August 13, 2020

Small firms

accounting CEO

A Big 4 Alum-Turned-CEO Who Stayed in the Trenches

A few years ago we published an article about what makes a great accounting CEO. Or rather, we published an article about a survey from PwC that asked CEOs what they think makes a great CEO. In that piece, we highlighted a quality identified by many CEOs that surprised PwC—humility. This included “maintaining a modest […]

Thinking About a Small Firm? Check Out This Virtual Career Fair

If all the recent talk about small firms has got you curious, AccountingFly is hosting a virtual career fair called Advance this Thursday from 1 pm to 5 pm ET that features 68 firms from across the country. You'll have the chance to chat with hiring managers from firms that have current openings, it's free and you […]

Who Wants to Work at a Small Accounting Firm?

They could use some help: Finding qualified staff ranked as one of the two most pressing issues for all firms with more than one professional, topping the list for firms with two to 10 professionals and ranking second among firms with 11 or more professionals (see chart below). Firms in the two largest size categories […]

Let’s End the Big 4 or Bust Myth Once and For All

It’s recruiting season on campuses all across America; that special time of year when accounting students get a taste of what it’s like to be a five-star middle linebacker — minus the “hostesses,” envelopes stuffed with cash, and any semblance of athletic ability. For you soon-to-be graduates deciding on your first employer, however, recruiting season […]

PwC Employee Dreams of Small Firm Utopia

Tuesday got you down? Wonder how to best waste all that PTO you haven't been using? Curious as to who would win a Big 4 CEO Royal Rumble match? Email us your questions. Hey there Gee-Cizzle,   I am in my third year (up for senior next year) working PwC Tax and as you probably […]

Small Firm Associate Wants the Scoop on Jumping to a Bigger Accounting Firm

Has busy season made you question everything and everyone around you? Great! Email us your troubles and we'll marginally improve your life.  Howdy!I've combed through the many post on the site, but I haven't been able to find one about my situation. Here goes…I'm finishing up my second busy season at a small local firm […]

Chase’s New Expense Tracking App Will Cater to the Most Anal-Retentive Bosses

If finicky expense-tracking is going to evolve with the times, there has to be a way to track every dime spent from anywhere and it appears Chase is making an effort toward that goal with its newest offering: Jot.

Hot off the wire:

Jot will provide Ink from Chase customers a variety of mobile benefits, including the ability to:

— Receive text alerts within seconds of making a purchase with their Ink card;

— Immediately tag these purchases to custom categories on a mobile device or online;

— Enable employees to tag their business expenses;

— Immediately view all transactions on their account, including those of their employees, through their mobile device or online;

— Adjust employees’ card spending limits in real-time via a mobile device; and

— Create and download reports into accounting software, including QuickBooks(R) and Excel(R).

“Small business owners are innovative, passionate and hardworking, and Chase’s dedication to partnering with these business owners comes from the belief that this group of entrepreneurs is an integral part of the American economy,” said Richard Quigley, president of Ink from Chase. “Jot was designed with small business owners’ immediate financial needs top of mind. Jot will enhance the finance-savvy business practices of small business owners, allowing for additional time and an improved focus on the passion and sense of accomplishment they have for their businesses.”

Financially-savvy Ink customers who have an iPhone or Android phone can download Jot by visiting the Ink website. Once you’ve got it downloaded you and your employees’ spending will be reined in and you’ll be back agonizing over more important things in no time.

How Should an Associate Handle the ‘Sink or Swim’ Nature of His Small Firm?

Welcome to the can-we-trade-twisters-for-raptures? edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a small firm associate works in a sink or swim environment and he feels like sandbags are tied to his feet. Is there anything he can do to sink less?

Have a career question? Need some help outfoxing your competition? Is a client giving you trouble? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll breakator skills.

Back to accountant who needs a life preserver:

Howdy!

How do I deal with not having much support at my office? I just started around 4 months ago as a staff accountant and anytime I have a question, my boss tells me to figure it out, to bring him the financials so he “can do (my) job for (me)” or to just move on to the next audit.

