Everyone has to start somewhere — accounting degree graduates fresh out of college are no different. Starting at a notable CPA firm is a terrific way to embark on your accounting career.

Kreischer Miller has witnessed great talent emerge from early beginnings as interns and new hires right out of college, and the firm believes in investing time and knowledge into young accounting minds across the Philadelphia region and beyond.

We’ve had many bright and ambitious new accountants who started their careers with our firm. We asked one employee who started with us a few years ago to share her experience in hopes that it helps other young professionals decide the next step in their career journey.

One Employee’s First-Hand Experience at Kreischer Miller*

*To protect this person’s identity as she continues her work within the accounting field, we’ve chosen to keep her anonymous. Please note her shared experience italicized below.

As a junior or senior in college getting ready for the real world, you are exposed to many recruiters, on-campus interviewers, and professors who give you advice about how to start your professional career in accounting. My school, Temple University, primarily encouraged us to explore the Big Four accounting firms —  Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG — which led to my interviews with two of the Big Four. I interned in audit with one of the firms during the summer after my junior year and ultimately accepted a full-time audit position, starting the September after I graduated.

As an intern, the job was great. With happy hours, the opportunity to meet great friends, an all-expenses paid trip to Disney World to celebrate the completion of the internship, and finally getting a full-time job offer, life was great! However, my experience once I began my full-time job the following September was slightly different. I worked more hours than I expected and pulled several "all-nighters." Although the hours were intense and work was stressful, the people I met were great and the experience I gained was invaluable.

While some people thrive in that type of high-pressure, high-stress environment, after a year I decided it wasn’t the right fit for me. At first, I thought I would go right into industry as a Senior Accountant or Financial Analyst, but I realized I wanted exposure to other industries and to learn more. So, I decided to apply to a role at a regional accounting firm, Kreischer Miller.

From my first day, I realized that Kreischer Miller puts their people first and stresses a work-life balance. My biggest fears about joining a new firm were about the work and the people. However, I soon learned that for the most part, the work was quite similar. And my colleagues were just as great.

Here is my take on the similarities and differences between working at a Big Four firm versus a regional CPA firm like Kreischer Miller.


Similarities Between a Regional Accounting Firm vs. a Big Four Firm

1. The audit process is the same no matter if it’s a small or large CPA firm.

At the end of the day, whether you are at a Big Four firm or a 200-person regional firm, audit is audit. We all follow U.S. GAAP and GAAS and perform similar testing.

Testing procedures and templates may be different depending on the firm, but the underlying process will be the same. Sure, you may have a multi-billion dollar client and substantially larger samples at a Big Four accounting firm, but a three-way match test for revenue, Accounts Receivable existence testing, or bank reconciliations will be performed and tested no matter where you work.

2. There is always a busy season when working in public accounting.

Whether you work in tax or audit, at a Big Four firm, or at a regional-based CPA firm like Kreischer Miller, if you work on December 31st year-end clients, you will have a winter busy season. The hours won’t be fun and your significant other won’t see as much of you, but this is a part of the career we chose!

Both the Big Four firm I worked for and Kreischer Miller provided meals during the busy season, which is a nice perk when you’re working through the dinner hour. While busy season can be tough, it'll come and go and you can look forward to lighter schedules and summer hours after April 15th.

3. You will inevitably travel when working in public accounting.

Travelling to your clients is a given in public accounting. However the type of travel you will endure varies by firm.  Your client assignments will dictate whether your travel will require a train ride or flight and an overnight stay or a daily commute where you get to sleep in your own bed at the end of the day.    

4. You will work with great people at either type of CPA firm.

The hardest part of leaving my Big Four firm was the people. I developed lasting relationships with coworkers I started with, traveled with, and worked late nights with.

However, the people at Kreischer Miller, made my transition easy. There were fewer team members overall, but there were a lot of people my age and everyone welcomed me with open arms. I've played sports, shared meals, and gone to happy hours with my new coworkers and they are as fun as my former colleagues.

Additionally, Kreischer Miller offered a proactive approach to Diversity, Equity, and inclusion. This fostered a culture of acceptance and inclusion.

5. Compensation is surprisingly comparable between a Big Four accounting firm and a regional firm.

One thing I worried about when leaving the Big Four was whether the pay would decrease. Contrary to what I thought, the pay at a smaller accounting firm vs. a larger company was comparable (and even better, if you calculate your hourly rate).

As a staff/senior, salary and bonuses are very competitive with the Big Four. As you move higher in the firm (basically, partner status) salary and bonuses may change, but overall, my salary, raise, and bonus at Kreischer Miller are on track with my friends who are still at the Big Four firm I worked for.

6. Social opportunities within the firm.

Nobody likes working all the time (well, maybe some people do), but both the Big Four and Kreischer Miller offered opportunities outside of work to bond with associates. From intramural sports to happy hours and other events such as golf outings, firm picnics, and parties, both regional and Big Four firms offer these opportunities for employees to spend some time together outside of work.

