In an SME, the accountant often has to be a jack-of-all-trades and frequently proves to be a key resource for the survival of the company. Portrait of a position that requires both flexibility and meticulousness.
The size of company compelling it, accountants in an SME will most often have to add other strings to their bow. “It is still common to associate accounting, administration and even human resources,” confirms Valérie Bourdages, who worked as an accountant in an independent record label in Montreal, then at Evenko (belonging to the Groupe CH).
It’s a statement that also resonates for Ariane Mitchell-Crête, who holds the reins for accounting for the self-managed Building 7, in Pointe-Saint-Charles in Montreal. A person who officially occupies the position of administrative support carries out all the accounting and administrative tasks, in addition to wearing several other hats, ranging from coordination of activities to management of volunteers, including scheduling. “You have to be like an octopus, in the end!”
Most SMEs therefore employ a “multitasking” employee, who looks after administration and several tasks related to accounting. Depending on their financial resources, some will hire an external accountant for a few hours per week, others only at year end for verification and production of the financial statements. Liquidity management is most often a priority, recalls Valérie Bourdages, “In a SME, little financial pitfalls can catch you out. Good cash flow management is super important.”
The transition from a more modest company to a larger operation gives Valérie Bourdages a privileged look at how tasks are distributed depending on the size of the company. “In the largest companies, there is often a person assigned to accounts payable, a person assigned to accounts receivable and a person assigned to cash management. This is absolutely necessary when there is volume.”
The importance of flexibility
There’s a world that separates a person who carries out alone all the tasks related to accounting and a dedicated department with several employees, where the mandates are better defined. Yet an accountant could move from the first situation to the other in times of high growth. Being flexible will also be paramount, since the definitions of tasks will evolve, sometimes quickly.
A good sense of direction
An accountant in a SME acts like a captain of a ship who has to keep the vessel on course to its objectives, even if new tasks arise along the way. “You have to have the flexibility to travel other roads to get to your destination, but you still have to stay on course,” Ariane Mitchell-Crête confirms. Being able to assess the company’s full situation, anticipate the challenges and listen to the rest of the team are therefore essential qualities for an accountant in an SME. Added to this is humility, because it’s often the accountant who will find and pick up the pieces. No wonder this role is so crucial for an SME’s stability and survival!