• Salaries

    What Can You Expect to Make at a Big 4 Firm Over a 15 Year Period?

    By | January 18, 2012

    It’s mid-January, which means that at some point in the next four to six weeks or so, you’ll say to yourself, “I don’t get paid enough to do this shit.” And you might be right! But the good news is starting salaries for accountants keep going up. If you’re simply annoyed with your current boss/lunch/life then it’s entirely possible that you’re just venting about your measly compensation and, in reality, you’re simply curious to know if you really are getting paid enough to “do this shit.”

    Well, an enterprising Big 4 employee took it upon himself to crunch a few numbers (via Excel, natch) to give you a rough measuring stick of what your compensation might look like over the first 15 years of your career.
    While trying to divert my attention to studying for AUD I started to look up salary information to bring myself to peace with after listening to Peter Olinto.  Using Glassdoor, Internet forums, this site, and [this post] I put together a spreadsheet and chart that shows the expected compensation one would get in a Big 4 firm over a 15 year period. What I was mainly trying to get at is the average year over year salary increase when you include partner compensation. Everything is estimated (except my starting salary) and I used 450K as the amount a senior partner would bring in.  It will obviously vary but I had to pick a number.
    I found average increase in salary is 17% (e^ln(450000/50000)/15) which I would say is higher than probably any other field with the exception of high finance.
    Our number cruncher’s chart:
    And the data:
    So, everyone is welcome to critique this little analysis as you see fit but I’ll just point out a few things that I noticed:
    1. I think a third year at Senior Associate is typical amongst the Big 4, as is two years as a manager before scratching up to Senior Manager. Accordingly, the jump from $67k to $85k is premature and that $18k increase is a little generous.
    2. PwC typically requires three years at associate before promotion, so that would have to be taken in account.
    3. Four years is probably the minimum amount of time you can expect in the parking lot known as “senior manager,” in fact, I’d say year 15 might be the more reasonable starting point for a partner. That varies by office but in general, partner by year 12 is fairly quick.
    4. $300k as a first year partner is probably a little high, as is the jump from $165k to $300k.
    All in all, it’s a decent place as any to start a debate and 17% for an average raise over the course of 15 years probably isn’t that far off. Is it better than other industries (other than high finance, which isn’t as good as it used to be)? Hard to say. Law is probably, on average, slightly better but it’s hard to say definitively, as lawyers’ quality of life is exponentially shittier than accountants’. But then again, who cares about that? It’s really all about the numbers, isn’t it? Reactions are welcome and feel free to dicuss your prospects below.
    • Horney Partner

      My .02:  First year partner comp seems high (as mentioned above).  New partners would likely have a buy-in period and their comp would not get a significant jump until they are fully vested (or nearly fully vested). The comp system is also probably weighted for the more senior partners (10+ years as partners).  My guess are the senior partners are easily over $500K.

      • Former DT Audit

        Yeah, and there are very few people who have the ability to make partner, which is why there are so few of them.  So to run an analytic on how much you will make there based on what the top-tier executives make is flawed.  Its like factoring in NFL salaries while you’re still playing HS football.  Chances are, you won’t make it to that level for a whole variety reasons.  Mine was common sense.  I left Public after three years for a 25% jump in pay and a 25% reduction in hours.  I have a life now, and because I’m a CPA with public experience, I’ll continue to make more and more each year.  It’s not like the compensation freezes once you stop being a slave to the partner group.

    • guest

      I can’t wait to become a 7th year Manger!

    • Guest123

      Love it, but gotta give the guy some credit – he probably did it at 2:00am after a long day of work and study. 

      • sandman

        Ya, thanks guy. 

    • Guessst

      Good thing accounting firms are completely immune to economic cycles and never lay people off, freeze wages, etc.

      • Guest

        That’s not true. You don’t remember the large numbers of layoffs and offers rescinded in 2008-2009? I felt bad for the starting classes then.

        • Guestied

          God I hope you understand that was sarcasm.

    • Guest

      This is interesting, but not relevant for most people.  How many associates actually stick around for 15 years to make senior partner?  The vast majority of people working in public accounting are just paying their dues for a few years before leaving for greener pastures.

      • It’s Me!!!!

