Exiting Big Four (Audit) after 5 years and entering FP&A - Ask me anything

CPA85's picture
Rank: Baboon | 123

Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top AMA's from 2015, this one was originally posted 7/19/2015.

Spent the past 5 years working for a B4 firm in the Assurance practice and am taking a FP&A Director role within industry in the coming weeks. Happy to answer any questions.

Comments (31)

Jul 14, 2015

Thanks for doing this! What industry clients did you work on? And why did you decide to move into industry now? Are you planning to get an MBA? What's your goal long term?

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

    • 1
Jul 15, 2015
OttoReadmore:

Thanks for doing this! What industry clients did you work on? And why did you decide to move into industry now? Are you planning to get an MBA? What's your goal long term?

While my clients were certainly diverse in comparison, they all fell within the retail industry. The timing of my departure is unusual as I was slated for promotion to Manager in early October. Nonetheless, I was presented with an opportunity which was too good to pass up, both from a growth and comp perspective.

My end goal is to become a CFO. While it isn't impossible to transition directly from Big 4 audit to a CFO role, I wanted to round out my accounting skill set with a splash of finance to even the balance and better my chances over the long haul. I flirted with getting an MBA last fall, and even went down the path of purchasing the Manhattan gmat course prep materials and scheduling visits to Booth and UT for grad school. Quite frankly if this new opportunity did not come up, I would likely have enrolled in 2016.

If you are waffling back and forth on pursuing an MBA, I would certainly encourage you to test the market and interview for opportunities which you may think you are under qualified. My new role, for example, called for 10 years of experience. While I had half of that, the Company placed a high level of value on the Big 4 experience (i.e. ability to learn quickly, great training grounds, smart, ability to put in the hours, etc.)

Jul 15, 2015

Congrats!

I started in Big 4 (but only lasted a year) and am now an FP&A Director as well.

I'm surprised that you got the Dir title at the company without the Mgr title in big 4, but thats great. Out of curiosity, what is the size of your new employer?

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

Jul 15, 2015

Thanks for doing this.

Did the opportunity come about through networking, job advertisement or a mix of both?

Jul 15, 2015
Walkio:

Thanks for doing this.

Did the opportunity come about through networking, job advertisement or a mix of both?

Regardless of the number of years under your belt, one piece of advice I would give to anyone in Big 4 would be to network your heart out, both internally and externally. Like most of us, I can recall countless times where those pesky weekly recruiter emails would go straight to the trash bin. However once I became a bit more serious about leaving, it was convenient having the best jobs in my area offered up on a silver platter.

I will caution you to be curious when working with recruiters as well, as many of them are glorified sales folks who will tell you exactly what you want in order to pull in the commission. These types were easy to weed out. I found that asking them more in-depth questions about the jobs they were trying to sell helped, as you could tell who did their research. Don't be afraid to call them out on it as well. This is YOUR career after all, not a car or fancy watch.

I maintained contact with few more of the "good guys", and one of them came forth with the opportunity for which I am now leaving.

Learn More

Side-by-side comparison of top modeling training courses + exclusive discount through WSO here.

Jul 15, 2015

Thanks for the insight, appreciated!

How did you leverage your current skills to the interviewers? are the two roles similar?

Also interested in how you found your new job!

Thanks

Best Response
Jul 15, 2015
TommyGunn:

Thanks for the insight, appreciated!

How did you leverage your current skills to the interviewers? are the two roles similar?

Also interested in how you found your new job!

Thanks

These are great questions.

On paper, it may appear maniacal to hire a soon-to-be audit manager directly into an FP&A role, particularly at a similar or even higher level. During the interview process, my recruiter remained very transparent about my "competition". No names, companies, or any of that. Just their backgrounds and respective years of experience. Some of the candidates were already in FP&A roles and many carried over 10 years of experience. Quite honestly I thought it was a snowball's chance in hell.

So, I did my research. 10 hours of googling things like "best traits in FP&A managers", and "characteristics of top finance professionals". While I clearly wasn't going to learn how to memorize the mechanics for valuing a company's new product using a DCF model to then be spouted out during an interview, I could at least start realistically by identifying the required intangibles for the role, and then draw on my experiences in Big 4 to align myself to them. I then supplemented that with my greatest accomplishments while working at my firm as icing on the cake (i.e. highly rated, international rotations, etc.)

