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by Derek Loosvelt | April 15, 2013


From December 2012 through February 2013, more than 7,900 accounting professionals took the Vault Accounting Survey, the results of which are used to compile our annual accounting rankings. And this year, New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers was the big winner, as it ranked No. 1 in the top two categories: the Vault Accounting 50 (a ranking of the firms deemed the "best to work for") and Prestige (the most prestigious firms to work for).

This year marked the first time that PwC took the top spot in the Accounting 50 (a ranking that factors in prestige, firm culture, overall satisfaction, compensation, work/life balance, training, and business outlook). It also marked the first time that a firm ranked No. 1 in both the Accounting 50 and Prestige. Which perhaps underscores PwC's dominance of the accounting industry when it comes to employer desirability.

PwC has long been known as the most prestigious accounting firm to work for—this year was the fifth in a row that it topped Vault's Prestige Rankings. Yet it has also been known as a grueling place to work. However, in recent years, the firm has tried to improve the quality of life of its employees, and its rankings this year perhaps proves that PwC’s workplace initiatives have been working. The firm significantly outranked its prestigious Big 4 peers in just about all of Vault’s quality of life categories, and it even outranked many of its mid-sized competitors, which historically have been known as much more congenial places to work. Here's one insider talking about life at PwC:

The increasing quality of life and work/life flexibility options at the firm are tremendous. Even first-year and second-year associates are given the option to take a summer sabbatical for up to three months, as this is during the firms ‘down’ time. In addition, the firm offers lucrative bonuses for passing exams, such as the CPA or CFA exams. Top-notch health care options and 401(k) plans don’t hurt either.

On the heels of PwC was Deloitte, whose No. 2 ranking in this year's Vault Accounting 50 was a step up from its third-place finish the past two years. Meanwhile, Deloitte hung on to its No. 3 ranking in Prestige. Here's an accountant speaking about her experience at Deloitte, a firm well known for its excellent training programs:

Deloitte provides numerous career development opportunities, including opportunities to transfer to a new service line, assume various leadership roles, and roll off or on specific projects. Career development is also accomplished through formal trainings conducted at Deloitte University, a state-of-the-art training facility. I believe that during my time at Deloitte I have been provided with countless opportunities to develop as a tax professional and I believe that, had I started my career at a different firm, I would not be the caliber of tax professional that I am today. 

Taking the No. 3 ranking in the Vault Accounting 50 was Grant Thornton, which ranked No. 1 in the Accounting 50 two years ago but fell to No. 2 last year. Chicago-based Grant Thornton—which outranked the Big 4 in just about every quality of life category, including firm culture, work/life balance, compensation, hours, informal training, overall satisfaction, promotion policies, and supervisor relationships—was the highest ranking non-Big in the Accounting 50 as well as in the Prestige Rankings. GT, which accountants at peer firms call "an up and coming force in the profession," ranked No. 5 in Prestige. Here's one Grant Thornton insider speaking about his experience at the firm (and how it differs from life at a Big 4 firm):

Since coming to Grant Thornton a year ago from a Big 4 accounting firm, my quality of life has significantly improved. This can be credited to two different things: the firm's policies and stance on work/life balance, and my manager and superiors. The firm has many policies in place to ensure I’m able to work at home when needed, take days off, or work a flexible schedule. This enables me to be present at home when I’m needed the most. Additionally, my supervisors are excellent at recognizing when I’m working hard and need to take breathers. They encourage me to take time off to do things I enjoy and not have work consume my life.

Here's the complete top 10 of this year's Vault Accounting 50:

1. PricewaterhouseCoopers
2. Deloitte
3. Grant Thornton                     
4. Ernst & Young
7. McGladrey       
8. Rothstein Kass
9. Moss Adams
10. Plante Moran 

For the rest of the rankings, and to see which firms ranked No. 1 in areas such as compensation, hours, work/life balance, and promotion policies, among 20 others, see the complete Vault Accounting Rankings.

Happy Tax Day.

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