Accountants, is it time to consider the importance of culture?

Philippa Haynes, founder of brand-led marketing agency Insight101, is on a mission to support accountants in defining and communicating their unique place in the sector to attract and retain strong talent


t the time of writing this article, the UK has opened up and the chance for a hug and a face-to face-meeting have been most definitely on the cards – and absolutely critical for some.

It may sound cliched, but if the last 12 months or so have taught us anything it’s that the small things that we’ve all taken for granted are infinitely more important than other bigger anxieties that we thought were so pressing.

Now, this isn’t going to become a 'mushy' article, but it does start the process of addressing exactly what has been happening over this period and the implications for accounting firms, their teams and their clients.

Cast your mind back a few weeks, when Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called working from home an “aberration”. Where has he been for the last year? And how has he failed to 'read the room' so badly?

Philippa Haynes, founder, Insight101

Are we in the eye of a perfect storm?

As the founder of Insight101, a brand led marketing agency that supports accountants, we have always got our ear to the ground.

Brand is the highly emotive aspect of any business, and over the last few months enquiries from firms that understand that brand is increasingly important in the sector as a means of communicating its thoughts, beliefs and culture have risen in number. But more interestingly, the number of accountants who have jumped ship from a Big 4 role or a mid-tier firm is on the rise.

It’s easy to criticise, but have these individuals who have found themselves in a large organisation, a small cog in a big wheel – faceless, powerless and unable to dedicate the time and value that they feel their clients deserve – suddenly had time to think and reprioritise? Have they begun to question the original desire to work for one of the Big 4 or a large corporate? From our own conversations with individuals, we think so.

What are the implications for the Big 4 and mid-tier?

This is not a tale of doom and gloom; it merely starts to ask the question around whether culture and brand need to become the central focus for these larger organisations moving forward. Forbes certainly thinks so. It states that 80% of HR specialists interviewed for a recent study said that culture is fundamental to attracting and retaining the right talent.

The conclusion? We need to be asking new questions about the attractiveness of the Big 4 and corporates, and their so-called brand and culture. We need to understand the importance of creating and communicating new ideas surrounding these old tenets, as a draw for candidates.

Of course, not everyone wants to leave. Far from it. We are all different after all, with different ideas and needs. But let’s argue that all individuals want to feel heard and inspired at their place of work. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Changes are afoot however. A study by the BBC states that nearly 50 of Britain's biggest firms plan to adopt a hybrid model of working, allowing staff to work from home two or three days a week.  

This is undoubtedly the start, but there are some that have already moved beyond these first steps. For example, Insight101 was approached by a mid-tier firm that had been enjoying growth over the last couple of years but realised that its image and even its culture were not well defined. When asked, everyone said there was a culture, but no one could put their finger on it. Serious? Maybe not, but it does point to the fact that if you can’t describe it, how can an individual translate it into day-to-day practices and a demonstrably different value-add service for the client?

Culture is the lifeblood

Being able to describe and recognise a culture is powerful. It enables a culture that creates best practice and guides decisions, conversations and activities, and begins to form a tight bond where everyone knows where they’re going, what’s expected and how they’re going to get there.

Culture is not always taken seriously by the larger corporates. This is a mistake. The culture of a firm is its lifeblood and the conduit to a successful future. It forms direction, but more importantly it forms loyalty and begins to talk to the next generation; a promise that a Gen Z individual will ultimately aspire to.