• Big 4

    Should You Make the Switch to Transaction Services?

    By | August 31, 2017

    I’m not too far removed from Big 4 Audit. I remember what it was like. There were some aspects of it that were appealing: I enjoyed having a mix of projects and clients. I worked with a lot of great people.

    But the thing is, I knew about three months into my audit career that it wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term. It felt like I wasn’t adding real value to my clients. We’d work long hours populating a massive audit file that would, hopefully, never see the light of day. Something was missing.

    If what I just described is your life right now, there’s a simple pivot you can make to liven up your career. You’ll make more money, accelerate your career growth, and – best of all – never document a purchases and payables walkthrough again.

    That pivot is switching to Transaction Services. And if you’re not already scheming to do so, you should be, especially if you’re 2+ years into your audit career.

    Why you should consider a change to transaction services

    There are several reasons to make this change. Here are a few of the more obvious ones.

    The nature of the work is more dynamic and engaging

    Transaction services work involves working on deals, not audits. Ask yourself this: would you rather review bank reconciliations on an audit of a sportswear apparel chain, or would you rather assess a post-acquisition go-to-market strategy related to a deal involving a sportswear apparel chain?

    The answer to me is clear. I would much rather work on the deal.

    You’ll raise your market value

    Instead of spending half the year stuck in audit planning prison, you can spend the entire year on challenging projects that enhance your technical skills. In other words, transaction services affords you the opportunity to work year-round on projects that enhance your career development. In audit, you get that experience during busy season and maybe parts of a quarterly review.

    By my estimation, a year spent in Transaction Services provides you with approximately double the value-added experience over an average year in audit.

    You’ll open up your options

    Around the time I left PwC, one of my former peers transferred from audit to transaction advisory. Fast forward three years, and he’s now found himself in investment banking.

    Investment banking may not be for everyone, but it’s just one of many additional options that become available once you have a few years experience consulting on transactions. On the flip side, I can’t think of a single career option that is exclusively available to someone with pure audit experience but isn’t available to someone who has a blend of audit and transactions experience.

    What’s the downside?

    You’ve gotta hand it to them: The Big 4 firms do a great job of convincing ambitious CPAs that the moment they switch out of audit their career development will stagnate. And honestly, there may be some truth to that in certain situations.

    Switching into Transaction Services is not one of those situations. So what’s the downside? The way I see it:

    • You may have to travel more than you would as an auditor.
    • Busy seasons may be less predictable.
    • Mindless SALY (same-as-last-year) copying and pasting will no longer be a thing, because there are no prior year files. This might be a downside to someone who enjoys routine work, but it should read as a benefit to any ambitious person.

    There you have it. If you can live with those downsides, it’s really a no-brainer.

    And by the way, did we mention that we have Transaction Services firms as clients, and they’re looking for auditors at the Senior Associate level?

    If you’re in or willing to re-locate to Atlanta or Denver and are ready to accelerate your career, apply here:

    Interested in making the switch from audit to transaction services? Contact us, and let us know which locations you’re open to.

    Brad Hughes is a co-founder of Beech Valley Solutions, the premiere network that connects CPAs with freelance opportunities in advisory, assurance and tax.  Beech Valley consultants enjoy higher pay for every hour worked, the flexibility to accept or reject projects, and the ability to diversify their skill sets.


    • Big4Veteran

      “So what’s the downside?”

      The author forgot one downside… As soon as the economy even appears to possibly be at risk of a downturn, the firm will likely kick your ass to the curb. Then you’ll need to find a new job that probably won’t pay as well as your TS gig, because most people in private industry know that “consultant” is code for “bullshit artist”.

      • Brad Hughes

        That’s a valid point – transaction work does dry up during a recession. But if the big picture downside is job stability, you also have to consider that leadership at every firm is continuing to push initiatives to offshore as many audit tasks as possible, which is ultimately just a precursor to AI taking them over.

        So yes, with transaction services there’s a risk of recession, and with audits there’s a long-term risk of losing your job to automation. If it were me, I’d rather go down a path that can’t easily be automated, and reasons for that extend way beyond job security. Are you really maximizing your career development if you’re doing a job that can more easily be automated?

        As for the TS – “BS artist” perception, maybe there’s some truth to that beyond a certain experience level (15 – 20 years plus). This article is examining whether Senior Associates in audit should spend a few more years in audit, or spend those few years in Transaction Services, and I think we’d both be hard pressed to find many who claim 6 years’ audit experience > 3 years’ audit / 3 years’ TS.

