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Three weeks in

30th Mar 2012
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So far so good. Have been getting around the business, understanding how it works and meeting people. Which I thought was what I'd been doing in audit - however I now realise that wasn't exactly the case. Being in the business now rather than looking in, I'm finding that some nice differences:

  • People are more willing to invest time in showing you what they do, and how their part of the business works (Imagine this is because it's seen as more of a long term investment rather than a two week visit from an auditor who may or may not be seen again).
  • People, including management are asking for my opinion.
  • Everyone is willing to highlight what they don't think is right, or where they need help (obviously doesn't happen in audit!)

And I'm wondering if it is these sorts of things that make for a nicer working environment, while things in audit can feel a bit fraught and routine, no matter how much of a personal relationship you have built.

Not much else to say at this stage - first month end next week so I'm sure that will be an experience...

John asked a good questions on my initial blog post so I thought I'd answer that here also:

What was it that impelled you to leave the Big Four behind. Was it really the sweatshop environment that some make it out to be, or were there other reasons for your departure?

I spent just under four years in Big 4 audit, and in those years I definitely felt up and down at different times about my intentions. In my first few months I was going all the way to Partner. Year 2 it was leave as soon as qualified, Year 3 got better and I thought - stay until maybe Manager. But in the end, for me personally the decision came down to this:

30% the audit environment (internal). A sweatshop environment but I never felt appreciated, I felt like the people pulling all the strings were so far removed that they probably didn't even have an appreciation for the fact that the documents they've just flicked over on monday morning took my entire weekend. Goalposts for forever being moved, and when turnover and margin dipped in our office the promotions slowed down too. I also found it to be very much like high school - if you weren't in the "in crowd" getting drunk when you weren't auditing, you just weren't anyone. I also found internal review processes very onerous, and made client relationships more difficult than they already were.

30% the audit environment (external). Put simply, I became very tired of having to constantly apologise to clients for just trying to do my job. Always with the negative label of "the auditors", nobody ever had much time for you and to anyone who hasn't done it - yes we are VERY aware of the fact you don't want us there, and it does grind you down day in day out.

30% the work itself. For me personally, I enjoyed learning about financial statements and statutory disclosures. But then became tired of it, and wanted to start learning some more commercial finance aspects - management accounts, interpreting and acting on results, etc. Looking into the future, I want to become an FD - not an audit partner.

10% work life balance. I don't expect to work a standard 40 hour week to progress my career - I am realistic. But, I hated the fact that it was virtually impossible to receive a good performance rating without abandoning all evenings and weekends for weeks on end.

Thanks for reading and I'll comment some more on my first month end in a week or so.

PS - I've followed CEO's diary for a long time and find his perspectives and experience very interesting.


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By ChrisScullard
31st Mar 2012 22:19

It seems very little has changed in big 4 audit since I left it behind 10 years ago (except it was big 5 then)

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By Luke
03rd Apr 2012 22:31

You have hit the nail on the head

I left a London big 4 office in 2003 and it was for very much the same reasons as you state.  Work-life balance was the end killer for me having had children but also I was never in the 'in' crowd for drinking and that certainly didn't do me any favours. 

I remember going in at 7am on a Sunday morning to finish some vital accounts off for a partner who was about to fly abroad to see a client at lunchtime, bad enough on its own but the fact I still felt obliged to go in despite being distraught as a close friend had been killed in an accident the previous night says a lot.  At the end of the day, it was a set of accounts - did they really matter that much?  And did anyone appreciate my efforts??

Not that I'm bitter at all, it was a great place to be for the first 6 years or so when young and with no outside life, but I should have left a few years before I did so I envy you that.

Good Luck with your new role.

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