What is Public Accounting? salary, education, licenses, firms, lifestyles
  • Salary Guide eBook

    From intern to partner, let’s take a look at what you can make in public accounting!

  • The Firms

    Let’s walk through the different types of firms, from Big 4 to being a “one man (or woman) show!”

  • Education, Licensing, & Lifestyle

    Want to be in public accounting? Let’s make sure you can get the education and license, and be ready to live the life of a CPA!

Public Accounting Salary Guide from intern to partner

Top 3 reasons to download this eBook:

  • You're curious about the compensation and benefits of public accounting
  • You want to know how many years it will take you to make 100K+
  • You are curious about what effect living in different cities and working at different companies will have on your compensation
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Public Accounting Education & Licenses: the options & my recommendations

Top 3 reasons to download this eBook:

  • You want to know the major licenses for accountants and what type of positions these certifications can get you
  • You want to know what educational requirements and costs are associated with each certification
  • You're curious about the certification requirements for the position you want
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Comprehensive guide to accounting certifications: cpa, cfe, cia, cisa & more
  • Associate Degree

    An associate degree in accounting is typically obtained after two years worth of coursework. It has become a popular online accounting degree. However, if you consider the long term view of your career, this may not be the best option as it limits your ability to obtain certifications, many of which require a bachelors degree or more.

  • Bachelor of Arts/Science

    By far the most popular option from what I’ve seen. This is a standard four-year degree and most universities offer them. If you’re like me and want to get done with your education, you can take summer courses and graduate in two and a half to three years. Most respected certifications require at least a bachelor degree. Check my eBook above detailing all the certifications you can obtain in the profession and the requirement for each certification.

  • Masters in Accounting

    Personally, I don’t see a lot of value in the Master of Accounting and I have one. I chose to get the Macc (as it’s known) as I needed 28 more hours after my undergraduate degree to obtain the 150 hours of education required for the CPA exam in Florida. However, if I had to go back, I would’ve gotten an MBA – similar hours and respected more by companies than the Macc.

  • PhD in Accounting

    Above and beyond the main reason people obtain a PhD in accounting is to become a professor. I have not seen many other uses for the degree. However, in order to become a tenured and full-time professor at a larger and more prestigious university, you will need a PhD. Some accept a Masters degree, but not for the more prestigious and higher paying roles.

Let's talk public accounting: industry structure
The Big Four: KPMG, PwC, EY, Deliotte

PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG

The Big 4 firms are the largest accounting firms in the world. They are the firms with the largest international presence and most accounting students are dying for an opportunity to work for one of these firms. I worked at PwC out of college. Like all of the firms, they have Summer Leadership Adventures, Internships, and full-time hires that they place right out of college.

As you'll see in the Salary Guide above, you can make anywhere from 40-60K with one of these companies in the US. Many of the firms encourage their employers to spend years abroad in other countries on two year-long "tours."

While there is a lot of propaganda in the industry, you don't have to work in the Big 4. Many accountants won't and that's okay. There are tons of great national, regional, and local accounting firms that we'll talk about below.

Top 10 Accounting Firms

The remaining firms in the top 10 are shown to the right. I often get asked the question, Why aren't they considered Big 4? Well, in the United States (McGladrey Rank #5) does about 1.4B in revenue. The Big 4 firms are mostly $10B+. There is a huge difference in the size of these firms. Additionally, while these firms are growing in international presence, the Big 4 are generally under the same brand worldwide. However, the Big 4 firms often refer work to other firms under different brands and those firms help manage the Big 4's multinational clients. These are all great firms! There is no shame in working for an accounting firm outside the Big 4 and in my opinion, there is a lot more opportunity for an individual in these firms than in the Big 4. These firms are more likely to make exceptions and work with you as these firms are even hungrier for talent than the Big 4.

Top 10 Accounting Firms: Grant Thornton, CliftonLarsonAllen, McGladrey, CBIZ, Crowe Horwath, BDO

Other Accounting Firms in the U.S.

The strong majority of CPAs in the profession don't work at the larger firms. Studies have estimated that about 90% of all CPAs work in small- to medium-sized firms.

While there is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the Big 4 and top 10 firms, in small firms the real magic can happen. Smaller businesses have the potential for large growth and many times it's just a matter of the work ethic and efficiency of the employees. In the larger businesses it is often very bureaucratic and approvals are needed for everything.

Smaller firms are looking for rainmakers. If you can bring in the clients and develop the business, the opportunities are endless.

The Public Accounting Lifestyle
The public accounting lifestyle

Almost anyone will tell you how valuable the public accounting experience can be for your career. One of the first partners I ever met told me it was like dog years: One year in public accounting is like two to four years in private accounting, and the increase is exponential.

Public accounting is always hard work in the beginning, but for some people it can get much easier over time. If you're starting a family and need more flexibility, firms are coming up with all types of flexible work arrangements for you to consider. However, it is expected that you "put in your time" and learn the fundamentals for at least two years, and some people would say five.

You will work long hours, especially in busy season. The hours can go from 50 to as high as 90+ hours a week depending on the firm and client, as well as your skill level. While the large firms often get a bad rap, over the course of two years at PwC, I only worked three Saturdays and hardly worked past 9pm on weekdays, even during busy season. If you have a say in project planning, you can make a huge difference by front-loading the right projects.

The potential in accounting is very, very high. While everyone's story is unique, there aren't nearly as many executives in accounting without public accounting experience as there are with the experience. While I've battled the stereotype for years, people I interview continue to say over and over that they want to hire accountants with Big 4 experience. This seems to be a general trend in the industry, although many have succeeded without Big 4 experience.

Large Firm Partner

Tim Ryan is the U.S. Markets, Strategies, and Stakeholders Leader for PwC. Late last year PwC had me come to the headquarters in New York to meet with Tim and discuss his experience at PwC and PwC's view on global "mega-trends."

He is one of the top partners at one of the largest public accounting firms in the world. He has worked on large clients such as AIG and was the U.S. Audit Leader for PwC.

To listen to the entire interview, click here!

Small Firm Partners

Small Firm Partner

Jason Blumer is one of my favorite people in the world of small CPA firms. He runs his own firm (Blumer CPAs), which is a completely virtual firm. Yes, that means the accountants work 100% remotely.

Additionally, he started a small CPA firm group called Thriveal which has over 60 members who come together to think differently about how to run their firms. Very cool stuff from Blumer and Thriveal. Check them out here at Thriveal.com.

To listen to my podcast with Jason, click here!

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