The Best Accounting Firms to Work For

By Doka, Christina | The CPA Journal, July 2012 | Go to article overview

The Best Accounting Firms to Work For


Doka, Christina, The CPA Journal


Popularity, Presage, and Quality of Life Rankings Explored

There's no question that the Big Four accounting firms dominate the market in terms of size and revenue. In a recent survey, CPAs also rated the Big Four among the top five accounting firms to work for in the country; however, a closer look at the results reveals that these same accountants thought that smaller firms offered a better quality of life.

The Vault Accounting 50 is an annual survey conducted by Vault, a publisher and website that provides rankings for categories ranging from accounting firms to law schools, as well as overviews of various professions, companies, and universities.

"We get inside information about what it's like to work for a company ... so our readers can make informed choices," said Derek Loosvelt, finance editor at Vaultcom.

To compile the rankings for its Accounting 50, Vault asked approximately 80 national firms to participate in its electronic survey; of those firms, approximately 30 - more than 4,100 accounting professionals (e.g., accountants, CPAs, tax professionals, auditors) - actually participated. In each category, a minimum of 20 survey responses was required for a firm to be ranked, Loosvelt said.

Survey respondents rated public accounting firms on a scale of 1 to 10 in qualityof-life categories (including their own firms) and based upon levels of prestige (excluding their own firms). Using a weighted formula combining a firm's prestige ranking (40%) with several of its quality-of-life rankings (20% firm culture, 10% work/life balance, 10% compensation, 10% business outlook, 10% overall job satisfaction), Vault created a single "best to work for" category.

And the Winner Is...

Ernst & Young led the list, rising from its prior-year rank of 22 and knocking Grant Thornton down from first to second place, according to the survey results. The remaining three Big Four firms followed: Deloitte held steady at third; PricewaterhouseCoopers ranked fourth, falling from second place; and KPMG rose to fifth place from its prior-year rank of 23.

The strong performance of larger firms like Ernst & Young and KPMG - which completed the survey this year after not participating last year - reveals that prestige remains important to accounting professionals, Loosvelt said. This year's strong performance by the Big Four could also have resulted from changes made within the firms to rectify weaknesses and better satisfy employees, said Ernest Patrick Smith, a partner at Nawrocki Smith LLP and a professor of fraud and forensic accounting at Hofstra University.

"Ernst & Young, from the responses this year, was pretty far ahead of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte in a few categories, like work/life balance, culture, and hours," Loosvelt said. "That's why they came out on top."

Following the top five firms were Plante Moran in sixth, which formerly held the 27th place; Moss Adams, dropping to seventh place from sixth; Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, rising to eighth place from 16th; Rothstein Kass & Company, which supped to ninth place from fourth; and Eide Bailly, which rose one ranking into the top 10, according to the survey data. (See Exhibit 1 for a closer look at the top 10 firms.)

Vault also created individual fists for prestige and for multiple quality-of-life categories. Surveyed accountants voted PricewaterhouseCoopers the most prestigious firm for the third consecutive year. …

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