Big 4 or Local Accounting Firm: Which Path is For You?

Graduates who have earned an online Master of Science in Taxation from Northeastern University are well equipped to work in the constantly changing tax industry. According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service’s Annual Report to Congress, the tax law of the U.S. is perpetually changing to manage problems and streamline the process. The 2017 report alone made 11 legislative recommendations based on over 20 serious problems identified in the research.

With an advanced certification, career options have opened up and you can choose between working at one of the “Big Four” certified public accounting firms or at a regional CPA office. While it is always possible to switch professions from working in one to the other, researching the differences between the two operational styles can help you decide which profession is right for you.

What Are The Benefits of Working with a Big Four CPA Firm?

The Big Four CPA firms in the U.S. and around the globe are Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte), Ernst & Young (E&Y), Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). According to The Wall Street Journal, these four firms audit roughly 99 percent of all organizations operating in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index and about 96 percent of companies in the FTSE 250 Index.

Since each of these firms are multinational organizations, you can expect to be working with a diverse portfolio of powerful client companies. The Big Four also pride themselves in having the best financial experts in the world at their disposal so you will likely be working alongside the most talented and intelligent accountants on the globe. As highlighted by The Accounting Path, this can make for an incredible on-the-job learning experience that can help keep you sharp and at the cutting edge of the financial industry.

In addition, those working at any of the Big Four CPA firms can expect to be at the forefront of salary as well – depending on the position. With a few years of experience and a graduate degree, you may be able to land in a management position. According to Big 4 Career Lab, consulting senior managers at one of these companies can earn $222,000 in New York City, while those with an advisory-focused senior management position in Chicago can earn $172,000.

Salary potential can appear more attractive in New York City at various levels of management. Moreover, Big 4 Career Lab’s data showed consulting-focused Big Four accountants tend to earn higher salaries.

Beyond the U.S., job opportunities may be available internationally. The Big Four firms have operations spanning the globe. KPMG, for instance, has locations in the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the U.K. If you have an interest in international tax law, you could advance from a U.S. location to one overseas. Beyond the professional benefit, such employment opportunities can offer you the chance to see more of the world while growing your career.

What Are The Benefits of Working with a Regional Firm?

Within every state in the U.S. there are numerous regional CPA firms where those with a Master of Science in Taxation can feel properly utilized and challenged. These organizations have no international reputation to consistently uphold; they are not responsible for trillions of dollars of transactions and filings. Instead, each serves a valuable function in a more regional community.

In addition, many regional firms tend to focus more on private clients and companies and less on publicly-traded organizations. This reduces the amount of SEC regulations that auditors are required to perform.

As a result, you may have more opportunities to utilize the breadth of your accounting knowledge. For instance, working at a Big Four firm may give you a narrower focus due to the aforementioned regulations and company scale, such as the process independence requirements when filing financial statements for organizations of the size typically within the Big Four portfolios. Regional firms can require you to handle payroll, tax, auditing and other tasks for your clients, giving you more rounded work experience.

Regional firms remain competitive at lower salary levels compared to the Big 4 firms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and auditors can expect to make a median $69,350 per year, based on 2017 results.

Understanding What Is Needed to Succeed with The Big Four

In an eFinancialCareers article, there is a common thread among the expectations of every Big Four company job: The salary potential correlates to the scope of the work. Success often relies on the ability to manage multiple tasks at once and working extended hours to ensure task completion. Additionally, the client type and associated risk lends to close supervision and quality control.

Those who enjoy being part of and eventually managing large teams for a single account, with members handling various tasks, can thrive in a long-term career with a Big Four firm. Moreover, the skills gained within this setting can prove instrumental in leading or establishing a local firm later.

Understanding What Is Needed to Succeed with a Regional Firm

Accounting positions at a local firm can better suit professionals who want to own client relationships and more often use the range of their expertise. The varying tasks assigned to a professional in this setting can also prompt new ideas for continuing education, so success can relate to a desire to learn more about unfamiliar concepts.

Moreover, greater agency can apply to a regional firm’s operations, not just client interactions and service. While EY and other Big 4 firms have operational and managerial structures that attempt to best align across all of their many locations, local ones may present you with agency to better define your role in a sense that supports company objectives and your career goals.

Which Path Is Right for You?

Each individual should choose a career path that best fits their career goals and lifestyle preferences. Those who prioritize career advancement and wish to remain on the forefront of industry operations are best suited for a professional life among the Big Four. If you are more family-inclined, however, and do not enjoy the idea of working long hours and living in high levels of stress, you should consider pursuing a career with a regional firm.

Research conducted by Truity Psychometrics has found that different personalities can find success in different work environments and through pursuing various professional careers. Understanding whether the Big Four or a regional firm will make for a more rewarding, satisfying career experience is reflective on comprehending personal goals and developmental desires.

Whether you choose to work at one of the Big Four firms or a local firm, earning an Online Master of Science in Taxation at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business can help advance your professional journey toward personal success.



National Taxpayer Advocate

The Wall Street Journal

The Accounting Path

Big 4 Career Lab

KPMG Office Locations

Kreischer Miller


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Truity Psychometrics