• Career Center

    Why Aren’t Big 4 Firms Aggressively Marketing Their CPA Exam Policies?

    By | September 17, 2013

    While the firms are busy trampling each other to recruit top talent with a salary/benefit/work-life balance pissing contest, many of them are missing one important component to their seduction strategy: CPA exam incentives.

    We already know some firms pay for materials, give you time off to study, and offer cash incentives for passing the exam within a reasonable amount of time. But do recruits know this?

    Here's what I was able to track down on PwC's "Compensation and Benefits" page, which makes zero mention of their direct bill agreement with Becker (although Becker has an entire page dedicated to it):

    • Industry recognition bonuses Each year, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants honors a number of individuals with the Elijah Watt Sells award for the highest cumulative scores on the Uniform CPA Examination. PwC awards a bonus of $20,000 to any PwC staff member who receives this prestigious industry recognition.
    • Credentialing bonuses PwC rewards our Assurance and Tax associates who complete their CPA or other qualifying exams in a timely manner. Bonuses can be as high as $5,000 if the exam is successfully completed within one year of a qualifying employee’s start date.

    KPMG touts their "CPA Incentive Program" but beyond laying out the financial benefits, it says nothing about time off, materials or reimbursed exam fees (I'm beginning to sense a theme here):

    • $5,000 award to Campus hire Associates joining KPMG with CPA exam passed, or who pass all parts of the CPA exam within 1st year of employment or CPA exam eligibility*, whichever is later
    • $3,000 award to Campus hire Associates who complete and pass the CPA exam during their second year of employment or CPA exam eligibility*, whichever is later

    Deloitte Ireland is super up front about bonuses, study leave and support available to their people trying to tackle the exam… but Deloitte US? I couldn't find a single mention unless you count this fluff piece on joining their AERS practice. Admittedly I didn't look very hard but I'd like to think my Googling ability is slightly better than that of a new accounting grad since I have an approximately 12 year head start on using the Internet.

    EY!'s CPA exam policy wasn't as easy as the others to find, and I'm just going to chalk that up to bad SEO surrounding the big rebranding. Or something. Anyway, when I did finally track down some benefits, the exam got one short but sweet mention:

    Professional certification reimbursement and bonus: We provide upfront reimbursement for one certification review course and associated exam registration fees for first-time exam takers for required certifications. We also offer a professional certification bonus to reward you for attainment of required professional certifications early in your career.

    Now, we're sure the firms are pretty competitive when it comes to CPA exam policies but in the five minutes it takes to Google, you couldn't even begin to compare based on what they're publishing on their websites.

    What's PwC doing pushing that $20,000 Elijah Watt Sells bonus? Considering 10 of last year's 39 EWS winners cashed in on this bonus, that's not exactly a wide net they are casting. According to the 2011 Candidate Performance Book from NASBA, 90,644 unique candidates took the CPA exam. Comparably, 5 of the 37 Elijah Watt Sells winners that year cashed in on the PwC bonus. So they are highlighting a bonus that potentially applies to less than a dozen people out of 90,644? That's smart marketing right there.

    Each of the Big 4 mention bonuses which is great and all but what good is a bonus if they aren't going to give you a day off to go take the exam?

    What's the harm in firms being more transparent about their CPA exam incentives beyond cold hard cash? Let's face it, Going Concern is at the top of most of those Google pages and do the firms want them getting information from us or from them? Get on that, marketing monkeys.


    • LDO

      I’m sure its different if you are a super smart kid and might be eligible for some of those top bonuses, but a CPA bonus played no decision in my firm selection process. I cared way more about how the level of work life balance and company culture I picked up on from the campus recruiting stuff that went on.
      To me, any money I was going to get for the CPA was just a cherry on top of what I perceived to be working for a great firm. Unless you think two firms are identical in every single way, I can’t ever see picking firm A over firm B because firm A pays out $5k instead of $3k. That just seems dumb.

