• Big 4

    Hey Look, Some Bay Area Big 4 Senior Associates Aren’t Happy With Their Pay

    By | December 1, 2016

    While I was on the road last week, a thread from r/accounting dropped into my inbox: Big 4 Bay Area office thought it would be a good idea to screw seniors with one of the worst raises since 2008 and whoa boy:

    They thought an $85k cap on all Seniors, regardless of performance, was a great idea. Now they only have half the seniors they need going into busy because a mass exodus occurred.

    We are the ones that keep this firm functioning, and you think we deserve no more than a entry-level staff accountant?

    I'm probably reading too much into it, but is that a hint of populism in this OP's tone? It is all the rage these days (in rhetoric, if not in practice).

    In general, dissatisfaction with pay is not a new trend in the accounting profession. It's probably the main reason most people leave.  

    What I'm unsure of is whether Big 4 firms are all that concerned about unhappy senior associates. In my own days as an SA in a Big 4 firm, I don't seem to remember any senior associates being happy about much of anything  — certainly not pay — and management didn't really do anything about it. I can also say that after spending twice as long writing about unhappy Big 4 employees than actually being one, It doesn't appear much has changed.

    The firms have it easy because there are associates whose lofty partner ambitions have yet to be squelched by long hours and meager wages. When seniors leave, those associates move up and then new associates move in behind them. Yes, the firms lose some experience, but they have another hungry pack right ready to go and who knows, maybe they'll be smarter, faster, billabler (still won't be able to write a decent email or memo, though).

    Smaller accounting firms don't have this problem, but boy, do they wish they did. There are a number of people out there that believe that Big 4 firms burn people out on public accounting for good so they'll never consider another position with a firm. To an extent that might be true, however, it's not like these firms are throwing so much money at accountants that they simply can't say no to a job with them. Most of the Big 4 people are damaged goods when they come out; they'll take their chances on just about any company that's not an accounting firm.

    This is especially true in places like the Bay Area where billions of dollars get thrown around on every harebrained idea to come out of someone's mouth. If your friend's startup needs a senior accountant/janitor, why wouldn't you take that job? It probably pays more than what you were making and at least there's a discernible reason why your raise sucks. And who knows, you might not have to take out the trash forever and those stock options might be worth something someday.

    Big 4 firms have been disappointing its employees for decades. Face it, it's part of the deal. If you can come to terms with that, you might have a future with one of them.


    • Tyler Durden

      Not sure which Big 4 firm this is but if it’s PwC, it would suck major balls. 85k for a sixth year as “acting manager”. It’s low for the other three as well but honestly just slightly worse than what I would’ve expected. It’s commonly known that first year audit M1s at Big 4 don’t break $100k and if they do, it would be barely. That is sad as fuck. A Big 4 manager can’t even afford a decent apartment in SF without roommates.

    • Point and Clique

      I’ve heard rumors that Bay Area Big 4 work NYC-style hours. If true, then that pay is laughable even before considering the clusterfuck of SF’s cost of living. Can anyone confirm how bad the hours are?

      • iamthelolrus

        Like anything else, it’s heavily client dependent.

        I don’t live there, but this is what I’ve read on the internet.

      • IndenturedServant
    • Reasonable Assurance

      Sounds about right but like the author said, always someone behind you who will fill the role. We are pretty replaceable.

    • peakfreak

      This sounds like an easy way to clear up a glut of seniors. If turnover isn’t high enough, then the firm needs to get people to quit.

    • coinface

      I worked at a Big 4 in the SF bay area. I’m now in industry, and I can tell you the pay is atrocious for the cost of living. As an example, I pay $2,300 for a 1 bedroom apartment in a crappy area. And this isn’t even SF. It’s in the South Bay area.

      And the hours are extremely demanding with all the IPOs, Mergers, and off-year ends. I’d argue Big 4 in SF bay area have it worse than NYC based on comparisons with some peers.

      Even in industry the cost of living outstrips the increase in salary. A year after leaving industry I saw postings for my exact position for $10-15k more. It’s pretty nuts over here right now.

    • IndenturedServant

      Others have hit on the pay issue so I won’t talk about it. The reason work/life balance is so terrible is because:

      #1. Startups don’t have robust accounting departments and aren’t interested in building them out. Seniors and staff get killed on these clients because the deliverables they give you don’t make sense. Managers and Senior managers get killed because clients call you all the time to ask you about stuff that most clients in other places would be able to figure out on their own.

      #2. Clients tend to be much much smaller. Therefore, they don’t want to pay. Therefore, teams wind up being staffed very leanly. This only exacerbates the issues caused by #1.

      Normally, these clients would not be able to afford to work with the Big4. However, because every partner wants to get on the ground floor with the next Facebook, they give these clients deep discounts, staff them with the first senior they can grab with little oversight.

    • Auditor4Now

      Maybe they should “work harder” and get promoted to manager instead of leaving for better wages. (J/k)