And it worked, like charm. If I could analogize it to baseball, the Company for which I was interviewing was essentially the team which could have easily drafted a few college players and known exactly what they were going to get. Or, they could opt to roll the dice on a high school player with a burning fire and a high ceiling, bring him in, groom him up, pay a little less, and mold the exact product they want. Lucky for me, they chose the latter.

As it relates to the nature of the jobs, audit and FP&A are very different. In a nutshell, auditing has effectively become a giant replication of your client's work to ensure their policy aligns with GAAP and recent PCAOB push-down, supplemented with an abundance of checklists, frequent difficult discussions (internally and externally), and a feeling of "always being behind". If you think I am being bitter, that is probably fair. What drew me to FP&A was the "forward-looking" component, in that I will be involved with preparing budgets, forecasts, creating models, working with M&A projects, etc.

As for your last question, refer to my response to Walkio.

Jul 15, 2015

Hi,

Thanks a lot for making this thread. I'm currently working for a Big 4 firm and am hoping to transition to FP&A down the line with CFO as the absolute end goal like yourself. I have a few quick questions I was hoping you can help me out with:

  1. How hard was the move for you and do you think having an audit background hurt you at all? I've heard very mixed things about this on WSO, but some people say that having audit experience pigeon-holes you as just an accountant and for financial reporting/internal audit roles, which isn't exactly my goal. Can you speak to whether or not you think it's true and or how to sell your assurance experience for more finance-oriented/forward-looking roles?
  2. If you had to do it again, would you still stay till around manager before making the jump? My current plan is to do 3 years in public, mostly so I can say I have 1 year of being a senior on jobs, and then start looking for financial analyst/FP&A type of roles, Would this be a decent plan or would you advise more or less time?
  3. How valuable was the CPA credential (if at all) for finance jobs in corporate?

Thanks in advance!

    • 1
Jul 15, 2015
Lester Freamon:

Hi,

Thanks a lot for making this thread. I'm currently working for a Big 4 firm and am hoping to transition to FP&A down the line with CFO as the absolute end goal like yourself. I have a few quick questions I was hoping you can help me out with:

1. How hard was the move for you and do you think having an audit background hurt you at all? I've heard very mixed things about this on WSO, but some people say that having audit experience pigeon-holes you as just an accountant and for financial reporting/internal audit roles, which isn't exactly my goal. Can you speak to whether or not you think it's true and or how to sell your assurance experience for more finance-oriented/forward-looking roles?

2. If you had to do it again, would you still stay till around manager before making the jump? My current plan is to do 3 years in public, mostly so I can say I have 1 year of being a senior on jobs, and then start looking for financial analyst/FP&A type of roles, Would this be a decent plan or would you advise more or less time?

3. How valuable was the CPA credential (if at all) for finance jobs in corporate?

Thanks in advance!

Happy to hear that you are on a similar track. Regardless of whatever path you take, keep your eyes on the prize and don't become discouraged along the way. As for your questions:

  1. I always hated hearing this answer during my time in Big 4, but really "it depends". From day 1 as an auditor, I vowed to myself that I would never leave for a role that involved grinding out 10Qs and 10Ks. Or even worse, serving in any capacity as an internal auditor. Over the years I have worked with plenty of IA folks and have yet to meet one who does backflips on their way to work in the morning.

As it relates to transferable tangible skills, there aren't many. Fortunately, I worked on a few clients which engaged in projects which were outside of the normal course of the audit (i.e. reviewing DCF impairment models, testing the values of working capital acquired during an acquisition, etc.). Did these impress the interviewers? Maybe not. But it gave me a platform on which to stand and profess an interest in the finance realm. They will not care about the monotonous months you spent performing walkthroughs or TOCs, the 5-page memo you drafted to summarize your substantive rollforward strategy, nor the number of samples needed for A/R confirmations in order to achieve a 95% confidence level based on the audit risk tables. What really counts are the intangible skills, such as managing team, providing feedback, dealing with issues/pressures, meeting deadlines, managing budgets, communications, etc.

