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Life of a Public Accountant

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  • Jun 12th, 2021 10:37 pm
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 1, 2021
1 posts
2 upvotes

Life of a Public Accountant

I'm writing this post to look for advice. Up until this time, I thought that because I was an accountant, I'm supposed to be working long hours and draining myself because that's what all accountants do. This past tax season has taken a serious toll on my mental health. Let me tell you what I currently do.
I'm a Staff Accountant at a public tax firm in the greater toronto area. Now this company only has about 10 employees, however we are servicing over 2500 clients per year. We prepare T1, T2, and T3 returns, as well as provide bookkeeping services for multiple businesses, some of which take about 100 hours to complete. Our busy season starts in January and runs until the end of June. My hours of work per week during this time is 60 at minimum, but I've hit as high as 84. And that's in one week. Is this normal?? Our off season isn't so bad because we work only 35 hours a week.
Now this wouldn't be so bad if all of the work was distributed evenly between our employees, but it's not. Majority of the workload tends to fall on me because no one else can do it, literally. I'm the only CPA in training, everyone else in the company isn't qualified and doesn't plan to become qualified either.
You would think that my coworkers would acknowledge my workload and be somewhat considerate about it, however it's totally the opposite. I get pressured daily to finish tasks ahead of time. We set deadlines for every clients to ensure we get the work done on time. But comments are still made when the work isn't done one week ahead of the deadline.
My manager has been telling me that I'm receiving very good pay for what I do, but I'm sure they're just saying that to keep me here. $37/hour seems pretty average to me. What do you guys think?
I'm pretty young (3 years of experience) and still have my life to live. I do not want to stay here any longer and definitely don't want to work like this for the rest of my life.
Are all accounting jobs like this? Does anybody work a 9-5 with good pay? If so, how long did it take you to get there?
19 replies
Sr. Member
User avatar
Feb 12, 2006
865 posts
416 upvotes
lol. Public Sector employee complaining about having to do work.

Why don't you go work for the Big 4 or private?
Newbie
User avatar
Jul 22, 2009
27 posts
2 upvotes
Toronto
If your rate is $37/hr, that means you get paid for all your overtime? Even if you're not getting paid for overtime that's just under $70K per year which is a year 1/2 senior at the large firms (consistent with your 3 years of experience). Your rate is in line with market, though hours will differ across firms. The unfortunate thing is that if you're a strong performer, you will always be rewarded with more work or more complicated/tedious work. I do think 55-80 hours is fairly consistent with what I experienced over my years in public practice, both at a small CPA firm and a large audit firm. Between May-June, I'd say it's more of a 50 hour type of week. I've left public practice now, working for a private company but hours are still more of a 9-6/7 type of day.

I'm not sure why you're the only one qualified to do the work, even if the staff are not CPAs in training, your partners will be signing off on the engagement so it doesn't matter who does the work. Given all the engagements you mentioned do not require the firm to provide assurance, it really should not matter.
Jr. Member
Aug 6, 2011
114 posts
32 upvotes
Toronto
desolatioN wrote: lol. Public Sector employee complaining about having to do work.

Why don't you go work for the Big 4 or private?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've read, OP seems to be working for a public tax firm (i.e. Big 4) which is different than working for the public sector (i.e. government)?

@ OP

Unfortunately, 60 hours seems to be the norm from my colleagues who have started off (3 - 5 years) in public accounting (i.e. auditing), and during tax/audit season they would work for 80-100 hours a week. Typically, after receiving their CPA designation, or passing the CFE, they would either get a promotion, or exit to an in-house/corporate, or management accounting where the hours are more stable/lower.

In terms of compensation, $37 / hour seems to be in line with the average assuming that $37 / hour is pre-tax, and accounts for 7 hours / day.