        • Big4Veteran

          “…every firm is continuing to push initiatives to offshore as many audit tasks as possible, which is ultimately just a precursor to AI taking them over.”

          Automation will continue to affect all areas of Finance, including TS. But anything that requires thinking and judgment will not be automated anytime soon. I think you bad mouth auditing because you don’t understand what good auditing is, or its value to our economy and society.

          “Are you really maximizing your career development if you’re doing a job that can more easily be automated?”

          I’ve been in Finance for 18 years, about half of which was as an auditor at a Big 4 accounting firm. Very little of what I’ve done in the last 15+ years can be easily automated. I bet a lot of TS work can be easily automated though.

          “…and I think we’d both be hard pressed to find many who claim 6 years’ audit experience > 3 years’ audit / 3 years’ TS.”

          It depends on what your career goals are. If you plan to spend your career hustling people for services they don’t really need at a ridiculous price, TS is a good path. If you want to be a CFO or Controller of a company (i.e. not a mercenary just interested in billing a company for your time), it may be a good idea to stay in audit for more than 3 years.

          • Brad Hughes

            I still think auditing is a great career path, though I do suspect the day-to-day has changed in the 9 years since you were at a firm (more and more standardized templates, increased focus on planning, offshoring, etc.).

          • Chief Bean Counter

            I guess this depends on what practice within TS. We serviced PE firms and unless PE disappears and stops doing transactions the group I was with will always serve a purpose. We were a pretty vital part in their valuation model.

    • keepin_it_real

      I was in TS for 2 years as a manager. When they say travel more they really mean it. I had top tier status at the Hilton for the 2 years I was in TS. I had over 200 paid nights at the Hilton in 2 years.

      When I finally left to industry I had a pretty good pay but didn’t really get a bump up since Like B4V said, people knew I was a “bullshit artist”. Good thing is though recruiters weren’t coming to me with shit paying jobs telling me what a great opportunity I’m missing.

      • Big4Veteran

        Regarding the travel point, a guy I used to work with in audit is now in TS at a different firm. He told me that he’ll get a call on a Sunday afternoon telling him to be in another city halfway across the country on Monday morning. Very little predictability to his schedule. Very hard to have a work-life balance or make plans. Constantly traveling and on the move.

        It seems like a fun life (for a while) for a single person, but it may get old quickly. Definitely doesn’t seem like an ideal lifestyle for many people who are married with children.

        To each his own.

        • Lunch Man

          Lunch Man here.

          FWIW – 4 years’ audit, moved to TS.

          First year in Big 4 TS, ~200 per diem travel lunches. Racked up top tier status at Jersey Mike’s.

          Moved to regional firm TS practice, travel only 20% of the time. Still eating free subs though with all my JM points.

        • keepin_it_real

          “He told me that he’ll get a call on a Sunday afternoon telling him to be in another city halfway across the country on Monday morning.”

          Similar stuff has happened to me in my time in TS. I’d get an email or call on a Friday telling me to be somewhere or get a call telling me no need to go anymore. It made planning stuff difficult and I stopped going out on weekends since that was the only time I had to run errands. Made a lot of money but also gained a lot of weight. I eventually mentally quit before actually quitting like 4 months later.

    • Chief Bean Counter

      I was in TS for two years straight out of college. Some thoughts on my experience
      TL;DR : TS is great experience, you get paid more, but the burn out is real.
      1. Banking/Consulting>TS>Audit. I learned about banking and consulting a little too late on my college career so I couldn’t adequately prep in time for interviews and beef up my experience. Luckily, I had the option to go to TS over audit during my Big 4 internship.
      2. Your experience in TS will make you exponentially more marketable and give you actual accounting knowledge, experience, and skills. I had friends in audit come in as TS experienced hires (seniors) that I ran circles around after my first year in TS.
      3. There is no absolutely no predictability of schedule. You could be busy for 10 months straight and you could be on the beach for 3 months. There were many times I would come into the office and be informed that my team was going to fly out on a new engagement the next day or even that night.
      4. You get paid 20% more in TS than audit. YMMV. Seniors started around $80k which is probably what audit managers made in the same office.
      5. Left after two years and due to my experience was brought into a real estate private equity group as a partner.

      • Midwest Tax

        Know anyone who transitioned into private equity from transaction tax?