December 18, 2018

Mid-tier Accounting Firms Have Much Brighter Futures Than the Big 4

One of the more interesting Vault rankings is the "Best to Work For: Business Outlook" list. All of the BtWF rankings have 20 firms listed, and that seems like overkill. Really, they could cut it off at ten and I think the list would have a more exclusive air to it, so that's what I'll offer to you all from the BtWF:BO list:

1. PwC (16)
2. Moss Adams (18)
3. Plante Moran (1)
4. Rothstein Kass (8)
5. WithumSmith + Brown (2)
6. Dixon Hughes Goodman (12)
7. Frank Rimerman + Co. (5)
8. Eide Bailly (3)
9. Baker Tilly (15)
10. Grant Thornton (7)

There are all kinds of perplexing things about this ranking, but I'll just talk about a few. 

  • First, PwC is ranked #1. BFD. For whatever reason, the PwC employees who took the survey really think the future looks bright for their firm, but there are no other Big 4 firms anywhere to be found. Are we supposed to believe that PwC's business prospects are that much better than Deloitte's (listed at #17, btw) or E&Y's or, yes, KPMG's? It's not like P. Dubs is developing some brand new service offering that's going to quintuple their U.S. business. What I'm trying to say here, PwC Vault survey takers, is that your firm's outlook isn't that great compared to your competitors'. It's just not. Or maybe I should speaking to the other Big 4 firms — your business outlook isn't that bad. It's really not. 
  • Focusing on a region seems to really, really work well. Moss Adams has the west. Plante Moran has Michigan/Ohio. Baker Tilly has Chicago and Wisconsin. Dixon Hughes Goodman has the southeast. WithumSmith + Brown has the northeast (mostly New Jersey). Frank Rimerman has the Bay Area. All these firms have found a gap in the market in a little corner of the country that works for them and they focus on it; I'm sure their growth ambitions are far from being satisfied. You can see that in firms like Eide Bailly that has expanded from the North to the Mountain West and Rothstein Kass that grew out of the northeast and is now more or less everywhere. It could be interesting to see how the competition grows between these firms as some of them expand nationally.
  • Generally speaking, I understand why Grant Thornton lands at #10. Unlike PwC, GT has made it very clear that they have aggressive growth goals and don't mind boasting about the results. A partner accused of embezzlement isn't even going to stop this train. A partner accused of insider trading might, though.

Overall, mid-tier firms should feel really good about their business prospects. When your largest competitors have a stranglehold on largest clients, it's probably nice to see how much opportunity they are passing up. As for the Big 4? Meh. Business is good. It's always good. They make billions. How much better can it be? At this point, they're all playing not to lose.

Accounting Firms Rankings 2014: Best to Work For: Business Outlook [Vault] 

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