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October 2, 2023

Hey Look, Some Bay Area Big 4 Senior Associates Aren’t Happy With Their Pay

While I was on the road last week, a thread from r/accounting dropped into my inbox: Big 4 Bay Area office thought it would be a good idea to screw seniors with one of the worst raises since 2008 and whoa boy:

They thought an $85k cap on all Seniors, regardless of performance, was a great idea. Now they only have half the seniors they need going into busy because a mass exodus occurred.

We are the ones that keep this firm functioning, and you think we deserve no more than a entry-level staff accountant?

I'm probably reading too much into it, but is that a hint of populism in this OP's tone? It is all the rage these days (in rhetoric, if not in practice).

In general, dissatisfaction with pay is not a new trend in the accounting profession. It's probably the main reason most people leave.  

What I'm unsure of is whether Big 4 firms are all that concerned about unhappy senior associates. In my own days as an SA in a Big 4 firm, I don't seem to remember any senior associates being happy about much of anything  — certainly not pay — and management didn't really do anything about it. I can also say that after spending twice as long writing about unhappy Big 4 employees than actually being one, It doesn't appear much has changed.

The firms have it easy because there are associates whose lofty partner ambitions have yet to be squelched by long hours and meager wages. When seniors leave, those associates move up and then new associates move in behind them. Yes, the firms lose some experience, but they have another hungry pack right ready to go and who knows, maybe they'll be smarter, faster, billabler (still won't be able to write a decent email or memo, though).

Smaller accounting firms don't have this problem, but boy, do they wish they did. There are a number of people out there that believe that Big 4 firms burn people out on public accounting for good so they'll never consider another position with a firm. To an extent that might be true, however, it's not like these firms are throwing so much money at accountants that they simply can't say no to a job with them. Most of the Big 4 people are damaged goods when they come out; they'll take their chances on just about any company that's not an accounting firm.

This is especially true in places like the Bay Area where billions of dollars get thrown around on every harebrained idea to come out of someone's mouth. If your friend's startup needs a senior accountant/janitor, why wouldn't you take that job? It probably pays more than what you were making and at least there's a discernible reason why your raise sucks. And who knows, you might not have to take out the trash forever and those stock options might be worth something someday.

Big 4 firms have been disappointing its employees for decades. Face it, it's part of the deal. If you can come to terms with that, you might have a future with one of them.


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