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.