        Pastures aren’t always greener. I know of very few companies that have the salary increases seen in the Big 4

        • Sepsis

          Right, but the hours in industry are (generally) better than Big 4 & Major Regional

      • Guest

        i think it is relevant to everyone. This will help the people to do their analysis whether they wanna stick to public accounting or their opportunity in hand is a better one. I agree with you though, that it is quite interesting

        • Big4 Guest

          money should not be why some one picks a job

          and anyhow, the analysis is wrong. 3 years should be approx time for each level. 25 years is a better estimate to senior partner. but good luck with your first associate year bro

    • Guest

      Are those in New York dollars?

      • Anon4This

        as a Big 4 senior manager (year 8) – I can tell you they’re not the dollars where I am (southeast)

      • sandman

        NYC (audit) associates start at 57,000 at PwC, FWIW

        • Guest

          I have an offer closer to 60 at a regional firm, wow!

          • Guest

            And when PwC is giving 15% raises you will be getting 5% raises, good long-term decision !

          • Asdf

            Trust me, take the regional

          • Dfornelius

            Hopefully u took the regional.. Big 4 kills you..

      • Guest

        Senior pay rate is a little low based upon what I’m making now as a 4th year in the Northeast actually.

        • Guest

          You are a senior making 80 k?  I need to join that firm.

          • Outlier

            I’m making mid 70’s as a senior 1 (year three at firm) – come to NY

          • Pdubs

            70k senior 1 (this month makes 2 years out of school) – midwest

          • Guest

            No but I am making low 70’s as a 4th year, which is higher than that 67k this chart has.

          • Guest

            I was hired externally as a senior at $85k, and I know other seniors that were making as high as $113k, not including 10-15% bonus.

    • intermerda

      Basically you’re underpaid until you make partner.
      Looks like a rent normalization/deferred rent chart….

      • Not David Duncan

        And in the private sector, staff will bitch that they are underpaid until they make VP/C-Level executive compensation.

        Every organization is a pyarmid whether your realize it or not.

      • Guest

        haha… Good one!

    • Iggy Pop

      Good job by this guy, of course everyone will nitpick the shit out of it but good effort. Reality is that this is hard to get exact but curve is likely flatter but shoots up at partner.

      Oh, and never feel bad about partners having to buy into the firm. Why do so many feel the need to point this out? It’s an investment, sorry you won’t be a G fiiiiiiiive playa with a goody room your first year as partner but that’s life.

    • Guest

      If my understanding of this guy’s model and my math is right, by the time I’m in my 25th year with the firm my annual salary will be $1 billion.

      • guest

        your math is wrong.  

        at 17% average raise for 25 years, starting with 50k.  You’d be at approx 2.5 million.

        • Guest

          Thanks for checking my math. I thought I might have added an extra zero somewhere. Oops.

          • crdr

            Things you don’t say to auditors…

    • sandman

      Caleb, did you forget to go back and finish the article before posting it?

      “2. PwC typically requires three years at associate before promotion, so that would have to be taken in account. You can always go here to see PwC’s ”

      • Caleb Newquist

        Thanks for pointing that out. It’s funny because I know exactly the catalyst for this particular snafu, which is rare. 

        • sandman


        • Alcohol or hookers?

          • PwCASSociate

            Who’s to say its not both?

          • Reality Check

            Adrienne shoots, she scores!

    • Observant

      Position – age – base – appox total comp (salaries + bonuses)

      1. Associate age 23: $48K/$53K
      2. Assoicate age 24: $53K/$55K
      3. Associate age 25: $53K/$55K
      4. Snr Associate age 26: $60K/$69K
      5. Snr Associate age 27: $66.5K/??

      • NickDCPA

        What is a bonus?

    • “Not enough.”
      – The Staff

      • Achill1976

        “Not enough…..hours”
        – The Partners

    • DTSlug

      First year partner take home is around $370K, this guy is an idiot. Past senior the wages are pretty far off. Basically, ignore the article. 

      • People who change

        Hi I have spent 17 years in the Big 4 and due to the nature of access I have about Compensation data this information is fairly accurate depending on the Firm, Line of Service, Location and some other variable factors considered by each firm the Starting salary of a Partner can be anything between US$300K to 450K. Most New York Partners are slightly or on the high bend of the curve it depends on how the Partnership sees your book of business etc..Also I would not be surprised if this post is been prepared by somebody who is in the Human Capital practices of one of these firms

    • Guest

      47 -> 54 -> 65 Have been my jumps A1 – A3, PwC, Northeast Market.

      • PwC Northeast

        You must be including all comp, such as contribution awards, bonuses, referral bonuses, 401K match, RWBP (which you will probably quit before you even see the cash) etc, no 1st year associates are getting 15% raises.