My advice: Find clients which have wacky transactions which requires the involvement of your transaction advisory services group, and put your name in the ring. While the advisory guys will certainly do the bulk of the work, there is still an onus on the audit team to review the underlying inputs, which will give you some exposure and allow you to familiarize yourself with the process so you can then articulate what you learned to a prospective employer.

  1. To be honest, I would have not been considered for this specific role if I only had 3 years of B4. Nonetheless, there are plenty of former colleagues who have entered into the FP&A game with only 2-3 years of experience, typically going in as a senior. If you are looking to get into FP&A as a senior, I would say there is no additional value to be gained by staying any more than 3 years in audit, especially if you know your heart is not in it for the long haul.

I will also caveat that while I was not yet a manager on paper, I have actually served as a manager in the field for the past year, so I sold that fact very heavily.

  1. When I pursued the CPA exam 6 years ago, I probably did not give enough thought to how it would help me in the finance world a half-decade later. All I heard was "get this done and we will pay for it and give you a nice bonus". So I did, and I am happy that I did. If you have not already taken the CPA and know that you could be leaving in the near future, I would opt for the CFA instead. If you can knock out both, that would be impressive and would certainly help defend your case for CFO later on down the road.
Learn More

Side-by-side comparison of top modeling training courses + exclusive discount through WSO here.

Jul 15, 2015

thanks for doing this, will place it on top of the frontpage a few times this week

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Jul 15, 2015
AndyLouis:

thanks for doing this, will place it on top of the frontpage a few times this week

Thanks, Andy.

Jul 15, 2015

Thank you so much for doing this. Trying to go down the same path.

Could you elaborate some more on the transfer of skills (specifically from a technical aspect) from audit to FP&A? Seems to me like there's somewhat of a gap in the skills you gain from the two roles (auditing the hell out of revenue samples vs. actually forecasting revenues based on different drivers/factors). Trying to figure out the best way for me to make the move, and leaning towards the MBA route at the moment.

Jul 15, 2015
romborama:

Thank you so much for doing this. Trying to go down the same path.

Could you elaborate some more on the transfer of skills (specifically from a technical aspect) from audit to FP&A? Seems to me like there's somewhat of a gap in the skills you gain from the two roles (auditing the hell out of revenue samples vs. actually forecasting revenues based on different drivers/factors). Trying to figure out the best way for me to make the move, and leaning towards the MBA route at the moment.

No problem, romborama. I shed some light on this specific topic in my response to TommyGunn, so maybe take a look. As it relates to getting FP&A experience on the audit side, I would stress for you to seek out clients which execute unusual transactions throughout the year (i.e. acquisitions, divestitures, impairment review, etc.) You can do this by talking with your partner group (i.e. requesting more challenging work) or even with peers or colleagues who are a level or two higher than you. From an audit perspective, this type of work will likely involve the review of forecasts and models, which will allow you to get a glimpse of the FP&A world. To the extent you get your hands on these items, dive in head first.

Jul 15, 2015

Do you regret staying for so long and not leaving sooner for an FP&A role? Do you think there is a particular reason why they would recruit someone from audit instead of internally or externally with more FP&A experience?

Jul 15, 2015
Ehh and Why:

Do you regret staying for so long and not leaving sooner for an FP&A role? Do you think there is a particular reason why they would recruit someone from audit instead of internally or externally with more FP&A experience?

I wouldn't say that I regret staying for so long quite honestly. The beauty of the Big4 lies in their aggressive track record of promoting folks every 2-3 years. To the extent you can stomach the workload and hours, you might as well stick it out until the right opportunity comes along. For me personally, I told myself that I would never leave for a position lower than a Manager for fear of being pidegon-holed as a Senior in industry for 5+ years.

As it relates to companies hiring internally vs. externally, there are pros/cons to both. Internal hires are a safe bet, as they know more about the Company and are more likely to have a decent grasp on the nature of FP&A work to be completed. External hires specifically out of Big4 audit are less versed in the FP&A realm, but bring a suite of intangibles which can help to offset the lack of experience (ie. ability to handle large amounts of work in a quick time, learn quickly, manage teams, work under pressure).

Jul 16, 2015

Thanks again for doing this. I do have one somewhat relevant question.

