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How Are Public Accounting Salaries Stacking Up For 2021? (UPDATE)

[Updated on Oct. 29 with salary data from Accounting Principals. Article was originally posted on Sept. 10.]

You know fall is right around the corner when Robert Half releases its latest Accounting & Finance Salary Guide, and the 2021 edition is now available for download. But be warned: Due to everyone’s favorite pandemic, starting salaries for public accounting positions are expected to *barely* increase next year.

Of the five positions each under “tax services” and “audit/assurance services” in Bob’s 2021 guide, not a single one had a starting salary that was projected to increase by 1% this coming year. The biggest increase was 0.66% for staff with under one year of experience in both the tax and audit/assurance categories.

Before we post a screenshot of the public accounting portion of the salary guide, just a reminder that Robert Half breaks down its starting pay ranges by percentile, and there are four:

  • 25th: New to the role and still developing their skills.
  • 50th: Average experience and has a majority of the relevant skills.
  • 75th: More experience than is typical and has most or all relevant skills.
  • 95th: High level of relevant experience and expertise.

Also, bonuses, benefits, and other forms of compensation aren’t factored into the starting salary projections.

Here are the 2021 starting salaries for roles in tax services and audit/assurance services:If you want to compare these starting salaries to what was in last year’s guide, you can check out our article here. But I did the math on how much starting salaries for each of the positions above are slated to increase in 2021.

Tax services

  • Senior manager and director: 0.44% (25th)/0.55% (50th)/0.46% (75th)/0.46% (90th)
  • Manager: 0.57% (25th)/0.47% (50th)/0.59% (75th)/0.45% (90th)
  • Senior: 0.40% (25th)/0.34% (50th)/0.58% (75th)/0.43% (90th)
  • One to three years: 0.51% (25th)/0.42 (50th)/0.36% (75th)/0.54% (90th)
  • Up to one year: 0.62% (25th)/0.51% (50th)/0.44% (75th)/0.66% (90th)

Audit/assurance services

  • Senior manager and director: 0.45% (25th)/0.56% (50th)/0.47% (75th)/0.47% (90th)
  • Manager: 0.66% (25th)/0.54% (50th)/0.46% (75th)/0.52% (90th)
  • Senior: 0.46% (25th)/0.38% (50th)/0.64% (75th)/0.49% (90th)
  • One to three years: 0.56% (25th)/0.46 (50th)/0.39% (75th)/0.59% (90th)
  • Up to one year: 0.62% (25th)/0.51% (50th)/0.43% (75th)/0.66% (90th)

Yeah, not great. But there is still a demand for public accountants, according to the guide, as “companies, particularly small and midsize businesses, need help to support clients with consumer assistance programs and changing compliance deadlines,” so there’s that.

[UPDATE] Now let’s look at Accounting Principals’ 2021 salary projections for public accounting. The staffing firm released its 2021 salary guide for accounting and finance professionals in late October. In its guide, Accounting Principals publishes national averages for base salaries and base salaries by experience level.

Base salaries in 2021 are expected to increase an average of 1.7% for every single one of the 10 public accounting positions for which Accounting Principals tracks data.

Here are the salaries Accounting Principals projects for those 10 PA roles in 2021:

In addition, the average base salary for a staff accountant in industry with Big 4 experience is projected to be $86,469, while the average base salary for an accounting manager with Big 4 experience is expected to be $107,818—both 1.7% increases from 2020’s guide.

Related article:

How Are Public Accounting Salaries Stacking Up for 2020?