While high-profile companies may seem the best option for many accounting graduates, there are many ways to start your career, especially if you plan to stay in the Washington DC/Baltimore area. We have an abundance of quality of CPA firms in the Metro DC area. Each type of firm has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some points to consider.
Big 4 Firms. These are the largest Public Accounting firms in the world. They have offices across the country and around the world. They are truly international organizations. These firms have large departments focusing on Audit, Tax, Consulting, IT and Government Consulting. Because of their size, knowledge, experience and geographical reach, the Big 4 firms work for the largest publicly traded, privately owned and government organizations around the world. These firms generally provide the training necessary for advancement. They can provide a rewarding career path for the Accounting professional and pride themselves on hiring the best and brightest graduating accounting students.
If working for a Big 4 firm is important to you, be sure to do your homework. While training opportunities may be similar within all four firms, the make-up of their clients may be quite different. In the Washington DC area, there are several industry concentrations, including Professional Service, Non-Profit, Government Contracting, Real Estate and the Federal Government to name a few. If your interest lies in some other industry, such as manufacturing, you may need to relocate. The idea here is to make sure the city you are considering has clients in your industry of interest.
Additionally, you should also explore the various departments available within a Big 4 firm. Do you have an interest in Financial Auditing & Assurance, IT Auditing, Consulting or Tax? Some areas may require additional degrees to aid/insure your advancement.
National Firms. In many ways, they are very similar to the Big 4 in variety of client base, training and location. The offices in larger US cities will employ “hundreds” of employees, rather than the “thousands” found in the Big 4 offices. National firms also have an international reach. They work on publicly traded, privately held and government organizations. While it may be more likely that a Fortune 100 company will select a Big 4 firm as their auditor, National firms get their share of publicly traded clients.
Again, with National firms, the industry mix and type of work in the local office is varied, though there may be fewer specialties in a specific market than their Big 4 competitors.
Depending on your area of interest, you will want to make sure that department is part of the National firm. Similar to Big 4 firms, various graduate degrees may be important for advancement.
Regional Firms. These firms provide an excellent alternative to both clients and accounting professionals. Regional firms are not as large as the Big 4 or National firms. They also do not have the layers of bureaucracy necessary in a larger organization. Regional firms believe they can provide a more “hands on” or personal service to their clients. They believe they can pay more attention to their staff. Although most regional firms have their own in-house training sessions, some will supplement their in-house programs with programs provided by the AICPA or local State Societies.
As with the other firms mentioned, a prospective employee should explore the characteristics and strengths of the local office. These firms may have clients in various industries, but their local offices may rely on the firm’s expertise – which might reside in the corporate office. Quite often, the quality of expertise for a regional firm may equal or exceed that of a larger office, though they may not have as many experts.
In some regional firms, you may be asked to specialize in an area. Regional firms tend to have a local office with fewer employees than those of larger firms. They may also have offices in smaller metropolitan areas. For this reason, regional firms may provide benefits to accounting professionals interested in “quality of life” issues.
Local Firms. These firms range in size from a sole proprietor with a couple of staff, to over 250 professionals. The larger the firm, the more they will take on characteristics of a Regional or even National firm. They will provide a wide range of services to their clients. They may be part of a national affiliation, where they can share expertise with other similar firms. These alliances/affiliations can help a local firm meet the needs of their clients who are expanding their business in direction and additional locations.
The smaller the firm, the fewer services it generally has to offer. They may only have industry expertise in a few areas. Smaller firms may not do any certified audits. In most cases, they do not have the number of clients necessary to allow them to create the internal structure needed to meet the standards for providing auditing services. Some local firms will perform audits, but not on SEC clients.
The smaller the local firm, the more important tax knowledge is to the firm. Most of them do outsourced accounting where they will maintain their client’s general ledger on QuickBooks or other software. They often do payroll, record transactions, pay invoices and produce financial statements. From there, they will prepare the tax returns for the entity as well the key individuals. Small firms tend to acquire and maintain clients who use them as financial advisors in most matters.
Some local firms have become the go-to firms for clients in specific industries. For example, in the Washington DC area there are several local CPA firms ranging in size from 50 to over 250 professionals who are extremely competent in the non-profit industry. These firms are large enough to have partner rotation and in house expertise on all pertinent issues relating to the non-profit industry. They often compete for business with the Big 4 and national firms and win competitive bids in the non-profit industry. Their size gives them a price advantage even though their expertise level may be similar to the larger firms. The larger the Metropolitan area the greater chance there will be several local firms that can compete head on with the larger firms.