Best Accounting Firms (Vault Top 50 Accounting Firms)

Two accountants at a desk
••• PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/Getty Images

The Vault Accounting 50 is a widely used and reported annual ranking based on surveys of employees and job seekers in the accounting field. The top 10 overall in the 2016 release of this survey are:

  1. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
  2. Deloitte LLP
  3. Ernst & Young LLP
  5. Grant Thornton LLP
  7. RSM US LLP 
  8. Plante Moran
  9. Moss Adams LLP
  10. Crowe Horwath LLP

Follow the links for more detail on the top 4, all of which are members of the prestigious and highly-regarded Big Four Public Accounting Firms. Thumbnail sketches of the next 6 firms on the list follow. All these firms have practice groups in audit, tax and consulting.

Grant Thornton is based in Chicago, Illinois. It employs 6,500 people in the U.S. and is the 6th largest accounting firm in the U.S. by revenues. It has a wide international presence.

BDO USA LLP was formerly known as BDO Seidman. It is the U.S. member firm of BDO International Ltd., with its U.S. headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. It has 50 offices and 5,000 employees in the U.S., plus 1,328 offices in 152 other countries.

McGladrey LLP, based in Chicago, Illinois, is the U.S. member of RSM International, a worldwide network of independent accounting and consulting firms. It has a staff of 8,000 located in 80 offices across the U.S.

Plante Moran is based in Southfield, Michigan. It has 23 offices and 2,200 employees, located in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. It also has international offices in Mexico, China, and India.

Moss Adams LLP, headquartered in Seattle, Washington, has 24 offices in the western U.S. and employs 2,000 people. It is the 15th largest U.S. accounting firm by revenue. It is a founding member of Praxity, AISBL, an alliance of over 100 independent accounting and auditing firms from over 97 countries and territories.

Crowe Horwath LLP is based in Chicago, Illinois and has 3,000 employees in 28 offices spread across the country. By revenue, it ranks 8th largest among U.S. accounting firms.

Ranking and Rating Methodology

Respondents to the survey rated accounting firms on these seven dimensions or attributes (the percentage weights in parentheses are applied to derive the overall ranking):

  1. Prestige (40%)
  2. Firm culture (20%)
  3. Work-life balance (10%)
  4. Compensation (10%)
  5. Overall job satisfaction (10%)
  6. Business outlook (5%)
  7. Formal training programs (5%)

Additional Criteria

Though they do not factor into the overall ratings, also includes these evaluation criteria in its surveys:

  • Benefits
  • Client Interaction
  • Green Initiatives
  • Firm Leadership
  • Hiring Process
  • Hours
  • Informal Training
  • Internal Mobility
  • Philanthropy
  • Promotion Policy
  • Relations With Supervisors
  • Travel Requirements

Also measured is diversity along each of these dimensions:

  • Overall
  • For Women
  • For Minorities
  • LGBT
  • For People With Disabilities
  • For Military Veterans

Limitations of the Rankings

While the rating and ranking methodology used by is highly detailed, it nonetheless represents a summary of the personal opinions of survey respondents. As a result, it is fundamentally highly subjective. Accordingly, these rankings may or not be representative of your own preferences in choosing among employers, work situations, and career paths. Another open question is how closely the pool of survey respondents actually represents the opinions of all employees.

Although the Big Four fill the top 4 spots overall, they regularly score much lower (usually in 20th place or below) along the dimensions that are most indicative of their desirability as places to work, most notably firm culture, work-life balance and job satisfaction. Being the top 4 in prestige, which gets the highest weight, accounts for their high placement overall. It suggests that the Big Four may be more desirable as resume-building stopovers in a career path pointed elsewhere than as long-term career destinations.

In the 2013 survey, BDO and McGladrey ranked 29th and 28th overall, respectively. By the next year, both had entered into the top 10, where they have remained since. Such a dramatic move raises questions about the robustness and quality of the survey samples.

About Vault

Founded in 1996 and headquartered in New York, seeks to inform job seekers about what it is like to work within a particular industry, company, or profession, and what is needed to get these jobs. Its database includes nearly 5,000 companies in over 120 industries, as well as over 840 professions. 

Best known are its rankings, ratings, and reviews of top employers by industry and hundreds of internship programs, based on directed surveys of active employees and enrolled students. Vault also allows non-participants in its directed surveys to submit online reviews of their experiences, pay, interviews, etc. These rankings and ratings are cited in major publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street JournalBloomberg BusinessWeekForbesFortune, and Money.