Ed. note: The following is a guest post from Dominic Piscopo, you may know him better as the guy who built Big4transparency.com. Like many of you, we’re a huge fan of his work. For the few people who don’t know who he is or what his site does, read on. Stay tuned for future insight from Dom on these pages and you can contact him here.
Look, we all know that public accounting salaries always have been and probably always will be a major point of contention. It’s a career path of extremes when it comes to compensation, with analysts working long hours for tough pay, new staff barely scraping by, and some higher ups really raking it in. These variations and feelings about them – good or bad – make compensation a favorite topic among accounting professionals.
Reddit is filled with compensation threads, it feels like every recruitment agency has a salary guide these days, and many professionals openly discuss compensation on social media (or at least discuss their dissatisfaction). How is someone to know the source of truth? I set out on a mission to create a single source of information, powered by the input of professionals: Big4Transparency.com, an earnings transparency website where accounting professionals can anonymously share salary data with peers. The site has nearly 12,000 entries to date and has been used by hundreds of thousands of accounting professionals to ensure they are being compensated fairly (or at least competitively). Despite this, many professionals are completely unaware that access to quality compensation data exists.
Now this leads to the next question: why does salary transparency matter?
Above all else, accounting firms are in the business of making money. The larger ones have pay bands that are based on (sometimes questionable) research and hard data on accounting salaries. We might feel like we’re being underpaid in these cases, but the firms are at least basing their figures on data being collected by a third party – heck many of them even have people validating salary levels directly on what’s being discussed on Reddit and similar forums. Some smaller firms don’t really know how much you should be getting paid and so to save money their incentive is to offer as low as they can find someone to fill the position, so could be offering way below market, and it’s up to you to look out for yourself. This is where having a source you can trust that shows you the real salary figures comes in handy.
Another reason why salary transparency matters: pay equity. I’ve got a cousin who found out during an International Women’s Day activity where people were invited to openly discuss salaries that she was getting paid significantly less than her male coworkers. Maybe they negotiated salary harder, who knows, but that’s pretty messed up and salary transparency helps shed some light on these matters.
And lastly for the purposes of this article though certainly not the only reason salary transparency is important, it allows for more informed career planning. I’ll put it bluntly – some of us may have made different choices if we knew what we were getting into. BUT some of us would have been more at peace with it along the way. If I’d known that in ten years I’d almost definitely be earning a salary well above that of the average career, I might have thrown less fits as an analyst unable to rent a one bedroom apartment. There’s an upside to a career in this field, it’s just easy to lose sight of it in the early years. Everyone having access to the same information facilitates better conversations around the profession. Salary transparency and discussions that happen around it compel us to ask important questions like “Is this really how we want to structure the compensation
pyramid curve or have we just inherited this structure from generations before and not stopped to question it?”
With the data on Big 4 Transparency, we’ve been able to open up discussions around topics like the loyalty tax (the gap between external hire and internal promotion salaries), the gender wage gap, which size firm has the highest level of job satisfaction, etc. Even more importantly, I’ve had countless users reach out to tell me that they were able to have frank discussions about salary with their employers, backed up by the data from Big 4 Transparency, which resulted in them negotiating a higher salary, or in some cases which resulted in them seeking out a new role where they would be compensated more in line with what their skillset was worth.
In short, it’s up to you to look out for yourself, and I’ve built a pretty cool tool to help you do so. I hope you find value in it, it’s free to use and if you’ve got ideas or feedback on it, I’m always listening and looking to improve it. If you’re looking to help the next person, you can anonymously add your own data to the pile if you so choose (but it’s not mandatory).
About the author: Before jumping to industry, I worked at the Big 4 firms in Canada where I was blindsided a few times by the salary. During my time there, I was able to prompt a raise for my whole cohort by canvasing the local firms for what they were paying people at my level. That was my introduction to the power of salary transparency and the inspiration for Big 4 Transparency.
Although I maintain a great relationship with the partners at the firm I worked at, and look back fondly at my time there, I think it’s crucial for professionals to have access to quality salary data. So it’s the mission at Big 4 Transparency to provide that to professionals for free.