      • Bitter Accountant

        Company culture? Give me a break. All public accounting firms are the same, just pick the one that pays the most. A firms “culture” should not be an excuse for paying what you are worth.

        • LDO

          I feel sorry for a lot of you then. I didn’t work at a Big 4 firm, which I’m sure most of you did. I loved most of the people I worked with. To this day, I’m still really good friends with a lot of them. We have been in each others weddings, taken trips together, etc. I’d rather work with people I like that are fun than get an extra $2k in my bank account.

          • Red

            I worked for a non-Big 4 as well, around what you just described… and I hated it. These people were too friendly. I was like, “Thanks, but if I am not on the clock, I don’t want to be around any of you.”

            • taxdude

              I work with some older crowds currently, in their 40s, so opportunity for hanging out and doing stuff together is almost none existent. I consider myself a sociable guy and enjoy peoples company more than anything. Working like this depresses me.

          • Taxdude

            Check the name of the person you are responding to…Bitter Accountant. The name says it all.

      • Kaleb

        Drink that Kool-Aid!

      • Guest

        Morons like you are why our industry doesn’t pay better.

        • Travis Stout

          I really hope you aren’t stupid enough to choose a career based on 2K. How does realizing a one time bonus difference of 2K is not the only factor someone should consider make LDO a Moron…

          Someone posting on a CPA forum should really think about that 2K is probably immaterial over your career.

      • Red

        When some newbie asks me about the “Corporate Culture” at my firm, I like to say this:

        Corporate Culture? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means. I know what *you* think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A human resources’ word, so people like that douche-bag over there can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for joining this firm? There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who asked the same dip-shit question you are asking me know. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this jaded man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Corporate Culture? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and eat the free food and collect the free T-Shirts, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.

        • Big Tex

          Great reference

        • Tax Nerd

          (Awesome reference. I want to make out with you, Red.)

          The thing is, though, there IS such thing as corporate culture. However, in the Big 4, it’s strongly influenced by the partner you work for. That is the complete wildcard in the game of picking a firm.

          One audit partner at EY in Topeka may be a soul-killing tyrant, while another audit partner down the hall is much more mellow. A KPMG transfer pricing partner in Miami may encourage their staff to succeed and take them out for regular happy hours, while another KPMG transfer pricing partner in New York may expect their people to work 100-hour weeks and never see their families because that’s what she did back in her day.

          I’m in the second decade of my career, so I know all of the firms better than I’d like. My impressions is that PwC has more HR people “on the ground” (in the operating office and not working from home) to keep things in line. Deloitte is generally a little more touchy feely, and there’s someone that actually monitors whether their diversity efforts work or are just lip service. KPMG partners have more latitude to be angels or be assholes without interference from on high (and assholes often prevail). Meanwhile the leadership EY is more resistant to change, so they do things like stick with Lotus Notes or (worse than PwC) print out their emails.

          Should you choose a firm to work for based on any of what I have to say? Of course not. Judge by the team you’d be working with. Do they have dark circles under their eyes and a look of quiet desperation? Go ahead and work for them, then. That’s pretty standard for the Big Four. Avoid the teams where everyone looks terrified, or like they’re about to take up recreational cutting. If they have to pause and think up an ‘appropriate’ answer for each of your questions, be wary, because they know not to give you the truth. (You probably should have watched Lie To Me when you were a freshman, but you were too worried about your grades back then, weren’t you?)

          • Red

            No I will not make out with you! – Billy Madison

            But I have to concede, there is something to corporate culture, but I really hate it when people ask. What am I supposed to say? The truth? A lie? I would rather be sarcastic with them and let them know that stupid questions like that will get you slapped with sarcasm.

            You can ask “tell me about what you do outside of work as a group, tell me about a typical day at your office, what word describes your people the best…”

            But if you ask specifically “TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CULTURE” then that is a signal to me, that you looked over the example interview questions from your Campus Recruiting Professor and decided to go with that one.

