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by Derek Loosvelt | September 27, 2011


For nearly a decade, Vault has released rankings of the top accounting firms in the U.S., helping students and experienced professionals make more informed career decisions.

grant thorntonWhen Vault initially began ranking accounting firms, we only ranked firms in terms of prestige—that is, in terms of a firm’s reputation as perceived by professionals at other accounting firms. Later, Vault increased its rankings offerings to include “quality of life” categories, such as firm culture, compensation, hours, management treatment, diversity, training, and business outlook, among others. In these categories, firms were rated by their own professionals, as opposed to those at other companies.

In the past, Vault’s main accounting ranking—the ranking featured most prominently on and in our annual Guide to the Top 50 Accounting Firms—was our prestige ranking. Last year, though, that changed.

After asking accounting professionals what matters most to them when choosing an employer, they told us, overwhelmingly, that firm culture, as opposed to prestige, is the most important determining factor. In fact, 36 percent of all accounting professionals we surveyed told us that firm culture was most important, while only 11 percent cited prestige as most important. The other top factors cited by survey respondents were: lifestyle/work-balance (14 percent), location (13 percent), compensation (5 percent), and training opportunities (also 5 percent).

As a result, Vault took this feedback and created a new Vault Accounting 50, showcasing the firms that are the Best to Work For—a ranking compiled using the following weighted formula that reflects the issues job seekers care about most:

40 percent prestige
20 percent firm culture
10 overall satisfaction
10 compensation
10 hours
10 business outlook

This new Best to Work For ranking replaced the prestige ranking as the featured ranking on and in the Vault Guide to the Top 50 Accounting Firms.

And so, below are the results of the 2012 Vault Accounting 50:

Our new No. 1 Best to Work For accounting firm is Chicago-headquartered Grant Thornton. With a score of 7.599, Grant Thornton edged out its Big Four competitors, beating No. 2 PricewaterhouseCoopers, which scored 7.583, and No. 3 Deloitte, which scored 7.544. Rounding out the top five were Rothstein Kass (6.693) at No. 4 and Dixon Hughes Goodman (6.466) at No. 5.

Why GT was No. 1
Although the Big Four firms PwC and Deloitte both significantly outscored Grant Thornton in terms of prestige, Grant Thornton handily beat PwC and Deloitte in nearly every quality of life category. In other words, while the two Big Four firms’ names still carry much more weight than Grant Thornton’s in the marketplace, insiders are much more pleased with their day to day work lives at GT than are their peers at PwC and Deloitte. In fact, non-Big Four firms ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in all but three quality of life categories (these rankings will be released over the next couple of days). Although Grant Thornton did not top any single category, it consistently placed ahead of PwC and Deloitte. Particular tough categories for the Big Four firms were hours and overall satisfaction.

What survey respondents said about GT

Grant Thornton received accolades from inside and outside the firm. Respondents outside the firm praised Grant Thornton for being a “well positioned, growing firm,” “committed to excellence,” “technologically advanced,” “knowledgeable,” and a “major player” with a “quality reputation.” GT insiders said they were extremely satisfied working for the firm, calling their jobs “challenging” and “mentally and socially stimulating” where you’re “never doing the same thing from one day to the next.” Although “there are periods of time when you work very hard, putting in long hours, these times are balanced out with others of down time.”

What they said about No. 2 (PwC) and No. 3 (Deloitte)

Survey respondents outside PwC called the firm “top of the class,” a “solid brand,” and “probably the most competent firm out there.”  PwC was also praised for its “exceptional expertise and people management,” and for being “high-class, friendly, and stable.”  Meanwhile, employees at PwC see big things ahead, saying that “PwC has a fantastic business outlook,” and pointing out that “unlike the rest of the Big Four, PwC forewent lay-offs during the economic downturn, which means we’re staffed and ready to build market share as the economy bounces back.”

As for Deloitte, last year’s No. 1 in the Vault Accounting 50 Rankings, the firm remains very prestigious, with insiders calling it “one of the strongest of the Big Four,” a “global leader,” and a “powerhouse.”  Respondents from inside Deloitte highlighted the firm’s ability to “hire students with the best GPA,” and applauded their “prestigious client base” and “good employee programs.”

Check out the rest of the firms ranked in the 2012 Vault Accounting 50.

And check back tomorrow when we’ll be releasing our 2012 Accounting Prestige Rankings, a ranking of the most prestigious firms in the industry.


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