6/1/13

In general, who would work at the same company the longest: an investment banker or big 4 accountant? And for how many years? Also, out of curiosity, what do ex-Big 4 accountants end up as?

Comments (28)

10/13/15

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6/1/13

Sounds like the exit opps are difficult to get by then.

6/1/13

Prospect022:

Depends. Many that leave at Manager get hired as a controller at a company and then it's all about timing and rising the corporate ladder to CFO. Once a CFO you can transition to larger companies and sit on board's to collect a large sum of money to certify the financial statements.

The BIG4 career path is put down a lot around here but if you do it right you can retire at 45 with 8-10M and still sit on 4-5 boards collecting 100-150k from each.


That's just not true. You cannot retire at 45 working at a big 4 even if you make partner. Partners make a lot, but you won't make 8-10m by the time you're 45 as well as sit on the board of directors.
6/2/13

Prospect022:

Depends. Many that leave at Manager get hired as a controller at a company and then it's all about timing and rising the corporate ladder to CFO. Once a CFO you can transition to larger companies and sit on board's to collect a large sum of money to certify the financial statements.

The BIG4 career path is put down a lot around here but if you do it right you can retire at 45 with 8-10M and still sit on 4-5 boards collecting 100-150k from each.

LOL. The amount of ridiculous bullshit posted by college kids on this board is hilarious. Please refrain from posting and spewing shitty advice if you don't actually work in the industry. The Big4 career path allows you to retire at 45 with 8-10M in the bank? Hmm are you a friend of Scott London's? Making partner at 35 is an accomplishment (13 yrs in). Entry level audit partner makes 250-350K based on office/revenue stream. Lets just say you bank 100% of your money in the partner years, and work 10 years to 45 saving 100% of 400K Non-taxed (LOL). Thats still only 4M saved given my insanely generous estimates.

Even if you don't take the partner path and move into industry, at the VP/Director level you normally get the same amount of money, 250-350Kish. Btw this is where 99% of the talented B4 people cap off. The bad ones get stuck in Sr. Accountantish roles making maybe 100K at the peak of their career. The amount of people that start at B4 and end up as CFO is laughable, its like a 1 in 1000 shot probably. So no, you can't make this much in the B4 and retire at 45. The path of retiring at 45 and sitting on 10M while collecting 100-150k from 4-5 boards is a nice jug of kool-aid fed to you by B4 recruiters.

In answer to OP's questions, the smart audit/advisory folks normally get out at 2-3 yrs in(senior), or 5 years in(manager). Out of a start class of 100 kids, probably 20 will be around at the end of their 1st yr senior, and maybe 3-4 will be around by the end of 1st yr manager. 0-1 for Partner just in case you were curious lol.

11/7/13

While I agree that Prospect022 8-10MM calculation was WAY off you haven't calculated the pension plans that a lot of partners get (25% of highest earned income) which is essentially like an annuity. So if you're making 250-350k starting and assuming you're going to continue your progression you should retire with 4MM and have a pension of 100-150K+ for doing absolutely nothing.

  • Anonymous Monkey
  •  1/2/16

I know this is an old post, but this comment, while overall makes a good point (recruiters feed a lot of bull in Big 4 recruiting), the payoff for someone who stays in Big 4 is a bit better than depicted here. On average, in an average cost of living market, an audit partner will make around $500k+ after about 5 years at the partner level. By the time a new partner today retires, he/she will likely be making around $.8 million to $1.0+ million in today's dollars. Factor in an extremely generous pension, the likes of which is almost non-existent in any other field (40% of average 3 highest years earnings), and you are set for a very comfortable retirement. In addition, partners build a capital account that at year 5, the typical year in which the loan to "buy-in" to the firm has been paid off (so I hear), would be worth several hundred thousand dollars. Not to mention growth in said account over time + many other perks not mentioned here, including high likelihood of sitting on boards, etc.

The highest achieving partners can make more than the above -- I'm just giving you the median/average case scenario, not the high flying execs who make it up to regional, national, and global leadership positions.

