The number of SMEs and start-ups within the financial sector has grown in the past decade, with fintech and diversifying markets providing opportunities for smaller niche companies to be established. A trend of senior executives from Big 4 firms moving to smaller and more agile institutions has followed.
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that working at a smaller company will be easier or means you will experience less pressure. Yes, generally the work-life balance is slightly improved. However, clients seek out boutiques for their specialized services and exceptional performance - and expectations remain high.
Your Expertise Will Be Front and Centre
Resources are precious at a small firm, and it is not possible to blend into the background. You will be hired for your expertise, and you must be ready to step to the plate - there is nowhere to hide when a service is stripped down.
An elite service will require extended contact with clients and service users, and your expertise will be trusted.
You Will Be Working Quickly and Flexibly
A smaller and leaner agency has the ability to adapt to change and pivot fast - fewer decision-makers mean decisions will be made fast. It is likely you will have larger input into how the firm works, instead of breaking through layers of management teams and bureaucracy, wielding more influence.
A leaner outfit can also be a more innovative one, since adapting new technologies and updating legacy systems will be a significantly smaller task. In the current volatile times, innovation and speed are key. You must be willing to learn about new technologies and adapt to new ideas which will benefit both you and your clients.
This more agile style of working is one of the hardest parts of moving from a large firm to an elite boutique. The mindset of planning 12 months ahead and spending weeks on proposals needs to move to something faster and leaner.
It Will Be A Steep Learning Curve
Working in a smaller company means filling in a few roles or ‘filling the gap’ when skills are needed. Your role will certainly be more varied and you will have to quickly learn a new way of working, alongside a new set of processes.
You will find yourself doing tasks which others did for you before - from putting together powerpoints to IT troubleshooting. Self-reliance and a scrappy, ‘all hands on deck’ mindset will be required when moving to an elite firm. Expect to use the photocopier and do milk runs for the office.
You may struggle to find mentorship within a smaller firm, especially when you are busy, so it is best to network with others in similar firms to learn from their experiences and share your own.
You Will Broaden Your Skillset
It is likely you will be involved in every stage of a deal and will build skills around aspects of corporate finance you haven’t touched before, from due-diligence to financial modelling. A boutique firm isn’t divided into specialist teams; everyone guides an end-to-end service.
Increased exposure will only strengthen that all-important expertise. This is one of the leading reasons why experience within an elite boutique is a brilliant step in the corporate finance career path. Though there are risks and vulnerabilities involved with working for smaller names, this lack of segregation between tasks and departments will give you valuable experience which can only positively impact your future.
Collaboration Will Be Vital
Successful smaller firms can credit their collaborative approach to their work, not just within the firm, but also collaborating closely with clients. The company will hold a smaller portfolio, and the level of service expected will require knowing your clients inside out, and working closely alongside them.
Collaboration is also reflected in the culture of elite boutiques, which is often more intimate and personal than larger firms. Expect talking shop over after-work drinks, sharing ideas over lunch and pulling the odd late night to finish a model or proposal with your co-workers.
You Will Experience Greater Job Satisfaction
Working with a range of clients on different projects means you will need to be organised to the hilt, but your work will feel more satisfying. Smaller elite financial firms usually have a specialization, which means your work will be high profile within that sector.
If you prove yourself to be a brilliant hire, you will find you have more control over your career path. Those who work in elite financial firms see their value recognised faster as they work closely with decision-makers.