Why Working at a CPA Firm is Phenomenal, and Why Students Should Major in Accounting
We’ve written over 500 blogs in the past 15 years. Our material is pitched mostly to partners and managers. We would love it if this blog was read by entry-level hires, staff at CPA firms senior or below, and interns. Partners, you should forward a copy of this blog to your firm’s young people.
We really hope that partners also read this. Why? To answer that question, we need to understand the genesis of this blog. For over a decade, partners across the country have told us how disappointed they are that some of their most talented staff don’t want to be a partner. This has always puzzled me. Given the tremendous benefits of being a partner (cited below), this lack of ambition makes no sense.
I have always thought that staff have this attitude because they don’t know what it means to be a partner. They are blissfully unaware of the great reasons why being a partner is a fabulous job. Why don’t they know? Amazingly, it’s because the partners haven’t told them!
When partners tell me about their staff’s exasperating lack of ambition, I flip the conversation back to them. I ask what they have done to mentor and groom their staff. What have they done to educate their staff on why it’s great to work at a CPA firm and how wonderful it is to be a partner? When partners are honest, many admit that, sadly, they have not addressed these issues directly and clearly with staff.
When I started my first job out of college with Ernst & Young, my goal was to be a partner. I had absolutely no clue what it took to be a partner or even what it meant to be a partner. I just knew I wanted to be a partner because that was the pinnacle of success.
Today’s young people aren’t like my fellow baby boomers who started their careers when I did. Baby boomers share many personality traits. One is this: when our bosses said, “Jump,” we asked how high. Today’s young people say, “Why should I jump?” or “I’ve got a better way.” Plain and simple, they don’t want to be a partner until someone explains what it means.
Why do I want partners to read this? Because I hope this blog causes them to ask themselves if they are doing everything they can possibly think of to mentor staff, especially those with partner potential. Partners should share with their staff how fantastic it is to work at a CPA firm and eventually become a partner.
So here’s what I want readers of this blog to do:
- For young people, here are the reasons why working at a CPA firm is a great job and why it’s great to become a partner.
- For partners, consider this blog a crash course on how to get your staff champing at the bit to work at your firm, stay at your firm, and eventually become a partner.
Why It’s Great to Work in a CPA Firm
- Here is what a CPA is not: a “numbers” person or a personality-less math nerd. It used to be so, but not anymore. Computers do all the math work for us so we can focus on what’s more important – helping clients solve their business problems. One caveat: You can’t suck at math. But you don’t have to be anything more than average at it.
- When young staff are asked what the best part of their job is, the hands-down winner is the social aspect. They love the opportunity to interact with their peers and create a social network that they value highly.
- It helps them build their interpersonal skills – a key to their future success, regardless of what they do later in their career. Forming effective relationships with clients and firm personnel is just as important a career-builder as filling out a 1040 or reading up on section 957 (d) 2(a) transactions.
- The work is interesting and challenging; you help clients run their business, advise them, and solve their financial challenges.
- Staff get paid a handsome salary and benefits package while the firm provides intensive training. You can’t get better than that!
- Staff get to work with a diverse number of businesses; there’s lots of variety.
- They learn how companies run and how the business world works.
- Formal, continuous mentoring of partners.
- Access to cutting-edge technology.
- Should staff decide not to continue working at a CPA firm, they have a solid foundation for their next job, whatever it may be. Accounting is the language of business.
- Tremendous flexibility in how they work: they set their own hours, have remote work options, and they decide when and where they work.
- Job security – most CPA firms are recession-proof, thus being immune to layoffs.
- If you do well, the ultimate reward is being a partner – see the next section.
How to Bring in New Partners is written for firms fortunate enough to have staff with the right stuff to be a partner. But firms don’t know how to develop staff into partners. They don’t have an established financial and operating process for bringing them in as new partners or have outdated approaches. Staff who aspire to be partners don’t know what being a partner means. Topics include: what a partner is these days ► the path to partner ► skills that partner candidates need ► best practices and key concepts in bringing in a new partner, such as buy-in amount, ownership percentage, compensation, capital, and how voting works ► the non-equity partner position and how it compares to an equity partner ► what a new partner gets for the buy-in ► non-compete and non-solicitation agreements ► how the firm’s partner retirement/buyout plan works.
Why It’s Great to Be a Partner in a CPA Firm
Why would anyone say no to this?
- Functioning as an entrepreneur in a small business.
- Unlimited flexibility in how, when, and where you work.
- Working with clients you love and who love you back.
- Challenging and interesting work as you help clients grow and solve problems.
- Having staff to delegate lower-level work to.
- Mentoring young people.
- Having tenure, just like professors (firms almost never fire partners).
- Earning more than 99+% of all people. For 2021, CPA firm partners at local firms earned almost $600,000. It takes hard (though not excessive) work, but a staff person doesn’t have to be a genius to earn the partner promotion.
- Earnings security – most CPA firms are recession-proof; almost every year, their revenue and profits increase.
- Having almost no accountability (pardon the sarcasm).
There is one obstacle: when we talk to staff about being a partner and they don’t seem excited, the most common response by far is that they observe the partners working all the time, and they don’t want to work like that. They feel there is more to life.
When we discuss this with partners, they slough it off. Common responses:
- “I like my work and I don’t mind working the hours. Why should I stop doing what I love?”
- “I don’t work that much time. The national average of 2,350 total work hours is only 270 hours of overtime. That ain’t so bad. Besides, maybe 120 of those hours are additional vacation that staff don’t get.”
- “I tell staff that yes, some of our partners may work long hours, but it isn’t required. There are no rules that require partners to work long hours. We do it because we love it. And we get paid based on our overall performance, not how much overtime we work.”
- “A top executive in any business works overtime. If you want to be successful and rise in any organization, it’s very hard if you only work 9 to 5.”
I honestly don’t have an answer to this dilemma. Should partners work fewer hours to encourage their staff to remain with the firm? Possibly. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what partners can do to dispel the image that they work all the time.
As partners approach retirement age, they naturally focus on who can take their place and eventually write their retirement checks. Prospective new partners often have a lot of questions about what becoming a partner entails. Many firms either aren't sure how to bring in new partners or have outdated approaches for doing so.Learn More