If you want a career in accounting with more stable hours, consider in house accounting/management account such as budgeting, forecasting, reports, journal entries. etc. Feel free to PM me if you have more questions relating to management accounting.
Deal Addict
Feb 7, 2006
2285 posts
874 upvotes
The long hours are definitely normal during busy season, but the pay is not - you're actually making great money considering you get paid by the hour. Also based on your own post, outside of busy season your hours are much less. So all things considered, seems like you have a pretty decent situation on your hands. If you're interested in public accounting/tax, I don't think you're going to do much better than this in terms of hours (and you'll do worse in terms of pay most likely).
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Nov 2, 2013
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Edmonton, AB
I worked 60-105 hours a week when I was busy (though not as a public accountant). Catch was at least I was paid decent for it, so I had something (a future / reward) to look forward to.
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Sr. Member
May 24, 2007
524 posts
179 upvotes
bubbles2130 wrote: I'm writing this post to look for advice. Up until this time, I thought that because I was an accountant, I'm supposed to be working long hours and draining myself because that's what all accountants do. This past tax season has taken a serious toll on my mental health. Let me tell you what I currently do.
I'm a Staff Accountant at a public tax firm in the greater toronto area. Now this company only has about 10 employees, however we are servicing over 2500 clients per year. We prepare T1, T2, and T3 returns, as well as provide bookkeeping services for multiple businesses, some of which take about 100 hours to complete. Our busy season starts in January and runs until the end of June. My hours of work per week during this time is 60 at minimum, but I've hit as high as 84. And that's in one week. Is this normal?? Our off season isn't so bad because we work only 35 hours a week.
Now this wouldn't be so bad if all of the work was distributed evenly between our employees, but it's not. Majority of the workload tends to fall on me because no one else can do it, literally. I'm the only CPA in training, everyone else in the company isn't qualified and doesn't plan to become qualified either.
You would think that my coworkers would acknowledge my workload and be somewhat considerate about it, however it's totally the opposite. I get pressured daily to finish tasks ahead of time. We set deadlines for every clients to ensure we get the work done on time. But comments are still made when the work isn't done one week ahead of the deadline.
My manager has been telling me that I'm receiving very good pay for what I do, but I'm sure they're just saying that to keep me here. $37/hour seems pretty average to me. What do you guys think?
I'm pretty young (3 years of experience) and still have my life to live. I do not want to stay here any longer and definitely don't want to work like this for the rest of my life.
Are all accounting jobs like this? Does anybody work a 9-5 with good pay? If so, how long did it take you to get there?
I feel for you. 2,500 T1s with only 10 staff sounds fairly unreasonable to me. That's 250 returns per staff assuming all 10 does returns. Not knowing the full situation... I hesitate to dish out advice but I would explore the possibility to go to a bigger firm - do the same # of hours but w/ better exit opportunities.

In regards to your comment about work not being evenly distributed. This is something that you will need to get used to. This is especially true for our line of work - my files do not equal your files. You might be doing 10 files concurrently and I am only doing 1. This looks unfair but your 10 might be simple #cos with nothing going on whereas mine could be a complex audit...etc. We all gone through this self-doubt and constantly ask how we are doing comparing to our neighbors. This never stops. If you are feeling underappreciated, sit your boss down and ask him/her about your total billable hours and recoverability. If your recovery is comparable to others, and your total billables > others, they are underpaying you.

Once you get your CPA, it CAN get better but not if you stay with the firms. On average it takes about 5 years (3 years articling and 2+ years post firm and CPA experience) to get to a comfortable spot. E.g. 85k+, reasonable hours. Again this depends on your experience. If all you do is personal tax + bookkeeping... it will be a tougher transition for you. That's why big firm experience is valuable.
Newbie
Mar 31, 2017
82 posts
45 upvotes
bubbles2130 wrote: I'm writing this post to look for advice. Up until this time, I thought that because I was an accountant, I'm supposed to be working long hours and draining myself because that's what all accountants do. This past tax season has taken a serious toll on my mental health. Let me tell you what I currently do.
I'm a Staff Accountant at a public tax firm in the greater toronto area. Now this company only has about 10 employees, however we are servicing over 2500 clients per year. We prepare T1, T2, and T3 returns, as well as provide bookkeeping services for multiple businesses, some of which take about 100 hours to complete. Our busy season starts in January and runs until the end of June. My hours of work per week during this time is 60 at minimum, but I've hit as high as 84. And that's in one week. Is this normal?? Our off season isn't so bad because we work only 35 hours a week.
Now this wouldn't be so bad if all of the work was distributed evenly between our employees, but it's not. Majority of the workload tends to fall on me because no one else can do it, literally. I'm the only CPA in training, everyone else in the company isn't qualified and doesn't plan to become qualified either.
You would think that my coworkers would acknowledge my workload and be somewhat considerate about it, however it's totally the opposite. I get pressured daily to finish tasks ahead of time. We set deadlines for every clients to ensure we get the work done on time. But comments are still made when the work isn't done one week ahead of the deadline.
My manager has been telling me that I'm receiving very good pay for what I do, but I'm sure they're just saying that to keep me here. $37/hour seems pretty average to me. What do you guys think?
I'm pretty young (3 years of experience) and still have my life to live. I do not want to stay here any longer and definitely don't want to work like this for the rest of my life.
Are all accounting jobs like this? Does anybody work a 9-5 with good pay? If so, how long did it take you to get there?
Are you salaried? If you’re studying for your CPA I’m guessing you are salaried and not eligible for OT which makes your salary roughly $70Kish. You also mention there’s only 10 employees so you’re not at a Big 4. For being in the 3rd year of your career, you would likely be a first or second year senior at a Big 4 so your salary seems pretty competitive if your bonus is included. If your bonus isn’t included, that’s probably better than what the Big 4 would pay you.

