Julia Irvine 27 Feb 2017 12:08pm

Which are the best accountancy firms to work for?

Five accountancy firms have made it into the Sunday Times’ 2017 lists of the best companies to work for in the UK – and they don’t include all of the Big Four

Midlands firm PKF Cooper Parry, Aberdeen-based Anderson Anderson & Brown and West Country firm Bishop Fleming were listed at 32nd, 35th and 42nd respectively in the top 100 best mid-sized companies to work for, while Big Four firms EY and Deloitte were named as two of the 30 best largest companies to work for. They came 17th and 18th respectively.

The lists, which are compiled annually, are designed to showcase the “very best in workplace engagement”. The scores for each company are largely based on anonymous surveys among their workforce which rank them according to eight key indicators of staff engagement.

Usually in national surveys, it’s the Big Four which rate a ranking so it’s good to see some of the smaller mid-tier firms being mentioned in dispatches.

For instance, PKF Cooper Parry chief executive Ade Cheetham says the firm prides itself on being a place where the 420 people on the payroll can have fun. Perks include core working hours of 10.30am-3.30pm, allowing everyone flexible working.

“Being named in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For list is a fantastic achievement for everyone at the firm. The fact that we have gone from 91st position in the small companies category to 32nd in the medium sized is testament that we are maintaining our culture during a time of change and growth for the business.

“It also demonstrates that staff enjoy working for the company, which is massively rewarding to know.”

Over and above workplace learning, the firm offers staff coaching in life and relationship skills as well as health and fitness.

PKF Cooper Parry employees told the survey that they felt the experience they gained at the firm was valuable for their future (an 84% positive score) and was good for their personal growth (also 84%).

At Bishop Fleming, managing partner Matthew Lee said that the listing reflected the hard work the firm had put in to ensure that it was a fun place to work.

“We have always had a culture that is focused on our people,” he explained. “The firm fosters a positive team culture with a family spirit, and our working environment ensures that every person has the opportunity to achieve his or her fullest potential.

“We invest heavily in personal training and development, as we feel that this is the right way to give our clients the best team for their business.”

Staff go out together on hill walking days, take care of each other and work from home where appropriate. The firm also ensures that their jobs don’t get in the way of their commitments elsewhere.

Like the other firms, AAB has been listed for the second year running. Managing partner Graeme Allan calls it is “an outstanding achievement for our entire firm”.

“These accolades are purely because of our staff and how they feel about life at AAB and so it is humbling to know that we have created a firm where people are genuinely happy, engaged and feel valued.”

The firm’s chief human resources officer, Karen Stewart, adds that the firm is constantly looking for new and creative ways to engage with its staff while at the same time making sure that they are achieving their full potential.

“Life at AAB is much more than what goes on in the office day-to-day and we are really proud of the fact that our staff also believe this and that they live the values of our firm and are proud to work for AAB.”

Because of their size, the Big Four firms can draw on wider resources to keep their staff happy. Nevertheless, Steve Varley, chairman and UK & Ireland managing partner of EY, still regards being listed as “a real achievement” and “a testament to the steps we have taken to help create a more diverse and inclusive culture”.

“Last year we made bold changes to our student recruitment process, by removing academic entry criteria and introducing a ‘blind CV policy’. As a result, we saw a 75% increase in applications to our 2016 student programmes, receiving 37,000 applications for 1,600 places. We also saw a rise in the proportion of students who joined us from state schools and those who are first in their family to go to university, up 10 and 7 percentage points respectively.

“Other worthy milestones include launching a returner’s scheme, ‘EY Reconnect’, to help people who have taken a career break from the profession back into the workplace. We have also now trained over 600 mental health first aiders and published a gender expression, identity and transition guide to support our transgender community.

“By introducing such progressive policies and initiatives we hope to encourage other businesses to do the same and inspire social change.”

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte, agrees. She says she is proud of Deloitte’s placing in the 30 best companies to work for. “This is recognition for the firm’s commitment to providing a culture of opportunity and growth.”

Deloitte is investing £13m a year in its partnership with 53 UK charities to help 1m "get where they want to be" either in education or employment by 2019 and it's projects like these that make staff happy to work for the organisation.

The Sunday Times top employer in the large company category was prestige car retailer the Sytner Group, which finally made it into top spot after two years as runner up.

According to the listing profile, Sytner’s staff gave it top-10 scores in all eight factors measured in the survey and said how proud they were to work for the company.

Insurance giant the Admiral Group was in second place – it has an annual budget of £110 a head to try new things outside the office from circus skills to herding sheep, while third placed telecommunications company EE holds tea parties for the elderly to teach them how to use technology.

In the mid-sized company list, the three highest placed companies were business telecoms providers 4Com plc (first), communications solutions provider Chess (second) and specialist financial services provider Charter Court.