Weighing Clients vs Salary

To give some background on myself, I am very interested in the government and non-profit space. Before recently, my unwavering plan was to start my career in a small professional services firm (dominant in my state but only in my state) doing auditing and financial consulting work with school districts, municipalities, and non-profits with the hope to ultimately end up at a client and do innovative work improving financial management and revenues streams of the school district. However, after doing a business services rotational at a local district, short audit experiences with the local firm, and interactions with the Big 4, I am less sure what I want to do.

My concerns with going the governmental route with intention to leave for a client are as follows:  

–          Many of those in director positions and up have thought of better ways to do things but their hands are tied through regulations – there is a decent chance I may not be able to be innovative.

–          The people in the government agencies I have gotten to know (pretty numerous) are great. However, I usually have to reach up to the Director or higher level to connect with someone intellectually. The majority of those on the ground are not very educated or driven. (It has been brought to my attention that this is an issue outside of professional services in general – not just government)

My concern with going the governmental route with intentions of staying in professional services:

–          If I decide to stay in professional services AND choose the government route, it seems almost certain that I won’t innovate. These government agencies do not have the money to pay professional services firms to do innovative work and on the professional services side I wouldn’t have the decision making ability to decide to do something innovative like I eventually would as CFO of the agency.

If I am likely not going to innovate, at least I’ll be around smart people. What is the pay differential between Big 4 and a national firm that does a lot of work in the government and non-profit space such as CliftonLarsonAllen?

On the government agency side, I would max out around 100 (not withstanding adjustment for cost of living if I was in large expensive city such as LA or NYC). I am having a difficult time deciding between the professional services routes though because I am not certain what the pay differential is so that I can weigh that against having the clients I am most passionate about.

Part of the problem is I would not dislike working with the large business Big 4 has as clients – I am just not passionate about it. Nor is there a large difference between how I get along with the people at the two firms. I very much enjoy both. It seems that the question really does come down to slary versus clients. However, I am not familar with what the difference in salary really is to even begin to try to make that judgement call. 

Are there other factors I am ignoring here that I shouldn’t be? Do you know how pay compares between Big 4 and CLA? 

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