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Guy Who Works at a Firm Actually Named FML on Why Accounting Is a Great Career

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So a guy named Brian Kelleher who works for the hilariously named FML CPAs has written an opinion piece for the Hartford Courant entitled “Opinion: Accounting is a fantastic career — despite common misconceptions.” Let me preface everything that is about to be said here with this: Accounting is a fantastic career and I sincerely believe that or I wouldn’t have spent the last 15 years painstakingly and often obnoxiously pointing out things that are wrong with it. I don’t want to see it die — jokes about how miserable it is here aside — not only because I’d be out of a job if it did but because accountants provide a vital service to modern civilization. The world needs them. Without them operating quietly in the shadows of capital markets the whole thing would fall apart. So why are they so unappreciated and underpaid?

Anyway, enough with the corny shit. When this opinion piece popped up in my Google News I was hoping for a refreshing take on the benefits of accounting as a career and some passionate cheerleading. Maybe a field report from some young, enthusiastic former partner who started in public and ended up controller at a cool startup or doing taxes for NBA stars or something. Perhaps finally some common misconceptions would be smashed!


Accounting is a field with high demand, and successful accounting students are virtually guaranteed employment upon (or even prior to) graduation. I’m involved in recruiting for one of the largest accounting firms in Connecticut. When I talk to students about their biggest concerns in pursuing an accounting degree and a career in public accounting, they typically point to four misconceptions: lack of work-life balance, the difficulty of the CPA exam, lower pay compared to other financial career paths, and lack of excitement in the work.

Each of these objections is based on a misunderstanding of what a public accounting career is really like in 2023.

With all due respect, sir, these are not misconceptions. Pretending as if they are does a great disservice to young people and is part of the reason why the younguns have issued a collective “fuck that” when it comes to accounting. It depends on the firm of course but given that professors across accounting departments everywhere urge students to go into public accounting (miserly Big 4 firms in particular) with the threat of a pathetic career doing taxes in a strip mall for the rest of your life if you don’t, we need to be honest about starting salaries at public accounting firms. Yes, accountants have incredible lifetime earning potential. Fact. Yes, CPAs do even better over a lifetime. Fact. Good luck selling that to a 22-year-old kid with data analytics skills who can make buckets more money out of the gate in a different field when there’s a cost of living crisis.

The disappointment only grows from there. Here’s his take on work-life balance:

In accounting, finding balance is a matter of weighing the value of hard work and career progression. You get out of the job what you put into it. But the job doesn’t have to include excessive overtime hours every January through April. There’s been a shift in expectations in the industry — while you may be asked to work some overtime during the busier times, you have more flexibility around your schedule to accommodate other events in your life.

“You get out of the job what you put into it” compelled me to Google this guy, you can imagine my shock when I found a young Gen Xer and not an old man who had to walk to the uphill both ways in the snow to sit for all four parts of the CPA exam on a hard chair in a cattle barn on the Indiana State Fair Grounds over two days.

Way to minimize the reality for countless public accountants. Some of them are working more than ever due to firms being short-staffed, the offshore teams have it even worse. This claim is disingenuous at best, he should have stuck to the “yeah you have to pay your dues early on but it pays off as you advance up the ladder” pitch. Is there greater flexibility these days? Sure. Because people started quitting en masse if they couldn’t get it. It shouldn’t have taken a worldwide pandemic for firms to start letting people pick their kids up from school in the afternoon and finish their work from home later in the evening. Do many government and industry accountants have it better? Yep. Could have led with that, at least that’s mostly factual. And a big reason why so many accounting grads are bypassing public completely and going straight to industry or sticking to the more progressive tech-focused small firms. Let’s not lump them in with the public accounting meat grinder.

Moving on. The CPA exam is hard. Fact. Much like the ritual beating one must endure to gain lifetime membership into a street gang, it is at its core a test of one’s dedication to the profession with a test of entry-level knowledge secondary to that. “The path to becoming a CPA is challenging, but doable if approached strategically,” he says. Well obviously. If it wasn’t doable, no one would do it. Increasingly, they aren’t. This is a value proposition problem and as of now, the profession has not done a good enough job demonstrating value, something you’d think a bunch of accountants would excel at (no pun).

It’s true that becoming a CPA takes effort and dedication. A fifth year of college is generally required (to obtain the 150 credit hours required to become a CPA) even if you’re not getting a master’s degree in accounting.