This past year I completed my first busy season as an assurance senior -3rd full year, overall- and had planned on making a transition to tax this January, in order to learn that side of business.

In your opinion, would you foresee this as the most helpful if the ultimate goal is finance, or would I be better served to try and find a TS position or simply stay in assurance for a while longer?

Jul 15, 2015
CPA_89:

Thanks again for doing this. I do have one somewhat relevant question.

This past year I completed my first busy season as an assurance senior -3rd full year, overall- and had planned on making a transition to tax this January, in order to learn that side of business.

In your opinion, would you foresee this as the most helpful if the ultimate goal is finance, or would I be better served to try and find a TS position or simply stay in assurance for a while longer?

You are actually in a great spot to transition having already completed a year as a senior. If the wheels are in motion with your Tax rotation, you may want to stick with it rather than coming back to the partner group with another change of heart as they could perceive you as unsure. However, if nothing has yet been formalized and you are adamant about a breath of fresh air away from audit, I would aim to align yourself better to pursue an opportunity in TS, especially if your end goal is to switch over to finance/FP&A. Most Big4 TS (advisory) groups are growing far more than any assurance or tax line, so making the switch is not impossible. I am not sure what city you are from, but the advisory service lines are practically non-existent in my area. As such, transferring was not an option for me unless I relocated to a larger hub office (Chicago, Dallas, NYC). Something else to think about in the meantime would be pursuing the CFA.

Staying in audit clearly worked in my situation, but I wouldn't say that it is the ideal path for most. Based on the nature of your question it sounds like you are already looking for a change. Sticking it out with a "checked out" mentality for another 1-2 years is simply going to grind at your mental state and constantly make you question if staying is the right answer.

Jul 17, 2015

Thanks for doing this - I'm in the same boat (3rd year in big 4, so senior 1) and looking for FP&A roles.

One thing i'll add to the viewers that has helped me in interviews is putting the audit analytics at the forefront of my resume. Quarterly analytics for 10Qs, substantive analytics (ie analytics used for audit evidence), and reviewing the assumptions of the Company's models as well as testing the sensitivity of them shows experience with some of the tasks expected. For example, talking about how you created a financial model which forecasts the company's current year monthly revenue based on historical data, industry/market factors, and promotional schedules, to compare to the company's actuals. You can do the same for a gross margin analysis. Or tested the company's significant accruals by evaluating the assumptions and testing the sensitivity. Ask for these types of things on the clients you work on if you dont have experience with it. On my resume I make no mention of walkthroughs/TOC unless the company is in the same industry. Maybe its worthless idk.

Question for OP: My consideration is whether to stay until manager, or leave now (after 3 years).

You said that you didn't think there was any extra value in staying the 3 years for manager (1 year of "manager" experience) but I wanted to revisit this and get some more insight. From a compensation and progression standpoint, do you think it is reasonable to make the jump from Audit manager > finance/FP&A manager? Some of the senior Financial analyst and senior FP&A roles seem like there could 5+ years in that position until you get to the manager level. I'm having a little trouble with the "lack of experience" already, so I'm not sure if staying until manager is the best move.

Also I have been a little surprised by the compensation I've been seeing. I'm in a mid/low COL area and the highest I've been able to discuss was ~75k, while the recruiters are saying 70 is more reasonable, for Snr. FA/Snr. FP&A positions. I've heard of senior IA/senior accountant jobs paying like 85k with my level of experience, so this was a little disheartening. I would think audit manager > Finance/FP&A manager would be ~90. Can you give us an idea of your compensation and if i'm way off base?

    • 1
Jul 15, 2015
Soros:

Thanks for doing this - I'm in the same boat (3rd year in big 4, so senior 1) and looking for FP&A roles.

One thing i'll add to the viewers that has helped me in interviews is putting the audit analytics at the forefront of my resume. Quarterly analytics for 10Qs, substantive analytics (ie analytics used for audit evidence), and reviewing the assumptions of the Company's models as well as testing the sensitivity of them shows experience with some of the tasks expected. For example, talking about how you created a financial model which forecasts the company's current year monthly revenue based on historical data, industry/market factors, and promotional schedules, to compare to the company's actuals. You can do the same for a gross margin analysis. Or tested the company's significant accruals by evaluating the assumptions and testing the sensitivity. Ask for these types of things on the clients you work on if you dont have experience with it. On my resume I make no mention of walkthroughs/TOC unless the company is in the same industry. Maybe its worthless idk.

