As Luck Would Have It, Big 4 Partners are Pretty Much Just Like You

This kind of goes with the article we shared last week, which quoted one Jacob Soll as saying accounting as a profession has been de-elited and made Midwestern (which is another say of saying pedestrian and not all that special). Side note but you will be happy to know Jacob reached out to us, tried to hand me my ass for taking his comments out of context and making fun of them, and now we're cool and I'll be interviewing him soon.

Anyhoo, back on topic.

You probably already know this but just in case, someone studied it so you can really know it. What does it take to be a Big 4 partner? Money? Prestige? The ability to choose the right fork at a fancy dinner? None of the above.

Economia shares the news:

Becoming a partner is open to all rather than being a privilege for those born into wealthy families, the research found. Also, in terms of what makes a successful professional, there are no significant differences between Big Four partners across different cultures.

The research – carried out by Professors Chris Carter of Edinburgh University and Crawford Spence of Warwick Business School – set out to identify the “secret” of accounting partners’ personal success and highlight the logics and values that partners embody, in the light of the increasing commercialisation of accountancy practices.

The academics interviewed 32 accounting professionals in the UK and Canada, ranging from individuals who had not made partner to partners to retired partners, from three of the Big Four (EY did not agree to participate).

Now, you'll note that you don't have to be "elite" (socially elite, not "elite" as in the reptilian shapeshifters you find described on fringe conspiracy websites) to be a Big 4 partner but if you happen to be a Big 4 partner, then you are elite as far as accountants are concerned. Make sense, fancy pants?

Their research confirmed that to be a Big Four partner is to be a member of the elite of the accounting field, since as few as 2%-3% of those entering the firms will reach that level. And not just within the profession: in their own economic and social environment, they are also considered members of the elite.

SO. Big 4 partners aren't anything special in comparison to everyone else but among accounting grunts, they are the best of the best.

They are also modest, apparently:

“Accountants tended not to talk about their family background, other than as a quick aside to stress its modesty,” the academics say. “For example, none of the partners made much of their university credentials or pointed to having been high performers at university.

“The UK interviewees came from relatively modest backgrounds – aspirational working class or lower middle class; they were generally educated in the state system and were the children of parents who themselves were unlikely to have had the luxury of higher education.”

One former senior manager (now a corporate financier) told the pair that accountancy firms don’t care about background; what they are interested in is what potential partners have done with themselves and what they’ve achieved.

I think we can all agree with those findings, no?

We'll leave you with this.

“Accountants go across all religions and classes… My experience in the Big Four is what matters is how much money you make for the firm. That is the most important factor.”

And that's different from other companies and professions how, exactly?

Related articles

It Turns Out Clients Really Don’t Like It When Auditors Call Them Out on Their Sh*t

In shocking research presented earlier this month at the American Accounting Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Elizabeth N. Cowle and Stephen P. Rowe of the University of Arkansas have confirmed suspicions that clients shun audit firms with a reputation for being hard-asses. Let’s check out the abstract: We examine whether the audit market penalizes […]