PwC Takes Top Spot in Vault Accounting 50 for 2015
For the first time in the five-year history of Vault.com’s  rankings of the top 50 accounting firms to work for in North America, a firm has held the top spot as best accounting employer for two consecutive years.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC)  was ranked No. 1 in the 2015 Vault Accounting 50 , which was released yesterday by Vault.com, a website that specializes in career management and job search information. This was the second year in a row  that PwC has been atop of Vault’s list.
“We’re thrilled to be recognized as the No. 1 firm for the second year in a row on Vault’s Accounting 50 list,” Terri McClements, PwC vice chair and US human capital leader, told AccountingWEB. “This recognition affirms not only the caliber of talent we are able to attract, but it also demonstrates our ability to provide world-class development opportunities, create greater flexibility, and offer meaningful rewards to our people. We continue to look for ways to create a distinctive experience for each of our partners and staff, and solve important problems for our clients and stakeholders. Being part of Vault’s list tells us we’re on the right track.”
The other three Big Four firms – Ernst & Young LLP (EY) , Deloitte LLP , and KPMG LLP  – were ranked second, third, and fourth, respectively, by Vault. Rounding out the top five was Grant Thornton LLP  (see sidebar).
“Our consistent ranking [in the Vault Accounting 50] is reflective of Grant Thornton’s commitment to building a high-performance culture by offering employees a variety of work/life options and exposure to a range of professional opportunities to help them continually develop and improve their skills,” CEO Stephen Chipman said in a written statement.
The rankings are a result of Vault’s accounting survey, which was conducted from November 2013 through January 2014. The survey was sent to an initial pool of approximately 80 accounting firms so they could assess their peers on a scale of one to 10 based on prestige, according to Derek Loosvelt, Vault’s senior finance editor. For prestige, survey respondents were unable to rate their own employer and were asked to rate only firms with which they were familiar.
For the first time in the survey’s history, participating firms were also asked to rate their peers in three practice areas: audit and assurance, forensic accounting, and tax accounting. The reason for doing this was to give better information to job seekers, Loosvelt told AccountingWEB.
“Since those are the bigger areas, we just wanted to see how the firms rated in these categories,” he said. “So if someone is really interested in tax or forensic, this gives them a little bit better information.”
Outside of prestige, accountants who participated in the survey were asked to rate their employer in 24 quality of life categories. Vault uses six of the categories – firm culture, work/life balance, compensation, overall job satisfaction, business outlook, and formal training – to create a weighted formula that reflects the issues survey respondents felt are the most important. The formula’s weighted percentages are:
- 40 percent prestige
- 20 percent firm culture
- 10 percent work/life balance
- 10 percent compensation
- 10 percent overall job satisfaction
- 5 percent business outlook
- 5 percent formal training
Out of the pool of 80 firms, 31 took the survey and qualified for the workplace category rankings. Those that didn’t complete the survey could have ranked higher on the list if they had done so.
“Prestige is based on outside perception; it doesn’t have anything to do with how employees are rating their employer. But the rest do,” Loosvelt said. “If you don’t take the survey, you’re likely not going to have that 60 percent of the other Vault Accounting 50 formula.”
New to the 2015 List
Six firms that were not ranked in the 2014 Vault Accounting 50 made Vault’s latest list. They included:
- Brown Smith Wallace LLC  (ranked 18th)
- Lurie Besikof Lapidus & Co. LLP  (26th)
- Raffa PC  (28th)
- Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP  (31st)
- Blue & Co. LLC  (48th)
- Aronson LLC  (49th)
Harvey Wallace, CPA, managing partner of St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace, told AccountingWEB the firm is excited to have cracked the top 20 in its first year of participating in the Vault survey.
“But we’re even more thrilled that our people feel this way about the firm,” he said. “We were second in overall satisfaction and fifth in culture, and we’re most proud of that kind of feedback from our team – or what we call our ‘family.’ We’ve gone against the grain and grown organically in one metro area, tripling in revenue in the last 10 years. We think the positive results reflect how we value and treat our people. We weren’t sure we were large enough yet for Vault but decided to take the plunge, and obviously we’re delighted.”
Minneapolis-based Lurie Besikof Lapidus, another first-time survey participant, has been working the past three years to define its culture to the point where “a line forms out the door for talented people and new clients,” Managing Partner Beth Kieffer Leonard told AccountingWEB.
“The competition for both is at an all-time industry high,” she added. “For our people, we encourage their input into creating a firm that they want to be a part of for the long term. Debuting at No. 26 in our first year of participation is one of the reasons we are extremely proud to be included in the 2015 Vault Accounting 50.”
Jeff Capron, managing partner of Rockville, Maryland-based Aronson, which also cracked the top 50 for the first time, said the recognition by Vault is a result of efforts the firm has taken to improve recruiting, recognizing, and rewarding top talent.
“We’ve been thinking ahead on behalf of our clients for more than 50 years, and we take the same approach to hiring and nurturing top-tier talent in the pursuit of world-class client service,” he told AccountingWEB. “At Aronson, being a great firm to work for is more than just a saying – it’s a strategic imperative.”
Midtier Firms Fare Well in Workplace Categories
Not only did PwC rank first as the top accounting employer, it was also named the most prestigious accounting firm – and it swept all three of the new practice area categories, according to the results of Vault’s survey.
However, midtier accounting firms took first place in 17 of the 24 quality of life areas in the survey. In particular, New York-based Friedman LLP  and Southfield, Michigan-based Plante Moran  together took top honors in 11 of the 24 categories.
“A lot of these midsize firms are a lot more nimble [than Big Four firms], so they are able to be more personal and provide a better work/life balance and work on their culture. So I think that’s why those firms have traditionally dominated – and still do – the workplace categories,” Loosvelt said. “But I think in recent years, the Big Four got a wake-up call, and they have had to start focusing on those types of things more. They couldn’t just stand there and say we’re the most prestigious so we’re going to get the best people. They had to make it a little bit better to work there, as well.”
First-place winners in the 2015 Vault Accounting 50 quality of life rankings include:
- Friedman: work/life balance, overall satisfaction, compensation, supervisor relationships, diversity for individuals with disabilities
- Plante Moran: firm culture, promotion policy, internal mobility, leadership, business outlook, informal training
- Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP : benefits
- Armanino LLP : hours, travel requirements
- EY: client interaction, green initiatives
- PwC: hiring process, diversity for LGBT, diversity for veterans, overall diversity
- KPMG: formal training
- Raffa: diversity for women, diversity for minorities, philanthropy
Mix of Old and New Comprise 2014 Vault Accounting 50 
How a Firm Makes the Vault Accounting 50