Speaking from someone is in Tax at the Big 4, you’re probably pulling in similar hours as Big 4 staff who excel in their roles. Unfortunately the general consensus seems to be more work for doing great work, so high performers will generally pull in similar hours to what you’re referring to. There are also some staff who don’t care so much about their annual reviews and are content with average performance ratings and those staff generally work 200 to 250 OT hours annually.

From what you’re describing though, it seems like the other employees are not willing to do more work even though they can. Anyone can prepare T1, T2 or T3 returns or do bookkeeping as long as there’s some quality control by having a partner do a review. Hell, tax returns and bookkeeping don’t even need to be done by CPAs. You should be speaking with your partners to see if there’s an ability to offload some of the work to the other employees and offer to review it or do training instead - might help show some leadership and visionary skills towards partnership if the employee hourly rates are lower as it will result in cost efficiencies.

I’ve been with the Big 4 my entire career. I agree hours are pretty horrendous during tax season but I love the flexibility off season and the very obvious career trajectory at the Big 4. Not for everyone but you pretty much know when you’ll be promoted and salary ranges thoughout your career. Everyone you work with is usually the cream of the crop since they have their pick of top applicants from the universities. Very rarely do you get someone who is disengaged and doesn’t care about their career. Its competitive but it’s up or out, for those who choose to stay, so you’ll hardly ever encounter someone who’s choice it is to stay at the senior or manager level forever.
Deal Fanatic
Mar 21, 2010
5777 posts
2614 upvotes
Toronto
Yes most are like this at junior levels - with a caveat. Most junior accountants/auditors put up with ridiculous hours because of their future careers, because they get good training, ideally good role models within the firm, and wherever they go next, the name of their previous employer is worth something, i.e., they are a (insert name here)-trained accountant and that has value.

You don't seem to have that. If you're a junior accountant and you're the only one who can/is asked to do many basic accounting things, and your manager doesn't care, that doesn't sound like it's doing much for your career. It sounds more like an H&R kiosk in a mall than a public accounting firm.
Deal Fanatic
Dec 20, 2018
5178 posts
4235 upvotes
desolatioN wrote: lol. Public Sector employee complaining about having to do work.

Why don't you go work for the Big 4 or private?
Where did you get that from? Why would public sector employee be doing bookkeeping for businesses?

Do you not know what public accounting is?
Jr. Member
May 24, 2017
115 posts
161 upvotes
I think you should leave for a few reasons. (1) common misconception that small firms are more friendly towards work/life balance some of the smaller firms are slave drivers (2) you aren’t getting great experience or could be getting better experience (likely w/better hours) at a larger firm (3) it sounds like your team/coworkers are micromanaging you and, with the hours you are working, who wants that?

I think you could easily get hired as a senior at a national firm or big 4 and hopefully you fall into a good group. If you are actually getting paid OT at the job might be worth it to stay as it sounds lucrative at your level.

Personally I have done 7+ busy season in public accounting and it’s not worth it. Go into HR, marketing or something where u don’t have to deal with as much complexity and OT. Who wants to work all the time for basic office pay? We aren’t making IB pay so not sure why the expectation is IB hours.
Sr. Member
Jan 8, 2009
752 posts
833 upvotes
You can get your CPA through industry (e.g. banks, manufacturing companies, etc.). Work-life-balance is much better there. Most people leave public accounting - especially once designated.
Member
Aug 12, 2016
260 posts
65 upvotes
While not exactly in the same boat as the OP, but i have had my own struggles in this profession. I just recently joined a Big 4 Firm as a Senior and got my letters in Nov 2020. Previously before i got my letters, it was easier to grind and work these insane long hours of 60-80 sometimes 100 hours plus a week during busy season because you were working towards your designation. I get very pissed off when the firm surrenders to tough clients, lazy clients for e.g. if they are December Year End clients and instead of forcing the client to give us all their information by January or February, the firm lets the client wait till early, middle, end of May or even June to provide us with the stuff and then you have to deal with massive pressure, abuse from the Partners, Managers to get it done and when you have numerous December Year ends in the same situation, it becomes a problem.