There are seven full time employees here and my boss and I are the only ones working through audits. I really want to learn the entire process of performing audits, but I can’t get anyone to help me. I’ve asked around, Googled and even asked him to guide me through the process. There has not been any training as to their methodology for auditing. Is this typical for very small local firms? I’ve heard the first year is the hardest and you dont really know anything. I feel like I’m trying to drink out of a firehose! Help!

– Doing My Best

Dear Doing My Best,

To quote a Scotsman from some terrible over-budgeted spoon-fed cinema: losers whine about their best and winners go home and fuck the prom queen. Since you work at an accounting firm (where no one really wins) and haven’t been in sniffing distance of a prom dress in ages, that advice doesn’t really do you much good. Lucky for you, I’m familiar with your plight.

Small firms are enormously diverse and you’re at an extremely small firm. I started my career in a similar situation, at firm with less than 20 people. In that scenario, it was difficult to get anyone to explain anything to me, “methodology” wasn’t really thrown around much (literally or figuratively) and training was virtually non-existent. So to answer your question: your experience is common at a small firm and the first year is extremely tough.

Now, as for what you can do about it – my advice would be to really think about your questions before you ask them. If you’re running to your “boss” every five minutes with a question, it’s not surprising that they might lose patience with you. Really try to work through problems until you’re absolutely stuck on something. Small firms are fond of “look at last year’s file” as standard operating procedure and you should do just that. Most of these clients won’t have much for changes and their business shouldn’t be complicated, so using last year’s files as reference will be helpful.

If you find yourself having done as much work as possible and are at a dead end, then go to your boss and explain exactly what you’ve tried to do and why you’re stuck in neutral. If you explain to them all the roads you’ve tried to take, then they might be more willing to point you in the right direction. If he/she is still unwilling to help, then you might consider calling them out for it or request to work on something other than audits. If you don’t feel like you’re learning anything because no one has taken the time to teach you anything, that reflects poorly on them not you. If they act like they’re above giving you any guidance, then it’s pretty clear that they suck at their job.

If you manage to make some headway, you’ll start to notice that things eventually begin to make sense and year two (granted you survive) will be much easier than the first. Good luck.

Small Firm Associate Concerned Her Employer Is Turning into a Mini-PwC

Welcome to the let’s-dig-up-the-waterboarding-debate edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a young associate’s small firm is being overrun with PwC alumni. The firm now has a P. Dubs feel sans the P. Dubs prestige and our associate wants out.

Need some career advice? Do you (or a co-worker) need a business casual/professional makeover? Having a disagreement with a client? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll send SEALs over to take care of it.

Back to our PwC-adverse associate:

Caleb,

I have been an ongoing reader of Going Concern for a while now. I need some advice and to know my options. I had an excellent internship with PWC alumni which landed me a job in audit at a small local firm the last year of school. I have since graduated college and enjoyed working at the small firm occasionally talking to recruiters but not really giving it much thought on leaving. Why leave 40 -45 hour work weeks non busy season and a 10% contribution to salary? Then my small local firm started hiring a group of PWC alumni to where it is now 75% ex-PWC.

They are taking over and making it feel like big four without the big four caliber of at least getting to list big four on your resume. So now I find myself wanting out of my small local firm and going else where. I still have 2 sections left to pass on my exam and I am not sure 2 busy seasons of experience but not even a year out of school really counts as an experienced candidate. Do you have any suggestions or career advice?

– Desperately wanting out

Dear Desperately,

Your concern feels a little reactionary. Surprisingly, not all PwC people send around misogynist emails, are workaholics or work their staff to death (debatable!). However, you do have a unique problem so I’ll see what I can do.

