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Big 4 Partner compensation – how high is it really?


The pinnacle of the public accounting profession is making it to Partner, mainly because of the lavish compensation packages. However, this is something that most people in public accounting think

  • Is unattainable due to the pyramid like structure of the firm and the limited spots available, and
  • They can’t stay in public accounting and endure the long hours / stress long enough to make partner.

It is still something that drives curiosity, especially since you often hear wild numbers thrown out. I’ve heard numbers as low as $200k, and as high as $10m per year. So where is it actually and how can you tell who is making what?

Consider the following when discussing partner compensation:

1) New partners have to “buy in”

When someone becomes a partner, they are no longer and employee but rather a part owner in the partnership of the firm. This doesn’t just come as a promotion, but they have to put up serious capital to be able to buy in. There are programs within the firms where they can have the loan paid out of their partnership draw at a low/zero interest rate, but it definitely eats away at their compensation.

2) The partnership structure has different levels

Outside of the regular partners who deal with certain clients in their office, there are other partners with different roles and different income streams. You may hear partner titles thrown out such Office Managing Partner (OMP) or PCAOB reviewing partners, partners in specialized accounting roles, and then there are regional partners who may be over an entire state or two. For example, Scott London was the (former) Partner-in-charge of the audit practice of KPMG’s Los Angeles involved in a recent scandal in which he received a petty amount of cash and gifts totaling around $100,000 while his compensation was in the millions.

3) The bigger the client the bigger the fees

If the partner is like most other partners and handles client accounts, the engagements they work on drive most of their profits. For audit, general publicly traded companies have much higher fees and profit margins than the smaller private companies. For tax it really depends on the clients the partner has brought in. If a tax partner brings in a slew of individual returns they could be compensated higher than the partner working on a few corporate returns

4) Advisory trumps all

Advisory practices are specialty practices that have service lines dealing with technical issues such as implementing a new ERP system,  planning the risk of expanding to a new country, buying/selling a company and even IPO’s. These are all very expensive services that are extremely profitable and have driven a ton of growth in the past 10 years. Additionally, they don’t necessarily have to stay with a Big 4 to make some serious money. Many of the middle market companies go to smaller boutique consulting firms that specialize in the service they are after and can make more than the Big 4 Advisory Partners.

Audit/Tax Partner Compensation

Big 4

(Years : Low-Max)

1-5 years: $300-$500

5-10 years: $400-$1.3M

10+ years: $600-$3M

Small firm: (10-50 people): $140-$450

National Firm: $200-$800k


Advisory Partner Compensation

Local CPA firm: $200-$500

Big 4: $350-$5M

Boutique Advisory: $300-10M+


Do you have any comments or want to provide more data points for how much they’re bring in? Leave a comment below.

big 4 partner comp


10 Responses to “Big 4 Partner compensation – how high is it really?”

  1. samantha lal says:

    Are these figures per hour?

  2. Partners are delusional. I can’t believe they actually *choose* to buy into such old an stagnant businesses that will be disrupted by smaller and more agile players in the market.

    • Dave says:

      I would challenge that notion purely because if you want to independently audit a company, your business needs to be big enough that your independence can’t be easily compromised by the company you’re auditing.

      The Big 4 firms to try to innovate, but not at the speed that smaller practices can – so while the businesses might be overtaken by start-ups at some point, you’ve got quite a while before you worry about that.

      Also – as a Partner and co-owner of the firm, you’re in a position to start to start to drive changes and create your own innovations.

  3. JN says:

    actually – those big 4 ranges are pretty accurate. Just keep in mind that the typical year 6 to retirement aged partner makes in the 600-800k range. You have to be something special to get to the high end of the range and its not common, especially outside the high cost of living areas.

  4. […] on this estimate. This doesn’t work for me! Big 4 bound, a US site, has an article on how much do partners really make. Once again, this web site doesn’t tell you what partners actually earn, and guesses . . . […]

  5. GBA says:

    I am a retired partner since age 56 and my earnings ranged from $105,000 my first year back in the mid 1980’s to $1.3 million the year I retired about 7-8 years ago. Average now considering all the new and experienced partners should be about $850-$900K. (just an estimate).

  6. Joe Shmeltz says:

    I am a partner at PWC. I make 500k per year but had to buy in for 750k. The 750k is a 10 year loan that effectively reduces my salary by 100k per year. I work for 24×7 and have no time for family.

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