In addition, an oft overlooked fact is that a large percentage of Big 4 employees work in markets that are extremely cheap compared to the high finance markets like NYC. Wall Street Oasis has a lot of useful information for aspiring finance types, but it can also be somewhat misleading or challenging for a student to assess what options are best for the future. It's easy to see $350k+ salaries routinely on this board and get the assumption that only IB, PE, HF, VC, etc. pay well. When factoring in cost of living, that is extraordinarily misleading for the average person. Also factor in the 80+ hour work weeks that typically accompany those types of jobs, and it leads to a much different picture.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a Corporate Controller of a public company after only several years since graduation (I left Big 4 as a Mgr.). To have the same standard of living as my current market (think Dallas, Denver, etc.), I'd have to make around $400k per year in Manhattan. That's based on my Yr. 1 compensation as a Corporate Controller. Also, the average person that leaves as a senior in Big 4 typically makes around $150k+ mid career, and that doesn't even include the Managers and Sr. Managers who make much more (people that leave as manager typically make around 48% to 50% more than those who leave as Seniors). So spare me the crap about Big 4 not being good money. Next year, I'll make around $200k, and I will have the option to leave for an even better paying job (think potential 20% to 30% pay bump). That's just the beginning of my career. While I'm doing well, I think my fact pattern should be taken into account b/c I am not the only person from Big 4 that figured out how to play the game like this. Also, I am WAY more likely to become a CFO than most I-Bankers. I work with I-Bankers from JP Morgan, and their opinion was that if you want to be a good CFO, nowadays, you have to be very comfortable with the #'s. That's something CPAs/Big 4 people have much more of than your typical I-Banker, and this is based on info. that they offered up, not me. High finance is as much art as science, and the real money comes to those who have good soft skills and develop the right relationships.

Now, don't get me wrong. Will I be as rich as I would have been had I decided to pursue BB I-Banking, go to top 10 MBA, etc. etc.? No, but I'm not going to be poor making $300k+ (and potentially $1+ million if I make it to CFO level at a mid-sized public company) mid career. Even if I only ever made $200k+, that is not poor. In the markets where I can make that kind of money (Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Denver, etc.), I can live like a King compared to the markets where I-Banking/PE thrives. The truth is, high-finance types can get very snobby and look down on corporate finance and accounting, but they often fail to mention that they typically have to make 1.5x to 2.0x the money to afford the same lifestyle as many in the accounting/corporate finance world. They also have to live with a lot more risk -- during economic downturns, most Ex Big 4 types are still employed (3% unemployment rate for CPAs during the financial crisis).

Sorry for the rant, but I just wanted to provide some balance here. I'd say follow what you like/want to do. Be aware of the great opportunities in finance right out of college, and yes I'd vote for I-Banking experience over Big 4. However, don't take that to mean Big 4 is not good. In many cases, many of those Ex-Big 4 guys you look down on will end up also reaching the highest rungs of finance. And, they often have a different set of skills that make them very valuable depending on the needs of the organization. Most of the misinformation about Big 4 appears to be from people who never worked a day in accounting and does not understand what career options are actually available.

12/17/13

Totally false. Geez. There are very, very few Big 4 partners that retire before 55, and even then they'd be hard pressed to have $8m-$10m in the bank.

The Big 4 Career path is not for most people. It is simply too grueling with very little reward at the end. Partnership is not nearly as attractive as it once was, especially as the firms are not making as many new partners as they used to.

"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." - Mickey Bergman - Heist (2001)

12/17/13

AcctNerd:

The Big 4 Career path is not for most people. It is simply too grueling with very little reward at the end. Partnership is not nearly as attractive as it once was, especially as the firms are not making as many new partners as they used to.

By this I assume you mean staying with a Big 4 for your career? Because starting Big 4 and then moving after a few years is still a great path for those who dont go to a target school for IB or MBB

12/18/13

Yes. Big 4 is a great place to start out if you are non-target. I kind of see it as a sort of "proving ground" for industries that might not take a look at you as a recent grad. It can also help to get you INTO a target school's MBA program through networking.

