 was Smith & Williamson. Reasons given by the judges included the 22% rise in fee income enjoyed by the firm, and moves to strengthen its performance in a variety of areas, such as improving its pensions and personal finance capability, and the development of a specialist tax investigation department.

It had also strengthened its corporate finance section, in particular assisting clients looking to float on AIM.

Judges also considered Smith & Williamson’s involvement in London Link, an information super-highway linking financial organisations across London.

Runner-up for the category was Stoy Hayward, the first firm to follow KPMG in publishing audited financial statements.

A lot has changed since 1996, however. The Big Six has become the Big Five, all of which have moved to expand in their existing markets, and enter new ones.

All sectors of the market have been hit by consolidation – the mid-tier being no exception. The mid-tier has also faced something of an identity crisis. As the Big Five have gathered strength and prestige, it has become something of a matter of honour for FTSE companies to deal only with these major names.

Firms in the mid-tier have therefore had to chase smaller contracts and devise other means of differentiating themselves from the competition.

For many, small and medium-sized enterprises have therefore become their lifeblood.

Audit fees have remained stagnant, focusing on the need to provide added value and good business advice in a growing number of areas. While this provides potentially lucrative fee-earning opportunities, it also puts demands on a firm and its staff to deal with change and ever greater more complex work. Issues such as staff training and keeping technically up-to-date have become ever more important.

Another challenge faced by medium-sized firms is in attracting and maintaining quality staff. With the Big Five getting bigger and offering more employment opportunities, the mid-tier is finding it ever more difficult to attract good players and retain them.

The main way of doing this is offering competitive remuneration, highlighting again the importance of profitability. Profits are also needed to help with investing in IT, as more clients come to regard email and other forms of electronic communication as their standard means of doing business.

There has also been a drive towards consolidation in many industries.

Issues such as national, and even international coverage, have come to the fore.

Some firms have responded to these challenges by merger and takeover.

But this has not always been a successful route – witness the recent spectacular split between prospective partners Pannell Kerr Forster and Robson Rhodes in April.

Other firms have chosen to concentrate on becoming niche players. And yet others have chosen to develop networks with other firms abroad or in other parts of the UK to meet client demands for national and global coverage.

Some are concentrating on entering new markets, such as financial services, aimed at exploiting new areas of profits and at giving the client a greater sense of being a one-stop-shop for business advice.

Whatever combination of strategies have been used, Accountancy Age is keen to receive your firm’s entry and hear its arguments why it has taken its chosen path.


As an international supplier of business and financial software, Systems Union boasts annual revenues of $100m, 24 offices worldwide and a global distribution network of 200 resellers in over 70 countries. Its product, SunSystems, has an installed base of over 18,000 sites in over 180 countries, in 27 languages. With euro-enabled solutions and full year-2000 compliance, SunSystems is one of the most scalable and future-proof suites of financial and business software available.


Free entry

Closing date for entries:

30th July 1999

Ceremony 3 November 1999


Natural History Museum


For an entry form:

call 0171 316 9554


visit: A new category has been added to the Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence 1999 to recognise the achievements of part-qualified members of the profession.

Trainee Accountant of the Year is being sponsored by recruitment specialists, Michael Page Finance.

The award is open to all accountants under training with one of the five main UK accountancy bodies listed below. And, in a break with usual practice, we will be asking their fully qualified colleagues to nominate entrants.

The judges will be looking for excellence at work and a level of involvement within their organisation over and above what would normally be expected at this stage in their career.

Nominees must have taken at least one examination in the last year and although they will not be judged purely on exam results, the results must be contained in the entry.

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