You are in a bit a jam since you don’t have your CPA and very little experience so I advise you to stay put at least until you get your CPA and you should really stay for at least one more busy season. If you leave, most likely, it will be a lateral move and you’ll be back to cubicle one. Not an ideal situation. Having said that, here’s why I think you should stay:

1. With all this PwC talent around, some of their expertise is bound to rub off on you. Lots of small firms don’t have Big 4 caliber talent at manager or staff levels so you can learn a lot from these people while you’re working with them. If you can’t stand them after one more busy season, at least you’ll have a little bit of their wisdom to take with you.

2. If you ever decide that you want to make a jump to a Big 4 firm (it could happen), these PwC alum are your ticket. They’ll still have friends and former colleagues at PwC and probably elsewhere and they’ll be able to get you in touch with the right people. Don’t forget that, whether you like it or not, these people are part of your network and you need to use that network when you can. If you bail out now, you’ll simply be a blip on their radar.

So get your CPA and stick it out one more busy season. Who knows, you may end up being completed satisfied working for mini-PwC. Good luck.

Can a Small Firm Accountant Make It in the Big Leagues?

Welcome to the sometimes-we-blow-off-Monday’s-column edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a small firm accountant is cutting his teeth and is curious about prospects for the future. What’s in store for a young 10-key jockey? I guess we’ll try to find out.

Caught in a career conundrum? Think you’re about to lose it on one of your co-workers and need an outlet? Curious as to where lamé falls on the dress code? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll tell you what not to wear.

Meanwhile back at the Mom & Pop shop:

Howdy!

I just started as a staff accountant and I’m gradually getting the hang of what I’m doing. I work for a small firm and I am pretty much doing the audits start to finish from preparing the financial statements to sending letters to management as well as going through all the programs. So far it’s been 2.5 months and I’m going to take the classes needed to sit for the CPA. I’m definitely thankful to be here but knowing future options are nice as well. Here are my questions:

What is an estimated learning curve?

What are my possibilities as far as moving to a larger firms or going to the private sector?

Should I stay until I am qualified to sit for the CPA or does one or two years of experience hold any weight with the private sector or other firms?

I have gained a general idea from your other articles but wanted some specific feed back for me.

Thanks!

Newbie

Dear Newbie,

As is typical of the emails we receive, you’re thinking about the future. That’s all fine and dandy but at 2.5 months of work you can barely open a three-ring binder without injuring yourself or endangering those around you. That said, I’ll answer your questions because I’m solid like that.

First the learning curve. – This varies as some new accountants are genuine whiz kids while others have trouble turning on their laptops. In general, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing after 12 months or so. Your second year as an associate will be a breeze compared to your first and if you work at a firm where three years are required for promotion, you’ll really become a junior spreadsheet rockstar. When you reach senior associate level, your life will change significantly and you’ll starting learning all over again. It will occur again as you ascend to manager and partner. That’s your life in public accounting in a beanshell.

Secondly, your prospects for moving to a larger firm or to an in-house position are good, as long as you’ve demonstrated that you’re a performer and a team player. At 2.5 months on the job you haven’t really had the chance to put your abilities on display so you have to be patient. Get a year or two of experience under your belt and take a look back on your accomplishments so you can best explain to prospective employers why you’ll be a worthy addition to their team.

Thirdly, it’s my personal opinion that you should finish your CPA before moving to another firm or company. Having a CPA will demonstrate your commitment to finishing something valuable for your career and will do wonders for your salary prospects when you’re ready to make a move. The choice between a CPA and a non-CPA is an easy one for HR managers.

What’s a Mom Over 40 to Do When She’s Ignored by the Big 4?

Welcome to the is-anyone-sick-of-snow edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Mom of two is getting her career started after going back to school and has found the Big 4 to be less than interested in what she has to offer. She’s looking for some feedback and advice but we’re guessing it has nothing to do with this Tiger thingee.

Got the busy season blues? Need help making your next career move? Concerned that your boss is channeling Lucifer? Emailto:advice@goingconcern.com”>advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll say a prayer for you.

More from Mom:

Please help! I came back to college for an accounting degree at 40 after earning my first degree in a non-business field long ago. I have a 4.0 major GPA, and am at the very top of my class. I will have an undergraduate accounting degree soon and be done with the CPA exam a few months later. I have 2 kids who are 10 and 12.