IMO having quality disciplined organized clients makes lives easier for the clients. Anyways i did a tough Feb and what looks like a tough June season but i resent doing these hours now, especially since i now recently got married and my wife is going to come join me in Canada and also have a terminally unwell parent who doctors have said does not have much time left. Grinding like crazy working these hours for a flat pay cheque with no over time and then you think about the quality time you missed out on with your loved ones, is it really worth it?

I am looking to personally aim for atleast one plus year of Big 4 experience but then i have to desperately find alternative options
Deal Addict
May 16, 2005
2892 posts
297 upvotes
Sorry for a side track of the original post, but just curious from those in public accounting, how has Covid impacted on the working environment? I know consulting wise, it hasn't skipped a beat, and most of the work being done previously onsite, transitioned nicely to WFH and zoom calls.
For audits and advisory services, did it transition to WFH? I imagine some of the grunt work could be done remotely, but some of the activities like inventory counts would still need to be in person?
Newbie
Oct 26, 2020
38 posts
51 upvotes
Get out as soon as you can. Start applying now.
Deal Addict
Dec 27, 2007
3603 posts
1149 upvotes
Edmonton
bubbles2130 wrote: .....
My hours of work per week during this time is 60 at minimum, but I've hit as high as 84. And that's in one week. Is this normal?? Our off season isn't so bad because we work only 35 hours a week.
Sounds not bad. I just did 14 hour shifts. 7 days a week. 42 days in a row.
That's 98 hours a week and doesn't include travel to and from work. 11 days left

My manager has been telling me that I'm receiving very good pay for what I do, but I'm sure they're just saying that to keep me here. $37/hour seems pretty average to me. What do you guys think?
Its okay, not bottom of the barrel and not the creamy top

I do not want to stay here any longer and definitely don't want to work like this for the rest of my life.
Then quit? I don't stay in a job for longer than a few months max, I'm at 3 jobs already for 2021 and I started mid january
Are all accounting jobs like this? Does anybody work a 9-5 with good pay? If so, how long did it take you to get there?
No idea. X 3.
Good luck!
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Member
Sep 16, 2017
347 posts
235 upvotes
Jokkon wrote: I feel for you. 2,500 T1s with only 10 staff sounds fairly unreasonable to me. That's 250 returns per staff assuming all 10 does returns. Not knowing the full situation... I hesitate to dish out advice but I would explore the possibility to go to a bigger firm - do the same # of hours but w/ better exit opportunities.

In regards to your comment about work not being evenly distributed. This is something that you will need to get used to. This is especially true for our line of work - my files do not equal your files. You might be doing 10 files concurrently and I am only doing 1. This looks unfair but your 10 might be simple #cos with nothing going on whereas mine could be a complex audit...etc. We all gone through this self-doubt and constantly ask how we are doing comparing to our neighbors. This never stops. If you are feeling underappreciated, sit your boss down and ask him/her about your total billable hours and recoverability. If your recovery is comparable to others, and your total billables > others, they are underpaying you.

Once you get your CPA, it CAN get better but not if you stay with the firms. On average it takes about 5 years (3 years articling and 2+ years post firm and CPA experience) to get to a comfortable spot. E.g. 85k+, reasonable hours. Again this depends on your experience. If all you do is personal tax + bookkeeping... it will be a tougher transition for you. That's why big firm experience is valuable.
your posts always give me hope. im at the 3 year mark about to be designated.
Sr. Member
Mar 4, 2010
529 posts
227 upvotes
Toronto
get out of auditing and get into industry. You'll be working maybe 50 hours but never more than 60 during the busiest time of the year but a much more comfortable pace with better support. I loathe our engagement auditors because none of them know what they're doing and they take 2x the amount of time someone with experience can do.

I've been an assistant director of finance, controller, etc. I've settled at assistant controller level making 100k+ working between 40-48 hours a week. That includes a few hours 'grazing' type work (like walking past the fridge to get snack type). I do it not because i have to but because i want to. These are mainly process improvements and research into best practices. Other times, like tonight, i'm putting together team building games for the week.
Jr. Member
Oct 16, 2019
174 posts
88 upvotes
Pay is not bad, 8 know many public accountants who works for small firms earn a few bucks over minimum wage.
Sr. Member
Jun 18, 2020
678 posts
560 upvotes
StatsGuy wrote: Where did you get that from? Why would public sector employee be doing bookkeeping for businesses?

Do you not know what public accounting is?
That user you quoted is triggered by the mere appearance of the word public. Didn't read past the word I'm sure.

That's what happens when the public sector tells you you're not good enough. Chip. Shoulder.

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