        • Dude

           Yeah they are. I got a 17% raise after my first year.

          • PwC_Guest

            I received about a 17% raise after my first year also (to base salary).

        • Quality Control

          I got a 12.8% raise from KPMG after my first year in PNW, base went from 47 to 53. 

        • Guest

          With all other comp it was more like 54 -> 60 -> 68.  Keep in mind I was supposed to start at 52, but we got chopped down to 47 prior to starting so the 18% raise from A1 to A2 was more like a return of 10% + 8%.  A2 to A3 was in the 17/18% range

    • NotFoundonWikiToday

      A decent attempt … curve is right insofar as the nicest
      jumps come from promotions thereafter you quickly plateau until the next
      promotion etc etc. Obviously too many variables for it to be as meaningful as
      some of the commentators would like.


      His partner salaries seem to be a shot in the dark however. Not
      unheard of for first year partners to take home less than a “career”/car-parked
      senior manager but they typically average $250k in a normal year. The firm
      generally supports them in their first couple of years and they are gradually whined
      off, so it’s almost like they are salaried in that period. The bump to senior partner
      should be far more pronounced. Average partner salaries in Canada for 2010 was
      $750k (i.e. partnership profit available for distribution divided by number of
      partners), so when you account for the regions, the token partners, the
      non-core service lines, the senior partners doing “gods work” are definitely
      taking in $1m +, with the top earners (lead partners with key clients) touching
      $2m. Numbers are from a partner selling the role so may be slightly biased.

      • Abc

         gradually “weened”

        • Wizard007

          gradually “weaned”

    • Not David Duncan

      I’ve been in professional services in consulting/advisory for nearly 15 years, so you can use my actual salary as a baseline for comparison to your estimates of future growth.  However, my experience is working for 2 different pure consulting firms and 2 big 4; so my data cannot say specifically 15 years working for only a single “big 4”.
      I started at a consulting boutique firm out of college in 1998 for $34,500.  My current salary is a little below $150K.  To back fill 15 years of data, I knew my beginning salary for each job/firm as well as my ending salary.    Since I can’t remember salary data for in-between years, I used my beginning salary for every work year at a single firm and used my final salary the year I departed.  If anything, this understates my final stats because I’m not including normal annual increases.  If I bothered to do that, the stats below would be even higher.
      Stats –
      Total lifetime gross earnings so far: $1,375,500.
      Average annual salary over 15 years: $91,700
      Total 15 year increase: 329%
      Average annual increase: 22%

      This was an interesting exercise for me.  While I’m always looking at how much more other people earn, I kinda forget how much I’ve already made.  15 years goes by fast!

      • Wow, what the hell are you doing on this website when you should be at the golf course enjoying that?

        • Not David Duncan

          It’s not like I received a lump sum payment of $1.3 million.  Early in my career, most of my earnings were spent.  It took till 2006/2007 to finally cross six-figures.  For a kid out of college, six-figures sounds like dream money, but with a wife, a house in the burbs, and a child, it does not go far.  Most of the extra money I make now is saved because I know how volatile the advisory/consulting is.  One year you’re a hot skill set in demand, the next year everyone is getting RIFed.  I’ve been lucky, but living through the .com bust, the downfall of Andersen (yes I worked for them),  and the housing bust, all while watching good people get whacked has taught me to live on a portion of your salary and save the rest. 

          • Guest

            I’m worth $5 million (that the IRS knows about).

          • Not David Duncan

            Also – I’m on this web site because I like to F with the young kids and once in awhile impart some wisdom.

          • Love it. We’re happy to have you.

          • Ree-seees

            I personally enjoy the older people and their take.  Most of the time the people commenting are young out of college people like myself who just comment with stuff we heard around the office.

            I like hearing real numbers and not estimates or projections or any of that garbage.

      • The6runningback

        Very nice input.

        One thing regarding your average annual increase I want to point out is you have jumped ship 3 or more times- (who knows how many times you left and returned to a firm)

        That 22% is a bit of an inflated number because this doesnt take into account the larger jumps in pay that are usually involved when switching firms. (I mean why else would most leave to do the same thing unless they offered you more) keyword, most.