Question for OP: My consideration is whether to stay until manager, or leave now (after 3 years).

You said that you didn't think there was any extra value in staying the 3 years for manager (1 year of "manager" experience) but I wanted to revisit this and get some more insight. From a compensation and progression standpoint, do you think it is reasonable to make the jump from Audit manager > finance/FP&A manager? Some of the senior Financial analyst and senior FP&A roles seem like there could 5+ years in that position until you get to the manager level. I'm having a little trouble with the "lack of experience" already, so I'm not sure if staying until manager is the best move.

Also I have been a little surprised by the compensation I've been seeing. I'm in a mid/low COL area and the highest I've been able to discuss was ~75k, while the recruiters are saying 70 is more reasonable, for Snr. FA/Snr. FP&A positions. I've heard of senior IA/senior accountant jobs paying like 85k with my level of experience, so this was a little disheartening. I would think audit manager > Finance/FP&A manager would be ~90. Can you give us an idea of your compensation and if i'm way off base?

Thanks for the additional insight, Soros. I thought it would be good to clarify a few points.

If you are currently at a Big 4 firm and are simply looking to break into an FP&A role (senior roles included), then I find it difficult to identify significant incremental value in staying past the end of your first year as a senior. However, if you insist on leaving for a Manager role or higher (like myself), then I certainly think it benefits you to stay longer. I would also caveat though that it would not be unusual for you to land an FP&A Manager role as a heavy senior (3rd year), as there is an assumption that you would have already started to engage in more Manager oriented tasks, especially if you are a higher performer.

As it relates to comp, I am also in a mid/low COL area. Most senior level FP&A roles which I have seen over the years gravitate toward the $75-80k range. Also from what I have seen, $85k for a non-FPA senior account role appears to be on the high end, so please take that for what it's worth. At the end of the day, I would encourage you to think a bit more big picture and look to chase the opportunity you truly want as you will inevitably get paid for your hard efforts down the road. Would I have taken $5-10k more to take an equivalent role in accounting? Absolutely not. If your heart tells you FP&A, go there.

As for my total comp package (salary, performance bonuses, benefits, 401k matching, PTO), I did the math and compared the new amount based on:

a) my current total comp package as a senior 3, and
b) my approximate "would-be" comp package as a new Manager

When comparing the above to my new role, the respective increases were

a) 71%
b) 51%

This was valuable information to know, as it helped defend against the partner group why I was leaving 3 months before my official Manager promotion. Also refer to my response to Killabeez question for more salary information.

Jul 17, 2015

Thanks for the response - just to clarify one thing, I'm definitely interested in FP&A and not the accounting route, I just mentioned the accounting salaries because I'm more familiar with them and its a more typical exit from public.

Based on the compensation discussed, if a 1st year senior can expect to leave for a Senior FP&A position for around 75-85, but a senior 3/Manager 1 can leave for a manager position for around 120, the lower end of what you described, then it looks like there is considerable value in the experience after the first year as a senior. As you mentioned, I also don't want to spin my wheels for 5 years in the senior position before making manager in FPA/Finance.

I do think there is an element of risk in staying, as there may not be as many manager positions which want someone without industry experience, but from a compensation/promotion standpoint... it seems like staying a couple more years makes sense.

Jul 17, 2015

Thank you so much for doing this! I really appreciate your insight into this. I am currently a rising sophomore pursuing undergrad degree in both applied math and accounting. My eventual career goal is to become a financial analyst in a major IB or a CFO in a specific industry. My first question is what is primarily the difference between the role of financial analyst in a major IB and FP&A, because it appears to me that both are doing DCF analysis, modeling and forecasting. My second question is that do you think I should stick with accounting in order to break into finance or should I switch to majoring in finance in order to have a decent grasp of what financial analysis entails? In another words, is my knowledge in accounting or a CPA licence sufficient for me to thrive in the finance area?