My plan was to start with at least a couple years in public accounting, and go from there. It seems like you need to do that so that you don’t limit your options for later. I’ve been to one career fair and didn’t get a single interview. I intend to be committed when I go full time (45-50 hours a week) but don’t desire to work from 9 am until 10 pm 5 days a week all year, at least until my kids are out of the house. Working crazy hours for a 3 month season would be fine, but not all year. I lean toward tax but enjoy everything I’ve done in accounting. Despite all their talk about diversity, I haven’t seen any Big 4 firms remotely interested in anyone over 40 and I’m not sure that I would fit with the Big 4 culture anyhow. So the question is – what is your best advice for a smart mom over 40 who desires a job in accounting – regional/local public accounting, straight to industry, governmental? Would also love to hear some HONEST feedback about the work hours at regional and local public accounting firms. Thank you!

Smart mom over 40

Dear Smart Mom,

We’re not surprised to hear about you being stonewalled by the Big 4. You’re way past the impressionable stage and the large firms like their newbies young and clueless. Furthermore, when it comes to diversity, we don’t think age is really at the forefront of their ambitions. Your instincts are serving you well and a regional or local firm will be a better fit for you. We would advise against going into an in-house or government job at this point, as some time in public will help you determine what your interests are. We suggest finding a public accounting firm where you could engage directly with managers and partners that are closer to your age, as there will opportunities to bond over kids and other things you have in common, plus it will be a natural fit for a mentor/mentee relationship. You’ll learn more quickly and be given more responsibility sooner, which is probably of interest to you.

As far as hours are concerned, you’ll work plenty but it won’t be the epic busy seasons of Big 4 lore. You’ll likely work between 50-60 hours a week during the busiest time of year but obviously, this will vary from firm to firm. Also, small firms tend to be more creative when it comes to flexibility in order to accommodate their employees specific needs, so this will probably serve you better than a Big 4 or mid-tier experience. If all else fails, land a recruiter who can take your personal situation and set you up with a firm or company who will appreciate your situation but will also be a good cultural fit for you. Good luck.

My GPA Sucks! Is My Accounting Career Over?

Today in “My life is falling apart and I’m an accountant” we have another poor sap that is plagued by a low GPA. Are they doomed for mediocrity? We’ll get to that, right after…

Are you wondering what your next career move is? Are you an auditor trying to put the moves on someone in tax and have no idea what to say? Wondering whether you should put the kibosh on your vegan lifestyle at your next partner lunch/dinner since you think it’ll make you look like a complete weirdo? Email us your inquiry to advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll put you at ease.

Back to our slacker du jour:

My undergrad GPA was a 2.99 cumulative and that’s been a killer in my application and job process. I’m currently with a very small CPA firm. Is there a point on continuing even if I pass my CPA? It seems no one really cares about any accounting experience for public unless it’s big 4 or mid-tier. My 2.99 has been a killer since the majority of firms are looking for a 3.00+. I’m looking at options at grad school, but I’m not sure if it would help if I wanted to go Big 4 still. I also believe I should pass my CPA first if I’m looking to go for a one year MBT or MACC (Masters of Accounting) program, but honestly I don’t know that I would get in considering my GPA unless I got stellar GMAT scores.


First of all, we’re not quite sure why you’re looking for a job when you already have a job. Do you intensely dislike this “very small CPA firm”? Our guess is yes since you’re writing us but take a serious look at your current situation and consider the experience that you are getting at your current firm. It may not be exactly what you’re looking for but the work experience you obtain will be valuable.

That being said, you then moving on to “Is there a point on continuing even if I pass my CPA?” Do we need to call the suicide hotline for you? Get your CPA. That will go a long ways to bolstering your career prospects, 2.99 GPA or not.

