Should an Accountant Choose a Public Accounting Firm, Their Own Firm, or Industry?

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Leadership

It’s often the desire for a steady job, healthy paycheque, and high quality of life that appeals to those who choose to become a CPA. It isn’t a position you can attain through education or getting a degree alone – CPAs must pass an exam to gain official resignation, but this additional certification offers a number of benefits and career advancement opportunities.

Newly designated CPAs soon realize there are many accounting career paths to choose from, and they may inadvertently get on a career path that is not their own or a good fit. At a high-level, accountants and CPAs can choose between practicing at either a public accounting firm, starting their own firm, or working within the industry. It’s important to objectively highlight the benefits and drawbacks of each of these three career paths for accountants and CPAs alike. 


CPAs and Accountants in Vancouver who want to work in public accounting have several options to consider. They can choose between large international accounting firms, mid-sized, or boutique accounting firms. The largest international accounting firms are referred to as the Big 4 and include Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc., Ernst & Young, and KPMG, each with a sizeable presence in Vancouver, BC, and Canada. 

Mid-sized accounting firms would generally employ anywhere between 10 and 20 CPAs, whereas boutique firms would employ less than 10 CPAs. While public accounting firms can be very different from one another, there are common benefits and drawbacks across all public firms.  


  • Salaries are generally higher in public accounting than in industry
  • Greater variety of work and opportunities to explore areas of interest
  • Opportunities to travel
  • Partnership potential
  • Extensive professional network and mentorship opportunities
  • Public accounting experience looks great on a resume


  • Long hours and ever-changing work schedules
  • A high-stress environment with competing priorities
  • Travel that can quickly lose its appeal 


CPAs working in either public practice or industry will often have thoughts of starting their own accounting firm. The thought of working for yourself and getting a larger piece of the pie can dominate a CPA’s mind when they’re grinding day-in and day-out for another. However, owning your own accounting firm means in addition to being an accountant, you are now also a business owner. With this new responsibility brings a large part of benefits and challenges.


  • You captain the ship and decide the direction of the firm
  • You will receive a greater share of the profit of each engagement
  • Tax advantages of owning your own company
  • Looks great on the business card you give out at your high school reunion


  • You may need to carry the firm until it is profitable
  • Priority is given to paying staff before you, the owner
  • Performance management of staff
  • Time spent managing the firm rather than on billable work
  • Capital if the accounting firm is purchased rather than starting one from the scratch


Accountants and CPAs can decide to start their careers within a specific industry and company, or they can decide to move into this area after spending part of their career in public practice. It’s common for CPAs to leverage their experience in public accounting to attain a sought-after accounting role within a specific company or industry. While change can be good, and the grass may look greener on the other side, change for the sake of change doesn’t always lead to the desired outcome. 


  • More stability in work hours and daily tasks
  • Greater work-life balance
  • Opportunities to grow and advance into leadership roles such as a controller, treasurer, or Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Financial incentives like stock options
  • A regular pay cheque


  • Repetitive tasks and responsibilities
  • Slower career progression
  • Lack of career opportunities with smaller to mid-sized companies


Whether you’re a CPA that decides to work in public practice, your own practice, or within the industry, each of these three options are excellent career choices in their own way. The question becomes, what one of the three options is most aligned with your career objectives, and goals and will make you the most fulfilled not only at the end of the day but at the end of your career? Choosing a path is not a one-time proposition – remember that your career may take you from industry to public and back again; it’s all part of the journey. If you’re considering a career move, check out our current career opportunities on LinkedIn.