September 22, 2021

PwC Manager Believes Associates and Senior Associates Are Going the Way of the Dodo Bird

Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard but there’s a pipeline problem in public accounting right now. Seems some people finally got the memo that long hours and low pay isn’t worth the prestige of putting “worked at [INSERT BIG 4 FIRM NAME]” on their resumes anymore. And then there’s that other problem: those who got one Big 4 busy season under their belts don’t want to stick around for a second and instead are taking their talents to industry.

All this seems to be coming to a head in at least one PwC office, where a manager said on Fishbowl recently that PwC associates and senior associates should be included with red pandas, blue whales, and sea lions on the endangered species list:

OP added now that PwC has consolidated tax compliance and audit services into that one new group called Trust Solutions, it’s all hands on deck when a ton of new work comes in:

We had just won some work on my team and our US team and India team don’t have capacity to take it on. So the new policy is to bring in audit associates and seniors and then have tax managers and up review. I work out of [REDACTED] but I know it’s happening elsewhere. Our staffing team has already informed us we will be required to have a few tax associates and seniors ready to loan to audit during audit season. It’s a nightmare.

That’s the predicament the Big 4 firms are in right now. Teams and offices are already stretched super thin, so resources (i.e., the low men and women on the totem pole) are being brought in from other service lines to help out. But tax associates didn’t sign up to work in audit, and audit associates didn’t sign up to work in tax, which then leads to overworked and unhappy accountants who are trying to do a job they have little to no interest or expertise in. No wonder Big 4 accountants are leaving in droves right now.

And about that pipeline problem—here’s an excerpt of what Adrienne wrote last month:

[U]ltimately it boils down to the terminal uncoolness of accounting. And I don’t mean simply a PR problem, I mean the entire thing is just not cool. When college students are considering their options, accounting just doesn’t stand out as attractive; not to students looking to get rich and not to students looking for fulfillment in their work. Money is cool. A life outside of work is cool. Working for a brag-worthy company is cool. The accounting profession struggles to deliver on any of these things individually much less as a package, hence other career tracks luring students away.

Why be a tax associate and work 70 to 80 hours or more during the week and weekends during busy season until your brain falls out of your ears while making a salary that nowhere near rewards you for the hours and stress that are involved?

After we took a look at the most recent round of raises at PwC, those moving from A1 to A2 averaged a 17.2% bump in pay, which seems really good except there were no raises at PwC last year unless you received a promotion. So essentially that 17.2% average raise comprises this year and last year, which cut in half would be 8.6%. That would be less than the average salary increase for the same move up in the associate ranks in both 2017 (12.5%) and 2019 (10.7%). The move from A2 to A3 averaged a 20.1% raise this year, which cut in half is 10.05%—more than 2019 (7.6%) but less than 2017 (11%).

Will associates ever be an endangered species at PwC, like OP said? No. There will always be gullible college students who will accept job offers so they can make their parents proud that they got a job at a Big 4 firm and so they can write on LinkedIn, “I am thrilled to announce I have accepted a full-time offer as a tax associate in PwC’s Chicago office starting in the Summer/Fall of 2022. I am excited to start my career at PwC, blah, blah, blah.”

But the high turnover at Big 4 firms isn’t going to end anytime soon, and these wide-eyed new associates ready to take on the world are going to have the world dumped on their desks. And those who get assigned to work on teams in different service lines from their own can either grunt it out or do what this person from EY said he or she did:

Related articles:

What Exactly Is the Profession’s ‘Pipeline Problem’ and Why Should You Care?
Compensation Watch ’21: How ’Bout Them Raises At PwC?

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4 Comments

  1. Why work at the Big 4, when you can work fewer hours, focus on your areas of interest, dive deeper into more complex issues, and own processes from start to finish by making the switch to industry? And at many companies, you’ll make significantly more money at the same level. It’s a no-brainer.

  2. Greedy partners and useless diversity execs are sucking up all the money. Staff and seniors are suffering because of it.

    1. diversity execs??? I’ll never be woke enough to work for a national/international accounting firm again…I’m happy just waiting for the next article on why we need to bring more XXXXX’s into the profession. Those always make my week

  3. “Busy season” for anyone should be limited to 3-4 months of intense/peak effort, outside of which people should only be expected to work 40-50 hrs per week. In the accounting profession (incl Big 4/8), way-way back (last century), that’s how it was, but sadly no longer.

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