        PS: OP, I know you know this but I just want to clarify to some that may be new to the game

      • CGambino

        To find your average annual increase, you don’t just divide your total percentage increase by the number of years. If that was the case, that would mean the above example would have a 60% average annual increase since the 15 year increase in percentage is 900% so 900/15= 60. Surely, this is not the case as it says there is on average a 17% increase in salary. If your average annual salary percentage increase was truly 22%, then you’d be at about $529,000 in your current 15th year and the above example would be at about $36 million. To calculate your average annual salary increase, you have to use the equation 34,500(1+x)^14=150,000, x being the rate of increase you’re trying to solve for. Thus, your average annual percentage increase from a year to year basis in about 11%. Nevertheless, thanks for your insight and I wish you luck with your career and family.

        -college freshmen

    • PwC Middle Earth

      Midwest regional office (includes bonuses)
      Year 1: $46,000
      Year 2: $51,000
      Year 3: $49,000 (recession/wage freeze)
      Year 4: $58,000
      Year 5: $64,000

      Average year over year…9%

      • Dude

        Wow. I was blown away by these numbers. I’m a 2nd year associate and make slightly more than you made in your 5th year, and I’m not even including bonuses received. 

      • Charliemwalker

        So I guess you didn’t make it to manager?

    • Guest

      A senior manager does not make anywhere close to a first year partner.  Whoever did this “analysis” is more likely than not a first year staff at BDO (note the 2 years are staff and 2 years at senior, which assumes 1) youre a HAM and 2) you passed the CPA).

      • Not David Duncan

        Depends on the service line.  In audit, I’d say no-way; but in advisory I’ve known a few rock star senior managers/directors who were in the low $200K base and mid $250Ks after bonus.  That is pretty close to perhaps a first year audit partner after their buy-in loan is taken out of their pay/distribution.

        • Achill1976

          How many of those people make it to the traditional partner role/salary though? I’ve been in the game 12 years now, working mostly at Moss, and they hire in consultants in the 160K range (non-metro, but flown to metro clients), but i never saw a consultant make partner. They fell into the same “revenue = 3x salary/benefit” pool.

      • Marcusfour

        This is only till I’m 37. I’m going be working for another 30 years. Can you tell me what I’ll be making when I’m 65??

        • Iggy Pop

          You’ll make about $200k at age 63, but a piano will fall out of the sky and crush you before you get to 64. Sorry for the bad news, bro.

    • Ree-seees

      I think partner salaries depend on if the partner is a seller and attracts and maintains business or a technical partner that helps with the actual accounting.

      • Killa

        So which one is more important? I’d venture a guess that it’s much more important to sell than to know wtf you’re actually doing

        • guest

          sales you can always find technical, but always hard to find someone to bring in revenue

    • Crap

      Great Article. Props to this guy for putting this together.

    • Coolstorybrah

      Who cares? Money isn’t everything. There are too many variables to really guess what your salary will be and too many obstacles you will have to overcome before you even reach partner. Ask any of the partners in your office why they stayed until partnership. I’m willing to bet more than half of them GENUINELY like what they are doing and that’s how they made it that far.

      • cool story brah

        i’d love expensing everything on my amex too

        • Guest

          The partners like having staff kiss their asses too, in addition to the money.

      • Not David Duncan

        And I’d bet that the other half of partners will say that there are few other opportunities to earn as much money anywhere else. 

        Remember, nationally a big 4 may have a few thousand partners while a corporation will have five to six C-Level executives and maybe a handfull of VPs.  Even coming from a big-4 at the partner level, those jobs are very difficult to get.  For someone with an accounting/finance background that is not going into investment banking who wants to earn the most money possible, becoming a big-4 partner probably is the best odds for achieving that goal.

        • Doin it

          This is a poor example.  A national big 4 may have a few thousand partners, but there are only FOUR national firms and they have 100,000+ employees!  There are many, many THOUSANDS of large ($500mm+) corporations in the U.S. that have dozens if not hundreds (depending on the size) of employees making 100-300k.  Again, I see what you’re getting at, but this is a poor example. 

          • Keepin_it_real

            For a better comparison let’s say the average of the Big 4 in the USA have 25,000 employees and 2,000 partners. That’s already better than most corporations. Now throw in MD’s, directors, senior managers, and a few highly paid managers and you probably have another 2,500+ people making $100-$200k. The 100,000+ employees is you’re throwing around is for the global headcount and the partner headcount globally is probably close to what it is in the USA.

            I doubt most corporations would have that high a percentage of their employees making over $100k unless it’s an investment bank or some other publicly traded professional service firm.

