Recently, I made the transition from a Senior Auditor at a Big Four firm to a Staff Accountant at Kreischer Miller. Although I have not been with Kreischer Miller long, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on a few of the key differences between the two types of firms.
I earned my accounting degree from Temple University. Although my undergraduate degree was not in accounting, I enrolled at Temple as a non-matriculating student to complete the prerequisite courses required for the university’s MAcc program. During this time, I completed a winter internship with one of the Big Four firms, and I accepted a full-time position with the firm subsequent to finishing the MAcc program.
However, after two and a half years in Big Four I decided to move on to something else. I found the high pressure, high stress environment you often hear about in Big Four firms to be very accurate. This stress, coupled with a diminishing work-life balance, began to change me in ways I wasn’t happy with. I decided I needed to leave and initially I planned to jump into industry. This seems to be the knee-jerk reaction most have. And why not? You likely will see a better work-life balance and an immediate pay hike.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t fully satisfied with my audit knowledge and skills. I wanted to experience more within the audit practice. And I wasn’t ready to for the monotony that sometimes comes with working in industry. This is how I ended up at Kreischer Miller! This new opportunity has given me the chance to reflect on some of the other differences I’ve experienced between the two types of firms.
- Busy Season(s): One of the differences between a Big Four firm and a regional firm is busy season. In a Big Four firm, you often work with clients that don’t have 12/31 year-ends, which means that you very well may work busy season hours outside of, and in addition to, the traditional busy season. One of the ways to get through the long hours of busy season is to look for the light at the end. Knowing that normal hours will resume (client willing) once busy season ends makes it a little easier to get through each week. Because of the types of clients Big Four firms have, you might find yourself rolling from one year-end client to the next without a reprieve.
- Engagement Team Size: The engagement teams are generally much larger on Big Four audits. For example, one of my 6/30 year-end client teams consisted of two staff, four seniors, two managers, and a partner. At Kreischer Miller, the teams often consist of one staff, one senior, one manager, and a director. With a smaller team, everyone has more responsibility and gets to touch more of the engagement.
- Engagement Length: Engagements are significantly shorter at Kreischer Miller, with most engagements lasting one to two weeks. My shortest engagement at my Big Four firm was three months and my longest lasted roughly eight months. Long engagements can reduce your exposure to different clients and industries, as well as to other team members. In my first two months at Kreischer Miller I will work on more clients than I did in two and a half years at my Big Four firm. Some Big Four audit teams work on the same client year-round, which means you may only ever know that client and that team throughout your time with the firm.
- Firm Size: Obviously, Big Four and regional firms vary greatly in size; however, I didn’t truly comprehend the implications until I joined Kreischer Miller. On my first day of new hire training, there was a meet and greet where I met everyone in the office. With 160 or so employees, you have the opportunity to get to know everyone in a relatively short amount of time. At my Big Four firm, there were people who started a couple weeks before me who I never met. Imagine that, people who are in your start class who come and go from the firm without ever meeting them! In just a short amount of time, I've seen that the smaller size of the regional firm provides for a much more intimate experience.
- Clients: The clients I worked on with my Big Four firm are all familiar public companies. Many of the clients my colleagues worked on were also known entities. There is no question that the clients Big Four firms engage are often more recognizable than those a smaller firm engages. This comes with advantages and disadvantages. At the staff and senior level, I did not find that there was much to contribute in terms of value-add to these clients. My clients all had robust accounting/finance departments. Some of the clients at Kreischer Miller will have one or two individuals making up these functions and they are not always trained accountants or CPAs. This provides the opportunity for us to help the client improve various administrative and operational functions.
- Types of Engagements: At Big Four firms you will primarily be performing integrated audits as the PCAOB requires this for publicly-traded entities. At Kreischer Miller, our privately-held clients have various needs which means we get experience in performing both audits (usually not integrated) and reviews. Reviews are primarily analytical in nature and help auditors build a strong understanding of the relationships between various accounts and their relationship to operations. Public companies require quarterly reviews; however, you are not guaranteed to be staffed on these.
There are always benefits and drawbacks in any firm, and I think it is extremely important for both college students and experienced auditors to be aware of some of these differences as they are going through the recruiting and decision-making processes. I implore you to research your decision well and work hard wherever you end up – your success will be commensurate with the effort you put forth.
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