We definitely take exception with your “no one really cares about any accounting experience for public unless it’s big 4 or mid-tier.” There are plenty of Big 4 whores around these parts that might say that but don’t forget that small firms differ from the Big 4/second tier in some positive ways, so don’t dismiss the opportunity you have right now.

As far as Grad School goes, wait until you’ve got some work experience and CPA. Do you really want to rush right back to school? If you get some good work experience and you have some decent professional accomplishments, the graduate schools will take that into account. Yes, killing your GMAT will help your chances but you’re not doomed, friend; you’ve just got an uphill climb.

Five Major Differences Between Small Accounting Firms and the Big 4

Ed. note: The following was submitted by a reader of Going Concern who wished to remain nameless.

As a casual fan of Going Concern, and a senior auditor of a small to mid size local firm, I feel the site is quite comical and a vast insight into the world of “bigger and better” feelings. I read the site for humor, comparison, and overall knowledge on the country’s accounting bureaucracy. I would like to dive into some of the obvious�������������������� the big boys and us local mid-market droids.

Busy season – For most, January 5th is the start date and lets up by April 1st. Busy season is usually the hours of eight-thirty to seven-thirty. The midnight coffee runs are infrequent and somewhat discouraged. (That might be just our firm, so if yours is different, chime in). Busy season does not end with a celebration, spot bonus, or dinner; we get an e-mail saying thank you for making us (the Partners) rich.


The Rank and File – The caliber of employees is different. We get a few people that could of have gone Big 4 but primarily our employees are the ones who worked through college, made mostly B’s drizzled with some C’s, or they went to Big 4 and then realized it wasn’t a good fit. A fair amount of the staff obtain the CPA license but hardly ever do they walk in with it. With that, some might think the staff is seen as not equivalent. I differ from that viewpoint. This leads me to the next difference.

Responsibilites – The degree of responsibility of a Big 4 staff auditor and a mid-size staff auditor are drastically different. It appears the people we hire from the Big 4 know a specific section of the audit to a tee but when it comes to another section they are a lost puppy. For example, the small time auditor has to draft the engagement, complete ninety five percent of the fieldwork and finish with all the management representation letters, disclosure checklist, etc. It’s a complete engagement overview, not just the cash section. This might be because of the size of the engagements but regardless, when it comes to closing the deal, the small time auditor seems to perform like Jeter in October. You might argue this is because our niche is smaller but on the SEC engagements we tackle, the same criteria takes effect. Staff do the work, manager reviews, and partner signs. No middle ground to speak of.

Money – I constantly look at GC to see what the salaries in the rest of the country appear to be and honestly, we don’t come close. It’s very much a disappointment. We probably all start off close to the same (50k plus or minus 5k), but in all actuality, the bigger accounting firms bump people up a lot faster than us local guys. Again, this might parallel to the caliber of employees we hire, or it might not. I tend to think we follow a very specific old fashion business model. We pay our staff just enough so they are complacent, and the partners bring the money home to afford the private schools, three plus luxury cars, the farms, and the multi million dollars home. If someone doesn’t want to put in the fifteen to twenty plus years it takes to get there, then tough, we will find someone else. The door is a constant revolving machine. No emotion goes into it what so ever.

Pick up a tax return! – The last item is the close ties between audit and tax. It is very common for someone in my shoes to finish all my audit responsibilities by mid-March, and then pick up the married couple with two kids tax return. It’s merely done for enjoyment and to help out the overall firm. This also helps with keeping on your toes when talking to clients about what your firm can offer. We get an incentive for bringing in clients and since our niches are smaller, it’s easier than bringing in a 100k plus job.

Bottom line is that it’s a different culture. I guess it’s always up to the staff if they like the eleven o’clock coffee run, sleep deprivation, 65k salary, or if they like the 58k salary, have a life, and come home at seven-thirty careers. It really just depends on the person. Some people strive either way but nothing should be taken away or discouraged because of the decision. I would just know what you’re getting into when you walk in the door. If you go to a smaller firm out of college, don’t expect the huge pay increases, or the spot bonuses, just expect to work and not get much for it.