Differences Between a Regional Accounting Firm vs. a Larger Public Accounting Firm

1. Regional CPA firms often offer a better work/life balance.

The biggest difference between the firms is work/life balance. At Kreischer Miller, people come first and employees’ lives outside of work are of the utmost importance. At the Big Four, they try to maintain this balance, but due to the nature of the clients and the amount of work, it's difficult to adhere to and most people end up working nonstop.

2. Type of client work: publicly traded vs. privately held.

The Big Four tend to focus on publicly traded clients, whereas Kreischer Miller’s focus is on middle-market, privately held companies.

The major difference is the internal control testing required by Sarbanes-Oxley and the quarterly reviews required by the SEC. With privately-held clients, an auditor is not required to test controls, although they may choose to do so on occasion. Additionally, auditors of privately held companies are not required to do a quarterly review or follow SEC reporting guidelines.

3. Financial statement preparation varied.

At the Big Four firm, we could not prepare financial statements as that would compromise independence. The clients prepared their own financials, which were then reviewed by the partners. So when I came to Kreischer Miller, I had to learn financial statement preparation. I enjoyed learning the process because it changed the way I looked at the financial statements.

At my last firm, I did not have much exposure besides tying the numbers back to our audited work papers. Putting together the financial statements (and notes to the financial statements) is a great way to learn more about the financials and help you understand the client even better.

4. Busy season and deadlines were much different at a regional firm.

While I mentioned above that all firms have busy seasons, the main difference at Kreischer Miller is the hours. For the most part, team members at Kreischer Miller work about 50-60 hours per week during the winter and then go back to 40 hours or less for the rest of the year.

At the Big Four, it was not out of the ordinary for me to work 100 or more hour weeks, with the main driver of that being deadlines. Public companies have much more aggressive deadlines than non-public companies, which led to the intense hours. I would also work 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday, which I have yet to do at Kreischer Miller.

Finally, at the Big Four, there are more fiscal year-end clients, which led to working even more weekends and 80-hour weeks during the summer.

5. Expenses were dispersed differently between the two.

At Kreischer Miller, expenses are paid out-of-pocket using personal credit cards and are reimbursed by the firm (which I prefer as I get credit card points).

At my last firm, everyone was given an American Express credit card that was paid by the firm. It was used for all travel expenses, busy season meals, and any other work-related expenses. Additionally, the Big Four paid for employees’ cell phones as we were required to receive emails on our phones and if we were in a place with no internet, anyone could turn their phone into a hotspot and connect to the internet via the cell phone network. The work-life balance at Kreischer Miller means that when you are “off” you are not expected to remain “on-call.” I don’t have to receive my email on my phone and — better yet — I’m not expected to.

6. Career growth is often more achievable at a smaller firm.

At Big Four firms, it is very hard to move within the firm. Whether you want to get into a different industry, switch to tax, audit, or advisory, or get involved in a niche market, it can take years to make the move out of the industry you are in.

At Kreischer Miller, it's much simpler to switch industry focus. Additionally, moving from tax to audit and vice versa is not as difficult in a regional accounting firm versus a Big Four firm. They also offer some professional development resources to continue my CPA career growth.

7. Summer hours are often a perk of working for a regional CPA firm.

At the regional firm, Kreischer Miller, summer and winter hours are a great perk. As a thank you for the hard work during the busy season, the firm offers summer hours and winter hours that employees can use as long as they can accommodate client work. Employees are given the option to leave work at 12:00 p.m. on Fridays during the summer. Winter hours are offered from mid-October until mid-December which gives employees the option to leave work at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays after the fall deadlines and prior to busy season. Oh, and did I mention that you don't have to take PTO for those hours? It is paid time off to enjoy the weekends.

Unfortunately, Big Four cannot offer this perk due to the client's needs and work performed. At my last firm, we were not given summer or winter hours, but we "rolled" our hours, meaning that when we worked more than 40 hours a week, we would smooth over our hours and take a few days off using the extra hours worked.

Did this Insight Help You Decide?

While this guide may not be inclusive of all the similarities and differences between Big Four and regional accounting firms, we hope it helps you choose where to start your career or decide whether a move from the Big Four to a regional firm is right for you.

Remember to do your research on the firm, interview well, and no matter where you work, work hard.

Start or Continue Your Public Accounting Career at Kreischer Miller

Learn more about the benefits you’ll receive as an intern or employee at Kreischer Miller by reading about our unique culture.

Explore our current job openings and join our team, today.

Accounting Careers Near Philadelphia, PA

Whether you’re just starting or you’re an established career professional, Kreischer Miller is with you every step of the way. Join our team and be a part of our award-winning regional CPA firm.