          • Doin it

            I’ll agree there, that’s a little more realistic.  However, at a large corporation, you have to remove all non-college educated employees (tons of ’em), and all employees in low-compensation departments/positions like payroll, maintenance, etc…  Now, when you start talking about ONLY the educated folks in ONLY the highly compensated areas (accounting, finance, development), and even then you’re talking ONLY about those that are actually trying to excel (believe it or not, a LOT of people in large companies do not seek to increase their own responsibilities) – I’m fairly certain you’ll find that your chances of being highly successful appear much, much better.  However, the fact that none of these stats is really quantifiable makes my point a little hard to prove – but i’m sure most would agree on the general premise.

            Accounting firms are filled to the brim with talented, highly educated professionals – an unusually large majority of which are extremely career motivated and continually seeking advancement.  This makes comparison between public and industry almost impossible.  The anecdotal evidence that I’ve accumulated so far is telling me that my skills and work ethic will get me much farther in industry than it will in public accounting.

            — I should note, i’m not really talking about “accounting” positions in industry.  I’m talking about the myriad of financial positions that exist in industry for CPA’s (analysts, budget forecasting, project management, etc). 

          • Not David Duncan

            You must still be a starry-eyed college graduate who honestly believes that every entry-level employee who works hard, has an equal chance of becoming a CEO.  Rags-to-riches ala the mailroom clerk to executive suite story.

            I hate to break it to you, but if you think the angle of the slopes on a big-4 partnership are steep, the same slopes in a major corporation are even steeper.  The number of open seats at the top of a corporation through the VP level are much more limited than the opportunities of making partner at a big-4; especially when you look at the advisory side where one’s ability sell dictates how fast your star rises. 
            And once you make partner, an easy transition to the C-suite is not a given.  In some ways, by time you make it to the partner level, corporate America considers professional services to ingrained in your work style and personality.  There are clear differences between professional services and private sector and many are not successful in the transition.  The private sector wants you to run a business; professional services requires you to be a salesman.  I’ve seen it happen over and over.  Most partners don’t last a year or two in corporate before they are back in the game.

            Everyone loves to bash professional services, but for an A-personality type whose goal is to rise as fast as possible, it offers the highest probability of odds for making it. 

    • Local Lackey

      Hrm, so I’m in my 8th year at a local firm and will be making ~$68K w/ bonuses.

      Of course, my quality of life is infinitely better than my Big 4 friends…..

    • Guest

      Well, this whole thing shows that working at Mickey G’s is a waste of time.  A partner shared with me the partner comp spread with the average partner making $250K (it is a bell curve). 

      • Horney Partner

        I doubt that number is true.  I work at a local firm and our avg comp is higher than that.

        • Guest

          By “Average Partner” I do not mean the average comp of all partner, I mean your middle-of-the road partner… Not your 5 or 4 level which consist of the highest books… your 3 level partners where most assurance partners fall based on the size of their book.

      • McGladreyDirector

        I work at McGladrey and have been told this amount as well (approximately).  Additionally, with the debt now taken on by the firm with the reacquisition of RSM, the feeling is that number will not be rising for awhile.  I have spoken with other directors and am beginning to think about changing forms.

        • McGladreyDirector


          • Achill1976

            do you think changing firms will change the situation? it looks like the big boys are further consolidating…..which is usually a way to make more money, for the people already at the table.

    • Rumescaper

      As someone said, must be New York dollars (or that type of market) and NY dollars don’t relate to most folks. 
      1      – Only small group of total Big Four are in those type of markets.
      2      – Your cost of living downgrades your high salary substantially.
      Big Four large SE Office (Not Atlanta)
      -Top performing Sr. Managers waiting around for “maybe partner” are $120-$130k
      -3rd year seniors sticking around for manager are $57-$63k
      Use those to place the rest.
      Salaries are gross as bonuses are just that, bonuses, and should not be considered in your salary.  Can’t stand these people who bitch about making less one year then they made the previous do to bonuses.
      Grant it, these numbers are for the Big Four firm known for the “lowest” salaries.

      • Ree-seees

        I honestly think the numbers provided in the chart are lower than typical NY dollars.  Starting salary for associate in the city is 55-58k.

      • F Busy Season

        First Year Senior at Big 4 (3rd year total) in Washington DC….$67 stacks before bonus.  4th years $70 – 71 before bonus. 

    • Guest

      Have to say, I feel pretty good about my salary now.  3rd year tax manager in large national firm (not Big 4) in midwest $100k plus bonus. 