            • CpaCat

              It can be code for “How many hours do you work in a non-busy season week?” and “How often is there free food?”

            • Tax Nerd

              It’s totally code for those things. And more. Do members of the team go to lunch or happy hour together, or do they avoid each other at all costs? Or do you flash a look of terror in your face while trying to compose a vaguely acceptable answer?

              I’d rather be asked about the office culture than have some junior in college ask me on the partner admission process, or recite their resume to me.

    • Jack

      Why should a firm pay for someone to get a credential that is required as part of the profession? If you want to be in public accounting then it is incumbent on you to get your license to practice that profession????

      • guest

        Because firms have an interest in attracting young talent and developing it early? Durrr.

      • AllthatJazz

        Not really. Don’t you know that half of the people at your firm are not CPAs?

    • CM

      You could always just email HR/recruiting and ask about the other policies surrounding the CPA exam….

      • You’re missing the point though. Then they’ve got their hooks in you. Why not just be transparent about it? Especially if what they’re offering is better than the next guy, you’d think for how hard these fools try to make themselves better than the next firm who is exactly like they are, they’d be shouting it from the rooftops.

        • AllthatJazz

          Well. I’d say this article is missing the point that everyone on campus knows about $5K bonuses and free Becker. They don’t need to be any more aggressive about it.

    • Big Tex

      GT offers 100 hours of scheduled study time, 4 days off in a single caledar year/ 6 days off over the course of 2 year to take off for exam days, direct Bill with Becker $5,000 for passing within the first year as a campus Hire and $3,000 after that.

      • Guest

        Yea, nobody cares about GT,

        • FmrBig4Mgr

          The Big 4 is overrated. I was in it a lot longer than you. If you guys were really so confident about how great you are for being in the Big 4, and being an accountant in general, you wouldn’t need to say stupid shit like this to non-Big 4s.

      • Guest

        They didn’t offer that in our office…

    • Guest

      Probably part of the reason is that most new-hires are interns who would be accepting offers 2 entire years before they start full-time. Paying for exam fees and a CPA review course is to be expected. The time off to sit for the exams would be nice to know for someone about to start FT, but I don’t think that’d influence anyone’s decision to accept an offer from one firm over the other. Point being, this stuff probably seems unimportant compared to salary and fancy dinners/drinking events to a college kid.

    • SomeGuyAtB4

      I think it’s pretty standard that the Big 4 pay a 5K bonus for passing in the first year and have a direct bill arrangement with Becker (For Audit and Tax Hires) Probably not something they look to push from a marketing perspective b/c there’s not much differentiation in how the firms treat the certification bonus. Never looked too far into it when recruiting because they all do the same thing.

    • CPA

      In my experience it was just a minimum expectation to complete the CPA certification process. You study on your own time and pass it because you’re expected to do so to work in the business, and no one talked about it or complained about the time or stress. It was not seen as optional. Just a thing you gotta do. Boom, once you do it, never gotta go through that again.

    • cool story brah

      They don’t need to put it on their website because this is one of the main talking points for every recruiters visit. Does anyone really apply to the Big 4 through their website without having talked to a recruiter/someone at school/someone they know that works in PA?

    • bitter about the bonus

      what they DONT advertise is taxing the shit out of the bonus if you pass within a certain timeframe and the becker study materials…because if they did, everyone would realize its not worth it. #lostmoneyonthecpaexam #thanksfornothinguncled

      • Reasonable Assurance

        What do you mean by “taxing the shit out of the bonus”?

        Federal withholding requirements?

        • NOBODY

          bitter must be an auditor.


      Deloitte is 5k within your first year, less later. Becker is free, Cost of test is fully reimbursable. You also get up to $1400 in extra prep materials if you need it. Don’t know if they offer the 20k for Sells.

    • Acg Student

      I am currently going through the internship recruiting process for undergrad accounting, and all the Big 4 as well as a few regional firms shared their CPA incentives and bonuses at Meet the Firms presentations