Jul 15, 2015
KristyRen:

Thank you so much for doing this! I really appreciate your insight into this. I am currently a rising sophomore pursuing undergrad degree in both applied math and accounting. My eventual career goal is to become a financial analyst in a major IB or a CFO in a specific industry. My first question is what is primarily the difference between the role of financial analyst in a major IB and FP&A, because it appears to me that both are doing DCF analysis, modeling and forecasting. My second question is that do you think I should stick with accounting in order to break into finance or should I switch to majoring in finance in order to have a decent grasp of what financial analysis entails? In another words, is my knowledge in accounting or a CPA licence sufficient for me to thrive in the finance area?

Thank you for the question KristyRen, however I can only partially help you out as I have minimal insight into the IB world. Hopefully someone else can pickup my slack on that.

While there are certainly many benefits to obtaining a degree in accounting, I am not sure that it makes more sense than a finance degree in your situation. If you are not looking to start your career in public accounting, but rather as an analyst, then I would opt to either go all-in with finance or do a double major in accounting & finance. Most universities have programs which easily allow you to accomplish the latter, and the benefit here is that you will also be eligible to take the CPA exam with all of the credit hours you will have accumulate. This would be beneficial should you choose to flip back to accounting later on during your studies.

Also, do your research on companies which reimburse you for testing materials (i.e. Becker, Kaplan, etc). Most Big 4 firms will even kick you bonuses ($3-5k) for getting the CPA exam done in a certain amount of time (within 1-2 years of starting). If you can knock out both the CPA and CFA, you will really set yourself up nicely for a CFO role down the road. One last piece of advice is to get these done as early as possible. Working and studying for the CPA full-time is miserable.

Best of luck.

Jul 17, 2015

Thank you so much for replying to my question. This has helped a lot clear my doubts! I really appreciate it.

Jul 17, 2015

Great post!

Congrats on your gig CPA85, and to everyone else also trying to move out of the Big 4 industry - Just stay diligent and focus for the right role to come up. Timing is everything as illustrated in this post.

For those that need advice also on the financial services industry side = I myself came from the Big 4, rotated in Assurance and M&A Services (3 years there) then moved to a Bulge Brack I-Bank in its Private Equity group to do fund services and treasury operations. I'm more than happy to help also to answer questions, hence all of us at some point in our careers (especially in our 20's) seek the right fit for the short term and long term to fulfill personal and career aspirations. (And to party harder and live life happier)

After 3 years in the Big 4 (NYC based), moved onto this I-Bank's PE Group back/mid office role (IR/Operations/Financial Accounting/Treasury Ops/Fund Admin, etc.) for 4 years, sucked it up (sometimes longevity pays off) and transferred internally with a promotion (which was a key) in a Corporate FP&A role that is geared towards corporate investing and capital management. It also provided me with a rotational option since the firm supports mobility (yes I know a lot of people aren't a fan of this), but personally, I think having a good amount of years under your belt pays off in one company especially being groomed there with a title. I am a 2008 undergrad, so 7 years out of college and I also almost went to a Full Time MBA but I played my cards right (I do not want to banking long term, so it was pointless for me to be out of an MBA program at late 20's/early 30's). I took grad classes to leverage my background and studied abroad also, but will just do this at a tier 1 part time now that I got my career figured out. Oh, I do not have my CPA. Just be persistent, I've seen a lot of people just leave after 2-3 years, then get something worse that a job he/she can only see themselves doing for a couple years, then leave again (which leaves a lot of holes in the resume jumping around).

    • 3
Jul 17, 2015

Hey CPA85,

Thanks so much for creating this thread! I'm currently flirting with one of the B4 with hopes of breaking in, and this insight is absolutely fantastic. My question is, what has been your most challenging and rewarding experience during your five years in B4 Assurance and how do you think this will prepare you with your new FP&A role?

Thanks so much in advance!

Jul 17, 2015

What is the comp range for a director in FP&A?

    • 1
Jul 15, 2015
Killabeez:

What is the comp range for a director in FP&A?

By adjusting the salary.com quote to exclude outliers (lower/upper 10%), the annual salary for a FP&A Director ranges between $120-170K (US National average). Including bonuses, the range bumps to $135-200K. Based on my particular situation, I would say these figures are accurate.

Jul 20, 2015
Comment
Jul 25, 2015
Comment
    • 1