A-Z Of Employers: Smith & Williamson

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The Independent Online

What does it do?

When the most striking feature of a firm's website is the sequence of beautifully photographed dolphins, owls and meerkats popping up on most pages, it's a sure sign that accountancy's somewhere in the mix. And so it is with Smith & Williamson. But, in common with most firms formerly known as (just) accountants, S&W now highlights the degree to which its services go much further. Its specialist extra area is investment management, for private clients, professional practices, medium-to-large businesses and non-profit organisations. It was founded in Glasgow in 1881 by David Johnstone Smith and Andrew Williamson, with the first London office opening in 1893. The last couple of decades have seen mergers and acquisitions increase the size of the firm substantially; the most recent saw the Bristol firm Solomon Hare join the party.

Vital statistics

Recent growth has seen the payroll rise to 1,200 people, of whom 150 are directors, spread around 10 offices in the UK. S&W's membership of the Nexia International group provides links to partner firms in 96 countries.

The office

The head office is in the heart of the City of London. Regional bases include Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow and Southampton.

Is this you?

Up to 60 graduates a year are taken on, across four main areas: assurance and business services, investment, forensic accounting (i.e. preparing for court cases) and tax. Since the business needs to develop strong relationships with clients, personality is valued as highly as academic ability.

The recruitment process

Applications, via www.graduates.smith.williamson.co.uk, should be targeted at a specific vacancy advertised on the website, so you need to know which area of the business to target. All candidates complete a set of online verbal and numerical reasoning tests. Some then get invited to an assessment centre, where there's an interview and more tests. Success here leads to a second interview, with a director of the department you've applied to. Nearly all recruits follow a three-year training programme, aimed at professional qualification as an accountant. There's also training in the commercial side of the business, to ensure that the new recruits learn how to "add value ". Working hours vary, depending on seasonal factors and financial year-ends, but you're unlikely to be skipping off at 5pm many times a week.

Top dollar?

Graduate salaries are in line with other leading accountancy practices. In addition, S&W pay overtime and allow graduates to accumulate time off in lieu.

Beam me up Scotty?

The roles and responsibilities of graduate trainees develop year on year, which means learning curves are steep and career progression is potentially rapid.

Who's the boss?

Gareth Pearce, who joined the firm in 1986, has been chairman since 2000. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1978 and specialised in investment management throughout the 1980s.

Little known fact:

S&W sponsor two British dinghy-sailors aiming for the London Olympics, and the British Chess Championships.

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