Big 4 Accounting Vs Regional CPA Firms: Pros And Cons

Big 4 Accounting Firms seem to be the dream job for many aspiring accountants, but is this the only good opportunity?

Take a look at the following pros and cons of Big 4 vs the regional CPA firms and make an intelligent decision for your accounting career.

Big 4 Accounting Pros

1. Excellent Exposure

First of all, you get a great exposure in every aspect as a first-year associate in Big 4. The breadth and the quality of client base is unrivaled so you can get your hands on some complicated situations and learn how to deal with them with the help of the seniors.

Also, you will be exposed to companies in many different industries and you can take the time to see which area you would like to specialize in.

2. Good In-House Training

The Big 4 have the resources to provide numerous and in-house training for the junior accountants. Not only that you can take advantage of the free lessons, you can get your CPE fulfilled pretty easily.

3. Best Way To Get Your CPA Title

Along the line I should mention that working in one of the Big 4 will help you get the CPA qualification quickly — not only that your audit or tax experience will get you well prepared for the AUD / REG parts of the exam, you also will have no problem getting your work experience verified by your supervisor, which will mostly likely be to an actively practicing CPA from your state.

4. Opens Many Doors For Your Future Career

Whether you’ll like to stay in Big 4 or public accounting for the rest of your career, this experience will give you a great start in the financial field. An experience in Big 4 is a seal of approval from a resume perspective and many employers would be happy to take the Big 4 “graduates”.

Big 4 Accounting Cons

1. High Pressure With Lots Of Work

The Big 4 are serving the biggest corporations in every industry, so it is understandable that the clients’ demand and expectation is higher. This basically means that you, as part of the Big 4, will need to work hard to deliver the product, and extra pressure to make sure the product is among the best quality.

Obviously, some accountants actually appreciate a high-pressure environment but this would be something you need to consider.

2. Up Or Out

Big 4 is not a place for someone looking for easy life style. Staying in one level and not moving up is simply not a career choice. That’s why many Big 4 accountants end up leaving the firm despite all the great things mentioned in the above.

3. Feeling Lost At A Large Firm

The Big 4 accounting firms have grown so big that you probably don’t know people outside of your department. Also, in terms of client servicing, given the size of the clients and the audit team, you might get stuck with mundane work for the first couple of years.

Small / Regional Account Firms

In a way, the following are just the flip side of Big 4 accounting but I’ll elaborate further with a few quotations from the people.

Pros

1. Close-Knit Group

Regional CPA firms are often smaller, so it is easier to develop a close working relationship with the partners. Also, the fact that the audit teams are much smaller so you will have a lot more chance working directly with the partner vs Big 4 where your supervisor will be your seniors and managers.

2. Steeper Learning Curve

In a way, because you don’t have the luxury of going through rounds of training, you learn at your feet, at the client’s site. So this is a steeper learning curve and is often more exciting and satisfying.

3. Less Pressure

Because your clients are most likely private companies, you don’t get the pressure from the deadlines and complexities from the publicly listed companies that the Big 4 accounting firms are auditing. This usually translate to better hours and work-life balance.

Cons

1. Less Exposure

Obviously, in a typical regional CPA firm,the client base is smaller and you get less chance to develop broad base of experience. This could mean frustration if you get stuck in an industry you are not interested in.

2. More Politics?

In some respect, competition to move up the ladder can be tougher/slower than in a large firm. Your assignment and promotion is decided by a handful of partners and this could be very subjective and sometimes unfair.

3. Less Pay

I guess it is safe to assume that Big 4 can afford to pay more than the regional CPA firms.

What Do People Think?

People are generally well aware of the benefits of working in Big 4 accounting firms. Therefore, I would like to take the opportunity to present the opposite opinion — that smaller, regional CPA firms could be great start of your career:

“Yes I think it is better to start out with a smaller firm than a larger one simply because you will get a better chance to get to know your co-workers better and nothing will be a rush. You will also get to learn more about the career you chose with the one on one rather than being thrown out in a sea of sharks.

I know because I have work[ed] for a small company with at least five other people working under me . It was better for us because we got to know each other and what was expected of each one of us without all the drama.” – Pearlene

And here is another supporter for small firms:

“Joining a small firm always helps in gaining more experience faster. In the larger firms, the work is distributed into smaller chunks between more number of employees and so you get to gain experience in just one small area.

In smaller firms since they do not have the luxury of a large pool of employees more work is distributed to small number of employees. So the breadth of learning is quite high. Survival in the initial days will seem to be difficult but over a period of time, you get to learn more and handle stuff yourself.

One good way to cope up with difficult situations is to ask someone to mentor you (not train but mentor) so that you can go to them and talk about the problems you faced. They can in turn give you valuable advice in terms of managing such issues.

Another way is to network with as many seniors as possible and try to learn without eating into too much of their time. And once you gain experience, you will be surprised at how well you will be able to guide freshers.

But there is a downside to all this. Because your experience is only through field work and without proper training, sometimes the learning will be haphazard. But the pieces will fall into place in the long run. During your free time, you can also google on stuff which you were stumped about in case there is no one to help you out.” – JD

What Do You Think?

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