    • guest

      There is more money at a regional firm until the partner level, maybe Sr. Manager.  However, your future earning potential is a lot less leaving a regional then a big four.  Which is why the big four make a point to remind you how valuable their name on your resume is, when people bitch about wages.

      • Guest

        Unless I already have Big 4 experience from a previous position.  I left Big 4 for regional.  And in my midwestern city experience tells me as long as its a reputable regional or national firm, its just as good as Big 4 for solid post public career opportunities in tax. 

    • my_beanus

      BigLaw, not law…..

      • Guest

        True, but for the overwhelming majority of law students, the chances of getting a Biglaw associate position are effectively zero, and the odds of making partner for those that do aren’t much better.

        And as a lawyer who has worked in a small law firm, a big law firm and a Big 4, I can tell you that accountants do not have a better quality of life than attorneys.  My stint at the Big 4 was by far the lowest quality of life I have experienced as an adult. 

    • My_beanus

      so is there a revised version of the new assumptions?

    • Doin it

      For someone who knows they’re staying in public, this is a good attempt at predicting the future.  However, for someone who just wants to be wealthy, this is pretty worthless.  Go to any random small to midsized corporation and work the type of hours with the kind of efficiency you’d be exhibiting at a Big 4 firm and you’ll be a golden boy at that company and likely on a senior executive path(assuming this is a responsive, growing corporation).  This senior executive path is likely to include a stock ownership/options plan, etc… 

      I guess what I’m saying is: you want to make 200k plus a year and work 2700 hrs annually?  You could be a freaking machinist at Boeing and make that kind of money for those hours.  Go to a small natural gas or tech start up and work 60+ hours per week for 3 years and take a look at the promotions you’ll receive. 

      The longer I stay in public accounting, the more I realize that the TOTAL return seems great, but the return on investment of your time is really not that spectacular.  You’d be just as well off saving for a few years and buying a franchise.  The % of franchise owners that become millionaires is FAR higher than the % of public accountants that become millionaires. 

      • Not David Duncan

        “The % of franchise owners that become millionaires is FAR higher than the % of public accountants that become millionaires.” 

        According to Wikipedia, in 2010 the average start-up cost for a McDonalds is $995,900 – $1,842,700.  Average McDonalds franchise sales are $2.3 million with roughly a 10% profit margin (or $230,000 annual income for the owner).

        Considering that you have to invest $1-$1.8 million to earn an average of $230K a year, a big-4 partner puts in less paid-in-capital and earns even a higher salary than if he owned a McDonald’s franchise.

        With that said, I do know a few partners who are in on the franchise game, using their income to invest.  Most firms have an early retirement age and they recognize that they need to have an exit plan.  However, if it was not for their partner income, they could never be a franchise owner. 

        • Doin it

          A partner puts in less PiC but it takes likely two DECADES to reach that point.  I see your intent, and I see the merit there, but the sentence that you quoted still stands.  Unless you’re suggesting that we all devote 20 years ( 20+% of our entire life) to becoming a big 4 partner in order to be able to open a franchise.

          Also, McD’s is the worst example as the market is completely saturated and the initial investment is one of the highest requirements of any food franchise. 

          Taking your example (although, again, I don’t think it’s indicative of the best franchise path in this day and age): If you bring in another partner, you now each only need to raise $500-600k each (a large house worth of money).  You’ll each earn a conservative 100k per year, meaning you’ll pay off your initial investment in about 5 years, give or take for interest rates and the possibility of not actually bringing in 100k in the first year.  If we’re going to use that example, i think you’ve proven my point better than I did. 

          • Doin it

            That is… assuming you can live on a very modest income for that first 5 years.  With a working spouse, no children, and the motivation to succeed, that shouldn’t be a problem.  

    • Horney Partner

      Making partner also comes down to a numbers game – who is in line ahead of you and also besides you.  Only a certain number of partner spots open up each year, most likely driven by partner retirements.  You could be partner material in yrs 11-12 but there are 3-4 others waiting with you to fill the 1 or 2 spots that open in up next year.

      • Achill1976

        The ever expanding “senior manager pool”. The best trick is keeping them in that role for their career. If they are on the tax side, they’ll take it.

    • Captcook

      I think this is a relatively decent approximation of compensation. I started at a local firm and almost tripled my salary in 4 years, but once my wife and I had kids I’ve backtracked a little (lower bonuses)…and that’s okay. I couldn’t continue to work that way in the long run anyway. After six years, my average raise is still 20% each year.

