Let’s Hop In a Time Machine and Talk About Public Accounting Perks and Comp Circa 2011

Imagine if you will being magically transported back to the year 2011. As you aggressively yank your jeggings over your calves while waiting for Angry Birds to update over your 3G connection, “Somebody That I Used to Know” plays gently (and incessantly) in the background.

The phrase “orange Cheeto man” didn’t even exist in your vernacular and your Facebook friend list was probably a bit longer as you had yet to get unfriended by your fringe cousins over not sharing their political beliefs, whatever those may be. And all the memes looked like this:

There’s been quite a bit of discussion over the last 14 months about how accounting firms tightened their belts as the pandemic took hold, and while many of these “necessary” cost-cutting measures have been rolled back, it’s clear that many public accountants are feeling a bit stiffed as they realize they’re missing out on some of the perks of yore. I mean, I don’t know about you guys but I don’t even want to live in a world without free meat. What a travesty.

Some folks are feeling jilted these days, and who can blame them? Literally the only reason to hang around is the perks, and without those, you might as well go do taxes out of the back of a hair salon because hey, at least Morty at the beauty shop tax hut goes home to his family at a reasonable hour more nights than not. This distinct absence of benefits (and no, “unlimited PTO” is not a benefit, stop pretending like it is) is even causing a noticeable lack of seniors around the office, as tired and un-bonused associates bail before their “mandatory” two years are up because what’s the point if you can make more elsewhere and still get the Big 4 resume item you came for?

A recent r/accounting comment perfectly summed it up:

Big4 has rested their entire recruitment strategy on having the Big4 on your resume. Well guess what? You only need to work there for a year-ish to have that on your resume. No reason to stick around longer if they firms are going to continue to treat people the way they do.

Business has absolutely wagered everything on short term thinking. It worked for the decade after 2008 due to labor’s ability to raise wages completely shattered. Well the times are a changing and the Boomers are (finally!) retiring or dying (thanks COVID). Now the job market is a white collar wet dream.

TLDR: Sucks to suck

In 2011, though, things were different. Hell, even McGladrey (or as the kids know them today RSM) was handing out iPads like firm-branded stress balls at Meet the Firms. iPads, people. The bounty was so rich back then even Aronson — ranked 59th on the Accounting Today Top 100 in 2011 — gave out iPads. This of course all came after PwC gave every single person at the firm $1,000 and an iPad of their own in 2010.

2011 was the year Crain’s New York let firms brag about the good shit they were dangling in front of recruits, like steak dinners (again with the free meat, eh?) and — surprise! — iPads. Jesus, were iPads on clearance in 2011 or something? They were everywhere.

It’s no wonder, then, that employers are aggressively working on quality-of-life issues and recruiting incentives. At the Metis Group, perks include flexible work hours, a firm-sponsored kickball team and full company payment to prepare for and take the CPA accreditation exam, according to Managing Partner Glenn Friedman. The firm also gives out iPads for stellar performance.

In Ms. Teibel’s case, she hadn’t even been hired when the generosity began. Before she started with Berdon in January 2011, the firm had paid the $4,000 it cost her to prepare for the CPA exam. And before the interview process, Ms. Teibel had been wined and dined by Berdon partners.

“All that attention truly meant a lot to me,” Ms. Teibel said. “In an economy like this one, I’ll feel secure for years to come.”

You’ll note Metis Group — you know them as Prager Metis these days — was one of many firms that made cuts early on in the pandemic, though we feel compelled to mention that Mr. Friedman told us at that time that the firm was eager to fully restore staff salaries as soon as economic conditions allowed.

2011 was also the year KPMG rolled out its “Early Career Investment Bonus,” which meant that a then-first-year senior could pocket a whopping $36,000 extra if they stuck it out at the firm for six years. Did anyone do this?

Apparently the debut of PwC’s new compensation structure was the most popular Going Concern post that year, and it allegedly included a spreadsheet breaking it all down; however, it seems said spreadsheet has been lost in the sands of time. And by “sands of time” I mean that a lot of old posts got screwed up after this website was shuffled to multiple different owners and content management platforms over the years. Sorry about that. AWOL spreadsheet aside, we do know that the firm expected “an approximate average raise of 8% per year and 16% per promotion year.”

On the topic of compensation and PwC, let’s also remember that 2011 was peak “millennials ruin everything and also expect to be fulfilled in their careers can you even believe that shit” season. This naturally led to many firms deciding that the youfs cared more about “making a difference” than “making money hand-over-fist or at least enough to afford a midsize sedan and their own apartment.”

Said then-PwC Chairman Dennis Nally in July 2011: “Having a competitive compensation base is really important. It’s [also] about how to create an environment where people want to be. This millennial generation is not just looking for a job, they’re not just looking for salary and financial benefits, they’re looking for skill development, they’re looking for mobility, they’re looking for opportunities to acquire different skills and to move quickly from one part of an organization to another. How you manage that sort of talent and how you deal with their expectations is very different from what’s been done in the past.”

Even though the oldest of us are now turning 40 (yikes, I know), no doubt firms will continue to struggle with how to scratch this itch for millennial workers as if we’re aliens who defy the laws of physics and insist on ruining everything from haute strip mall cuisine to fabric softener just for funsies.

Oh and then there’s the 2011 Robert Half Salary Guide which we reported on in October 2010. The sages over at Bob Half predicted “compensation for accounting and finance professionals should see commensurate gains” and reported salaries rose anywhere from 1% to 3%. However, my former colleague Mr. Newquist wrote:

Salaries for tax, audit and “management services” are surprisingly tight with audit on the low end followed by MS and then tax. This is consistent across all levels (i.e. associate, senior, manager, senior manager/director).

Also noteworthy is that public accounting salaries keeps pace with the in-house gigs at their relative corporate ladder levels. For example, an audit manager at a “Large Firm” makes only $4k less than a Internal Audit Manager at a “Large Company” and actually does better than many analyst positions at the “manager” level.

In other words, if you’re considering a lateral move, DON’T. You likely won’t make more money and you may end up making less. If you’re dying for changing, this of course means that you’ll have to find your way into a position that is a step above your current job to get a significant boost in salary.

Yeah but at least free meat was still a thing.

The nice thing about having an archive that goes back 12 years is that we can refer to time-stamped evidence of how public accountants were paid going back to 2009. So the next time some Stockholm syndrome Xer at your firm tries to gaslight you by telling you that firms have always been thrifty with the perks and bonuses, point them straight to the iPads. IPADS FOR EVERYONE! BRING BACK IPADS! And Angry Birds while we’re at it.

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