The Boomerang Effect: Exploring The Return To Public Accounting

In recent years, the demand for accountants and the specialized skills they possess has become remarkably high.  As a result, these professionals, particularly CPAs with previous public accounting firm experience, have had many opportunities to diversify their skills in a variety of companies.  But perhaps one of the most noteworthy trends since 2008 has been the transition to private industry.  Due to the financial crisis, many financial institutions faced new regulations that required them to hire an influx of internal accounting professionals to help them comply with updated standards and new governmental regulations.  Because of this sudden need, several accountants left their public firms to work in private industry and gain new experience.  However, this trend has recently shifted, and many of the CPAs who left public accounting firms are now returning—creating a boomerang effect.

“If you have made the transition to private industry and are interested in returning to public accounting, you are in a great position right now to make that move,” says Irv Myones, a Senior Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Accounting/Finance division.  “I even have clients specifically asking for candidates with experience in private industry.  They want professionals who not only understand public accounting, but also possess a specialized business skill set that they developed while working in private industry.”  Irv explains that this is occurring in firms of all sizes, including the Big 4 level.  In fact, EY has even stated that 30% of its experienced new hires are former employees that have come back to the field.  So why are accountants returning to public accounting firms?  Here’s what Irv has to say:

They are looking for new challenges

Because public accounting firms have such a diverse roster of clients, the work can be more varied than what they were responsible for in private industry.  “Through this broad range of work, there is a potential for variety and new challenges,” explains Irv.  “This makes these public firms very attractive to motivated accounting professionals.  As the economy continues to improve, public accounting firms are gaining new business and expanding their scope of services.  As a result, returning to public accounting is an opportunity for CPAs to further diversify their experience with clients they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.”  This can provide just the type of challenge that a professional needs in order to take the next logical step in their career.  For example, by taking the time to learn about an industry that you haven’t had much exposure to, you have the ability to carve out your own niche and explore new areas of specialization.

They can see a wide array of career paths

In public accounting—where accounting is the business—there can be many more opportunities for CPAs to grow professionally.  According to Irv, the chances for a promotion, especially when returning with experience in the private industry, are higher.  “In a public firm, accounting careers can take many different trajectories, particularly when you’re reentering with newly acquired business skills,” he says.  “Plus, you may have higher level opportunities within reach at a public firm, like partner-level roles, where there is also a high demand at the moment.”

Company culture is shifting

In acknowledgement of the talent shortage, Irv has observed significant strides made by public firms in order to retain top talent.  “They’ve pivoted toward a more relaxed company culture to better accommodate employees,” he says.  “From a more casual dress code to more flexible hours, employees can find a more predictable work-life balance outside of their busy season.”