      I think there are greater leaps in compensation than this graph shows, but it’s enough to keep a guy focused on studying for the CPA exam (which I think was the whole point). I did something similar at that point in my career.

      • Ree-seees

        Tripled?  You must have started out making shit.  If here in NY your salary tripled, in four years as a senior you’d be making over 150k.

    • Guest

      Not the case at all at D&T in the Southeast. Way way lower than what is posted up to the Partner level which is speculation. You are assuming 17% yearly increases which is not a reality for many folks. Performance ratings (forced in some instances) vary by year as do economic cycles etc. Good reading though.

    • Outlier

      I’m a first year senior (year 3 at firm) in Big 4 assurance in NYC and my salary is mid 70’s

    • Jovandewaal

      The all important number in this analysis is the starting salary. It’s all relative. A high average annual increase is exaggerated by a low staring number. I would like to be rich sooner rather than later. What kind of value could you create in 12 years if you had time and money that don’t get from working a big four?

    • MakingItRain

      Hai Guysss,

      1st yr senior, making 62K living in a high cost of living area (Washington DC).  Probably the most stressed and overworked I have been in my life.  I mean after all the bills: apartment, house, car, etc. I can barely scrape by. 


      • Achill1976

        You are doing alright if you have a house and an apartment.

    • Anon

      B4 – Northeast (not NYC or Boston) – actual % raises:

      2007: 6%
      2008: 3%
      2009: 5% (promoted to sr – all other salaries were frozen)
      2010: 10%
      2011: 12%

      Economic crisis killed those 2008 and 2009 years so I feel like I am lower than where I should be and set salaries back a little.  This year (promo to manager) will be a big determination of where the firm really plans to go with Comp and keep their promises.  To go to the level where they say you should expect to be (2X your starting salary when your in your 2nd year as a manager) I would need to get a 20% raise this year and next year…we’ll see what happens.

    • Nothanks

      Senior Partner at age 37?  

      • Keepin_it_real

        More likely you would be a 1st year partner or about to be a partner if you’re lucky at that age.

        • Not David Duncan

          I would agree.  Partner by late 30’s is widely optimistic and reserved for rock stars.  I have seen it happen though, primarily on the advisory side where promotions are based more on sales than on tenure.  With multiple years of a stagnant economy, more people are sticking around at all levels, creating a log-jam at the top.  Road to partner will take a lot longer than it used to.

    • Guest

      Promote to partner is WAY too quick in this example.  We’re seeing closer to 15 years from start in most cases.  Make it by age 40 and you’re an f’ing rock star.

    • Horney Partner

      I started at $22,750 back in the mid-90s at a very small firm with a cheap-ass managing partner.  The CPA job market was terrible and my grades were average.  Now I am at a larger firm, proabably making as much as that same managing partner is making now.

    • 2.8Big4.0

      I don’t think anyone mentioned that the partner promotion is way to quick.

      • 2.8Big4.0


    • Doin it

      The more I look at this and read these comments, the more deluded I think many of you are.  If making partner were as easy as 1-2-3 (for 15 years) they wouldn’t earn what they do.  If you take that Big 4, hard work, non-stop, balls to the wall attitude at any company, you are going to be a superstar.  I think public accounting has one of (if not THE) worst return on time invested of any financial career.  Work 6 days per week consistently for more than a decade to make $120k?  You’d be much better off getting a solid top 25 MBA and busting ass at a profitable, growing company. 

      In my experience, the colleages that have left my office have gone on to earn far more at a younger age than they could have in public.  This graph is a little too close to pictorially stating “stick it out long enough and you’ll make partner.”  That is NOT the case, as anyone (that’s being honest with themselves) with experience at a large firm will tell you. 

      You’d have a lot more job satisfaction in private (you’d actually be responsible for business in the real world, rather than analyzing the productive efforts of others), and you’d probably work a little bit (maybe quite a lot) less. 

      I’m not saying the money isn’t great, it is!  But the opportunity cost in hours worked is just staggering, and the pay per hour is certainly not exceptional compared to other professions.  Just keep your eyes open for opportunities outside of public accounting.  This field is not the highly respected cash-cow that they sell to you your senior year of undergrad.  In fact, when you get to the operational level in corporate (executive positions, middle management) you’ll find that accounting is surprisingly under appreciated in the business world. 