"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." - Mickey Bergman - Heist (2001)

12/18/13

It's not as simple as networking into the program, though. Just want to tack on that you have to have an exceptional performance record.

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12/19/13

True. I would hope that would go without saying. Maybe I'm naive.

"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." - Mickey Bergman - Heist (2001)

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6/1/13

Wall Street seems to have a ton of lateral turnover, but Big 4 people come in as a spring board for their career starting out. Journal of Accountancy did an article a little while back claiming 3-6 years is ideal for Big 4 and then leaving (unless you want to stick around to be on the partner track). I think that is the general target range for most people as well.

Major exit opportunities include a whole slew of varying levels of management depending on years of B4 experience in F500 departments such as: internal audit, finance, compliance, fin. reporting, treasury, risk management, all the way up to VP and CFO levels. But I also know people who have left for many other things from gov't positions, specialty/technical accounting groups, universities, to law school and become attorneys, to consulting, starting businesses.

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6/7/13

mike50:

In general, who would work at the same company the longest: an investment banker or big 4 accountant? And for how many years? Also, out of curiosity, what do ex-Big 4 accountants end up as?

The main exit points for Big auditors are typically as a first year Senior (3rd yr at the firm) and 1st year Manager (6th year at the firm). This is a generalization though; there are people who leave at every year/level. But these two levels/ranks are the most frequently used "jump-off" points in a Big 4 career.

Leave as a Senior = usually get a job as a Senior Accountant / Senior Financial Analyst.

Leave as a Manager = usually get at least a Finance Manager job. I know Managers who have left to become Finance Directors, Controllers, and VPs.

Leave as a Senior Manager = become VP or Controller at a larger company, or sometimes if you have a good network, you can leave to become CFO at a small company. Though becoming CFO directly from public accounting is quite rare, the exception rather than the norm.

Exit opportunities are plentiful. On average, I get hit up by headhunters (either via LinkedIn, email, or voicemail) at least once every few days, often more frequently than that. This spike in attention from headhunters started around the time I got promoted to Senior.

Source: I'm a Big 4 audit senior in a top 5 major U.S. city.

6/7/13

passerby7:

The main exit points for Big auditors are typically as a first year Senior (3rd yr at the firm) and 1st year Manager (6th year at the firm). This is a generalization though; there are people who leave at every year/level. But these two levels/ranks are the most frequently used "jump-off" points in a Big 4 career.

Leave as a Senior = usually get a job as a Senior Accountant / Senior Financial Analyst.

Does this apply to PwC as well? I know they tend to promote to senior after three full years instead of two like most others. Will outside companies know this, and just kinda go by how many years you've been there rather than title?

6/12/13

passerby7:

mike50:

In general, who would work at the same company the longest: an investment banker or big 4 accountant? And for how many years? Also, out of curiosity, what do ex-Big 4 accountants end up as?

The main exit points for Big auditors are typically as a first year Senior (3rd yr at the firm) and 1st year Manager (6th year at the firm). This is a generalization though; there are people who leave at every year/level. But these two levels/ranks are the most frequently used "jump-off" points in a Big 4 career.

Leave as a Senior = usually get a job as a Senior Accountant / Senior Financial Analyst.

Leave as a Manager = usually get at least a Finance Manager job. I know Managers who have left to become Finance Directors, Controllers, and VPs.

Leave as a Senior Manager = become VP or Controller at a larger company, or sometimes if you have a good network, you can leave to become CFO at a small company. Though becoming CFO directly from public accounting is quite rare, the exception rather than the norm.

Exit opportunities are plentiful. On average, I get hit up by headhunters (either via LinkedIn, email, or voicemail) at least once every few days, often more frequently than that. This spike in attention from headhunters started around the time I got promoted to Senior.

Source: I'm a Big 4 audit senior in a top 5 major U.S. city.

This is dead on. And to the comment about PwC since they promote to senior after 3 years, I think more people leave after after making that jump to senior associate to take their compensation to private industry. When you jump ship you usually get a decent raise from your current salary, so that's why you see people leaving after they make senior, manager ect.

