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How a Firm Makes the Vault Accounting 50

Apr 19th 2013
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By Jason Bramwell

When Hang Bower received word last year that BDO USA LLP had made the 2013 Vault Accounting 50, it took her by surprise.

BDO USA, a Chicago-based public accounting and consulting services firm, was among an initial pool of accounting firms that Vault selected based on the firms' annual revenues, number of employees, and previous Vault survey data, Derek Loosvelt, Vault's senior finance editor, told AccountingWEB. Vault eventually chose its 2013 top fifty best North American accounting firms to work for from that pool.

Last year, BDO USA didn't participate in the employee survey – a key component of how Vault ranks its top fifty. Still, BDO USA finished twenty-ninth in Vault's 2013 rankings. While pleased with the result, Bower wanted to learn more.

"Any public accounting or professional services firm holds its reputation in high regard", Bower, executive director of human resources for BDO USA, told AccountingWEB. "We didn't want some false award. So we contacted Vault to better understand how it ranked us."

Even though BDO USA didn't participate in Vault's employee survey, the firm received a high score in prestige – another component of Vault's ranking system in which firms rate other firms, similar to a peer review. Vault also randomly contacted BDO USA employees from a contact list that the firm provided to gain more information for its quality of life rankings – a third part of Vault's scoring system.

"Vault compiled these quotes from some of our employees, and they were dead on. They were exactly what our employees would say", Bower recalls.

This year, BDO USA did participate in Vault's employee survey, which – coupled with its prestige and quality of life scores – propelled the firm to fifth on the 2014 Vault Accounting 50.

As you can see by BDO USA's 2013 ranking, accounting firms that make Vault's initial pool of candidates don't necessarily have to take Vault's employee survey to make the top fifty, but it doesn't hurt, Loosvelt says.

"If you want to position your firm to rank higher in the Vault Accounting 50, and if you're in the pool that we invite to take the survey, then I would participate in the survey", he adds. "Typically, once [firms take] the survey, they see the benefits. Not only do we highlight them as one of the top fifty firms in the industry, but they also get to see what's going on in their company in all these different areas, which people tell us is really helpful.

"If your firm isn't among the pool, or if we didn't contact you, then you can always reach out and tell us why your firm should be included on the list", Loosvelt continues. "We consider all firms for that pool, but it doesn't mean the firm is going to be ranked. However, to be ranked, I would recommend taking the survey."

Summarizing the Process

This is the fourth year that Vault has released its top fifty rankings. During the summer and fall of each year, Vault determines which firms should be included in its initial pool of candidates. For the 2014 rankings, Loosvelt says there were eighty-five firms chosen for the pool, and each were contacted by Vault and asked to take the survey. Of those eighty-five firms, twenty-six participated in the survey. 

"People took the survey from December 2012 until February 2013", Loosvelt states. "We usually send the surveys to recruiting, and they send them to their accounting professionals. We exclude consultants, administrators, or financial advisors from taking the survey."

First, employees have to answer questions on twenty-four "best to work for" categories as part of Vault's quality of life rankings (see sidebar). For the past four years, Vault has also released which firm ranked first in each category.

"To qualify for the rankings in any of those categories, you need a certain number of people to answer each question. I believe this year it was approximately twenty people", Loosvelt says.

When Vault asks accounting professionals what matters most to them in choosing an employer, firm employees indicate that although prestige is important, it's not the only determining factor. In addition to prestige, Vault uses six of the twenty-four "best to work for" 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 feel 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

"As you can see in the 2014 top fifty, after the first twenty-six firms, the scores drop off, and those are the firms that didn't participate in the survey", Loosvelt says. "Organizations pass out a lot of surveys these days, and we understand that. So we then try to reach out to those firms that declined to take our survey to see if we can get enough responses for them to qualify for the top fifty. If we don't get ahold of those firms, then their scores are based on just prestige."

Treating Employees and Clients Well

Both BDO USA and Roseland, New Jersey–based firm Rothstein Kass believe that the way they treat their employees and clients was a key factor in being ranked in the top ten of the 2014 Vault Accounting 50.

"The one thing that is most relevant to our clients and to our employees is our work/life fit", Bower of BDO USA says. "We're truly committed to making it work for almost any flexible arrangement for our clients as well as our employees and partners. It's not even a program; it's just who we are. The old adage that work and home life are separate is just not us. Communication and trust are probably the two biggest keys to making our work/life flexibility plan work."

Bower adds that clients have also recognized how well BDO USA professionals are treated.

"I heard one client say, 'Wow, BDO does treat its employees well, which means that would be good continuity of service for us because their turnover is low.' Just ensuring our clients that we have low turnover is a huge benefit for us", she says.

Christopher Mears, a principal at Rothstein Kass, says being ranked eighth in the 2014 Vault Accounting 50 validates how the firm runs its business and how it focuses on its clients and employees.

"In order to run a good business, you need good people", Mears told AccountingWEB. "So when we look at our business and our strategy, one of the key areas we focus on is to be the firm of choice. To be the firm of choice, we then have to focus on our culture and our people."

Rothstein Kass has six core values that are an important part of the firm's culture: 

  • People first
  • One firm, one team
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Have fun
  • Passion in what we do

"We have a dedicated management team that really focuses on how we put people first and what the things are that employees want and need to have a long and successful career here", Mears says. "Our attrition rate the past few years has been one of the lowest in the industry, so that proves our model is working. Because we have a low attrition rate and because we attract high-quality talent, our clients benefit."

Both Bower and Mears say their firms have started to include the recognition from Vault in marketing and promotional materials.

"We definitely are publicizing [it] during our new partner orientation and during some of our training", Bower says. "We're also getting outside recognition, too. It helps to validate our internal processes; what we're doing and what our employees like."

"We're always competing against the larger accounting firms, and this recognition provides us credibility for people who want to come work at or do business with Rothstein Kass", Mears adds. "We want the people lining up at the door to come in. We want them to find us rather than us going out to find them."

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