    • Sccrman123

      Go big 4 in a smaller town w/100-150 people – you get the pay minus the ridiculous hours – 2nd year senior

    • Sccrman123

      Sorry let me clarify the above – a smaller town with a big 4 office size of only 100-150 people

    • Ouch!!!

      Holy sh*t accounting sucks balls! I’m 25 and make 400K at a hedge fund, and I work at most 55 hours a week. 

      • Ouch!!!

        The PM I work for makes 5-10MM and the Fund Manager is in the 25-30MM range. The CEO clears deep into the 9 figures year in year out…

    • Material Misstatement

      I understand this is purely about base compensation but your analysis needs to undergo a fair value re-measurement:
      Value of salary earned at Big 4 is less than the value of salary earned elsewhere, assuming better work/life balance elsewhere. Assuming a discount of 25% based Former DT Audit’s comment, coupled with a further 25% discount on the 17% average raise since with each passing year comes the expectation of more work put in while also having more family obligations (spouse, kids, etc.) making work/life balance a living hell, the fair (read: fairness) value of salary earned at a Big 4 is materially less than the fair value (and even cost) of salary earned elsewhere.
      This should be reflected in the above analysis as a re-measurement of all salaries and raises. Conclusion: Better to earn 50K (first year) in NYC at a small firm, working locally and to 8pm the latest during busy season than 57K in NYC at a Big 4 but possibly working half the year out of town and to 12am the earliest during busy season.

      • Material Misstatement

        *with FV re-measurement, 57K at Big 4 = 42.75K
        50K > 42.74K

    • Herlinid

      $80-$85K for 1st year manager in raleigh/durham, NC area (Big 4). However most of them quit before reaching senior manager. Lots of employees quit before reaching manager too. Only 2-3 made it to partner compare to total 50 employees in a small office.

    • Jaison

      Hey guys what advice can you give someone who hopes to make senior manager one day and hopefully partner? What would one have to do to stand out enough to get these promotions? Thank you in advance everyone!

    • digge

      I left in the middle of my 7th year and this chart was pretty accurate compared to my career in the northeast.

    • Deloitte

      Way off these numbers. These are consulting and the HIGH end of the scale for top performers before you go to the next level:
      Analyst 72K – no bonus
      Consultant 90K – small bonus
      Senior Consultant (non MBA) 110K – 15K bonus
      Manager 145K – 25K bonus
      Senior Manager 190K – 45K Bonus
      1 – 3 Year Partner – 480K
      Average partner – 900K
      Senior Partner – 1.2M plus

    • BMoney

      How long ago was this done? Your starting salary is only 50k? Which firm is that?

      Maybe this was a few years ago.

    • Maria

      Just a correction, after senior, you get promoted to Asst Manager. After two years of Asst Manager, you get promoted to Manager where you have to stay for 3 yrs. So, You have to add two years into the chart but with the same total spread in income

    • DF

      The numbers should for top performers in Advisory. Years and Reported Comp is very close to what I’ve seen in a TOP 10 firm based in Northeast.. A good job and pretty much the only thing I’ve seen other than salary guides so people should relax with the negative comments..

    • GuestEngineer

      Age 23 in Texas: started at $60k before graduating, just interviewed for another position, jump to $80 or $90k + bonus is a potential. Perks of being an engineer I suppose.

    • exKPMG

      Good god i’m glad I got out! If I knew that partners were only making that much i would have left MUCH sooner. I was under the impression that partners made a TON in compensation.

    • Ishouldgetpaidmore

      Really? People get 17% raises? What’s the conservative estimate? So since I start at 60k a year I have a shot at 120k as a manager at the end of my 5th year?

    • richard loving

      It would be a better comparison to make this chart using an hourly pay rate considering any Big 4 auditor probably works 2,600+ in the average year. The 17% and the total comp is higher than the Midwest.

    • SteezyD

      I’m a tax associate at a big 4 firm. I have had the privilege of completing personal tax returns for a handful of our partners (PCS, Industry, International). Suffice it to say that not one of these partners makes less than what the senior partner number is given in this analysis. One partner was over the 2M (yes that was his take home from the firm!). I’ll let you guess which group that is. There are so many variables that contribute to these numbers and your local market/economy is the biggest factor. The associate numbers are pretty good, however and the senior manager numbers are a bit high. I find the talk of “rock star” material to be comical. Accounting firms are full of average intelligence and ambition individuals that are ripe for the leap frogging. If you get owned at a big 4 firm, you are not meant to be there long term. Get your letters and get out of my way.