Also, the CPA exam is hard. Only about 20 percent of candidates pass all four sections on the first try — a lower pass rate than the bar. But you don’t have to take all four parts at once, and the rates for passing each section are much higher, about 50 percent. As the AICPA points out on its website, “The Exam is not harder or easier to pass at different times. An increase in pass rates simply means that candidates are better prepared.”

The exam is doable if you approach it strategically, and the additional time and effort invested in becoming a CPA is worth its weight in gold.

This is your selling point? If I’d written this, I might have referenced This Way to CPA’s Why CPA? page. Under the “What’s in It For You?” section:

10-15% higher salary than regular accountants
Becoming a CPA is an investment. CPAs have the potential to boost their earnings by $1 million of their lifetime compared to a non-CPA in the same position.

I would not have referenced this from UWorld Roger CPA Review:

According to Monster Jobs, a CPA’s earnings over the course of 45 years is $3,200,000 if the starting pay is at $46,200 and the pay at 20+ years is $76,000. Such salary data was compiled by looking at the expected lifetime median earnings which were calculated for a 45-year period based on median annual pay levels for 1, 5, 10, and 20 years of experience in each position.

Yeah that’s got to be old info. It checks out though.

Thankfully those numbers have edged up in the last few years though it’s looking like the big jumps of last year are cooling off now.

Finally, here’s his pitch on salaries:

CPAs have a very strong starting salary, and comparisons can be deceiving

The idea that the pay for an accounting major coming out of college is lower compared to other finance or business careers is a bit misleading. Most college students in accounting have a job locked up by the beginning of their senior year — demand is that high. Everyone who leaves school with an accounting degree seems to get a job.

Bro at no point in that paragraph did you explain why it’s misleading, all you did was gaslight people about the accuracy of countless salary reports.

He does add:

Starting salaries in public accounting in 2023 are very good, typically exceeding $70,000. While other financial and professional fields might state similar or higher starting salaries, it’s important to note that they aren’t typically placing as high a percentage of students. It’s harder to get those jobs, and there aren’t very many of them, despite the volume of the surrounding buzz.

Like how he says “might state” as if investment banker salaries are some wildly unreliable As Seen on TV claim. Per the US Census Bureau, the median annual income for Americans in 2021 was $70,784. “Very good” is dependent on a lot of factors, for some people $70,000 is in fact very good. Let’s not kid ourselves, accounting salaries have lagged behind other fields for a very long time (see this 2022 Bloomberg Tax article “Accounting Faces Reckoning After Years of Sluggish Pay Growth“).

Now, high demand is an accurate selling point. In fact, it might be the best one the profession has. Young people may fall victim to being seduced into other career paths with the lure of better starting pay but at least some of them could be swayed into accounting by emphasizing that even in difficult economic times, accountants can find work more reliably than their classmates who went into tech or law. See also: At Least We Aren’t in Tech, Boast Smug Accountants Who Didn’t Get Laid Off Today. Sadly the layoffs came later.

In September 2009, Rick Telberg’s CPA Trendlines shared that the accounting industry added 2,300 jobs in August of that year while the broader US economy lost 216,000 jobs and unemployment hit 9.7 percent. For those not old enough to have experienced the Great Recession as an adult, that was a big deal and evidence of the profession’s resiliency even in tough times because boy were things dire back then. This is a strong selling point and one that is unique to accounting. Can lawyers say the same? No, see the “Notes From the Breadline” tag on Above the Law. Not that accounting escaped that period of time completely unscathed, comparatively speaking it hurt a lot less.

Next time go hard on the employability thing. That one’s not misleading. Talk about specific career opportunities available to accounting majors and tell stories of the people who work in and around the profession, especially those who aren’t in public because they seem to be happiest with their chosen career. That’s a better pitch than “the money isn’t that bad and the work-life balance is fine most of the time except for several months out of the year.”


One thought on “Guy Who Works at a Firm Actually Named FML on Why Accounting Is a Great Career

  1. I agree with the original article. As a Xennial audit partner, those 4 misconceptions are just that misconceptions. 1. Flex schedules have been around before the great resignation or Covid. Since 2007, I was allowed to choose when I worked as long as it got done. 2. I’m one of the 20% who passed on the first try, but it was about the study habits. 3 hours a night for a year, basically. I also adopted a child in that time period. 3. The pay is double what I was paid starting out in 2007, which is a great move forward. 4. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I think handling someone’s accounting worries gives peace of mind, and that’s what makes it exciting: helping people.

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