One thing to note is that at the senior manager level your options start to dwindle, as you are very expensive and there aren't as many options. The "ideal" time to get the most out of your experience is to leave after about 6 years, or 1 year after making manager. You should be looking at a job making around 90-120k and (likely.. but not in every case) return to a more normal work/life balance while still being on a good track to the C-Suite.

Also Big 4 Audit employee.

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6/12/13

Big4Bound:
And to the comment about PwC since they promote to senior after 3 years, I think more people leave after after making that jump to senior associate to take their compensation to private industry. When you jump ship you usually get a decent raise from your current salary, so that's why you see people leaving after they make senior, manager ect.

That kinda sucks. So basically, you have to put up with 4 years of busy season rather than 3 to get the same opportunities out of it? PwC is the only one who is willing to send me out of state, but also the only ones who promote to senior after 3 years instead of 2. I really didn't plan on doing more than 3 years but I guess we'll see.

6/12/13

Completely depends on the individual and location. No general answer.

6/12/13

It's counted by busy seasons not years in the firm. Exit opportunities are based on the condition of the economy. If it's doing well, then you have more options and vice versa. Exit opportunities are all accounting, compliance and audit based and within your industry. I've seen a few managers and senior managers move to middle office but its the exception. I do not know of a single person that moved from audit into front office like IBD or S&T. You can make a play to transfer to a specialized group though. I'm not sure of the exit options from there but its likely to be much better. Except those groups work you into the ground for the same shit pay.

6/13/13

The "audit to IB" route is actually not that uncommon. It is certainly difficult but it has definitely been done, especially by a few here on this site. A more traditional path is audit>TS>IB, but some have managed to skip that middle step. Those that have made the switch that I know of had a pretty solid background and probably just missed out on an offer at an IB and went with audit.

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6/13/13

Big4Bound:

The "audit to IB" route is actually not that uncommon. It is certainly difficult but it has definitely been done, especially by a few here on this site. A more traditional path is audit>TS>IB, but some have managed to skip that middle step. Those that have made the switch that I know of had a pretty solid background and probably just missed out on an offer at an IB and went with audit.

I too have seen the "audit to IB" move happen. Four ex-auditors in my office have made this move. One left as a 2nd-yr associate/staff to go to a local boutique. Two others left as 1st-yr Seniors (one went to a local boutique, another went to a well-known MM; the one who went to the MM spent almost 2 years there before moving on to a large PE firm). Another auditor in my office spent 3 years at my Big4 before going to a M7 MBA program, and he is currently interning as an IBD Summer Associate at a BB.

These are the success stories though, those who have tried and succeeded. I'm sure there are (many?) others who have tried and failed. But it is possible to go from audit to IB, as the above cases have shown.

Best Response
6/13/13

It's interesting to me how self-centered finance guys here at WSO seem to assume that all auditors want to switch to IB.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

3/2/14

interesting

7/20/13

In general I would say Big 4 accountants stay slightly longer than IB, but it's generally around the same. Exit opportunities depend on what industry your clients were on. If you had a lot of energy/mining clients, then your exit opportunities would focus around that group.

7/30/13

Not in Big4 Audit, but my GF was in NYC. Most of her class left by the 2nd year to mostly middle office, industry accounting, product control type jobs.

7/31/13

In Canada, the general approach is getting the CA (CPA now) which takes 3 years of experience, after which 95% of the class leaves to join industry as an accountant, analyst in the corporate finance function of a firm, or hop over to consulting internally or externally. Few join FAS, some make it to IB on Bay Street. I would ball park it for a class of 20 auditors, 15 leave as soon as they can, 2 leave with 3 years of getting their designation, 2 will leave after making manager and leaving 1 to make it to senior manager. At that point the senior manager will basically rely on luck and connection to make it to partner, no time frame really...

10/14/13

Very informative post, thanx a lot!

10/30/13

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there" - Will Rogers

11/30/13
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