Is being a CPA before PWM a good idea?

Hi everyone.Im currently majoring in Accounting with a minor in Econ at a semi-target in Canada with a pretty high GPA. My school has good recruiting for the Big 4 so I'm planning on going into tax and earning my CPA but my overall goal is to get into PWM.The reason I'm doing accounting beforehand is that PWM is hard to start out as a 23 year old fresh from college and the Big 4 is more of a sure thing than finance. Also CPA/tax experience might make me seem more trustworthy and reliable to potential clients in PWM as tax planning is involved in financial advisory. A lot of wealth managers fail too and having a CPA + Big 4 experience can allow me to just jump back into a job if PWM doesn't work out.
Is going into Big 4 tax for a few years then exiting into PWM with my CPA a bad idea? Should I be entering it as early as I can? Also, are there any certs/degrees that most wealth managers have? Should I aim to get a CFA or MBA as well? I know MBAs have nothing to do with PWM but simply because clients must see education as an extra reason to trust you as their advisor.

Comments (6)

Jan 14, 2022 - 12:06pm

Gonna try to break down your best as best I can.

  1. Good for you for starting to think about this stuff. I would read on the site on PWM to get some more context. Reddit would be a good resource too.
  1. What type of firm are you trying to take in the PWM world? What role are you envisioning?
  1. I'm a CPA. It definitely gives you clout with everyone you talk to. Outside of the accounting world, it doesn't serve you tooo much past that. (Unless you're deep into FP&A or something). So if you are going to get your CPA while you're young for the purposes of credentials on your business card AND to have something to fall back on, that's not a terrible idea but it's a commitment. Months of studying, may be worth it but just beware that you aren't even technically a CPA until you have a year of finance / accounting experience. (And if you don't have firm sponsorship, it costs a ton). If you're going to do multiple YEARS of big 4 tax with the hopes that it will catapult you into a good career of PWM (which is really sales), that is a far stretch. Plus, an associate at a b4 tax will work their ass off for years and make pretty low money given their knowledge and hours worked.

You should network with some tax associates at a big 4 and ask them about their day to day AND their end deliverable. I don't think it's exactly what you think it will be. (Even if you talk to someone who is in the high net worth group or estate planning group)

  1. Now if you want to get a cpa and you want to go into accounting / finance - that's a different discussion but the answer is yes, get it. Extremely valuable to have as you enter and navigate the business world.
  1. PWM, based on the role it sounds like you're going for, is more of a sales role. Lots of people get their CFP early on. It's a good starting point and far easier than the CPA. Also way cheaper. I don't think the barrier to entry there is terribly High either so no need to try to worry about a CFA or anything to give you an edge (nor would it but no you don't have to do it).

Im a stranger on the internet so take this with a grain of salt but i think it's almost always better to go directly into the field you're trying to do. What if you do 2 years at big4 just to try PWM and you hate it?

Try to network with people in the industry too. And maybe try to get an internship.

TLDR: go do PWM if you wanna do PWM. Don't waste your time with unrelated credentials.

Most Helpful
Jan 19, 2022 - 11:46am

it's impossible to say whether or not it's a good idea. I've seen CPA, CFA, CFP (yes all 3) fail and I built my practice without any credentials (now have my CFP due to a requirement but that's another story). PWM has a 95% fail rate among rookies, and luck has a lot to do with it. if you want to go into big4 and build up a safety net as well as get some work experience, that's fine, but it's no guarantee potential clients will give a shit. 

couple closing thoughts

  • if you hate accounting, don't work in accounting, but if you like it, not the worst idea in the world
  • if PWM is the end goal, consider other roles to break in, like admin/ops and then joining a team as a FA. alternatively, consider recruiting for a PB which has a bigger safety net for youngsters and will give you some good pay and good experience
  • nothing is guaranteed with a high fail rate job like PWM. think in terms of upside and downside. worst case scenario is you go back to big4, go get a MBA, etc., worse case is you never tried. so I'd say go for it, either nor or later, but you'll hate yourself if you never try
Jan 19, 2022 - 12:26pm

Thanks for the response, it clears a lot of it up especially coming from a professional in the industry.Though one thing, you mentioned recruiting at a PB, do you mean working as a recruiter for private bankers? As in more of an HR/sales role? Or being recruited for a PB and working in a PB as opposed to a wire house/FA firm?

Jan 19, 2022 - 1:09pm

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