Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1 Year until I qualify - Is it really worth it?

Emie made a great post last week, about a potential change in career, and I have to say that, it is something that I have long and hard thought about. I am not a CA - yet.

I need one more year of experience until I become a CA. Now the question, that I really need to ask myself, and search deep inside myself.. Is it really worth it?

If you go all the way back to the very first post of this blog, you will recall me blogging about the "Young ambitious high school student." It talks about someone who is talented and smart, and has no idea what he wants out of his life.

That was me. Fast forward 5 years, and I am partly still the same way. I got my accounting degree. I have my UFE passed, and in one year, I will be a CA.

That is, If I stay.

Yes, busy season is bad and that partly may be the reason I am contemplating seriously quitting. But, a part of me feels that Big 4 is destroying my youth and happiness - and the longer I stay, the older and less risky I will be. The more and more I will stop looking for my own dreams (despite not really knowing what they are) and being merely satsified with what I have. I don't want to be old and say I regret wasting my youth on something I ultimately didn't really like when I have the capability to take risks now.

My biggest problem and concern is the brainwashing of the ICAO and Big 4 due to young kids, and I fell for it at the time too.

The CA is a highly marketable designation but does having a CA ultimately make that much of a difference in your career? It will guarantee you a good paying job, but ultimately will you be satisfied? Isn't life the pursuit of happiness?

I do think that some Big 4 experience and exposure is good, but if you are going to jump ship once you get your CA, isn't it pointless to wait if you really think accounting is not for you? I need to start thinking about opportunity costs.

My biggest problem is "Brainwashed friends" and "Drone like co-workers" who think that once they have their CA, their life problems will be solved. That, all the hard work they put in for their 30 month (lucky people like me) or 36 months (unlucky people afterwards) will guarantee them a nice ballin' life with a good job.

Let's be realistic. Getting a CA and leaving big 4 doesn't guarantee you anything. You might end up working in industry in a job you hate as a controller for 10K more, and hate your life just as much as you did in Big 4 (if not more).

Ask yourself this question. Having the CA opens doors, but does it necessarily open the doors to the jobs that you like?

And then when you find out you hate industry, what will you do?

If you hate accounting and auditing and are sticking around in accounting just because you want your CA, don't you think your wasting your time?

So, the question, I need to ask myself is "Am I really wasting my time?" What exactly is the CA designation going to bring me? Will it bring me happiness or entry into another high paying job that I hate?

I haven't really "reverse engineered my career" and I dont' think a lot of you have either.

The proper way to do things is to find out what you want to do in life, and figure out what you need in order to get there. In reality,

Would I be a fool to throw it all away, at age 23, with less than 1 year left until I qualify?


  1. let me say this , i am asking myself the same question. I have 1.5 years to go in terms of articling and as i am with smaller firm, i did get more exposure.

    I am 27 and I am just thinking, was all this worth it. I should have been a CA by now, if i had not gotten stuck in the recession rut as it was very difficult to get rehired after lay offs.
    I didn't quit back then, but I am thinking was all the stress, drama and uncertainty worth it?

  2. The grass is always greener on the other side...

    Being at the height of the busy period with one of the Big 4, I can sympathize why you are going through the thinking you are ...

    Do you really think you'll be that much better off in another career? And what is your back-up plan if "everything you ever wanted, wasn't what you wanted..." (U2) ?

    I would suggest you follow through with the CA designation and obtain the qualification, as you are so close. You never know, better and more challenging opportunities may arise once you qualify.

    And even if you decide to make a move after that, at least you will have a back-up plan because, being a CA, you will be much more marketable than without it.

    At least that's the path I took when I was in your shoes... I stuck through it. And indeed, now that I am qualified, the challenges and opportunities within the firm have made me reconsider my options and stay for some more. Things become more interesting as you climb the ladder - less vouching, more supervision and managing.

    All the best...

  3. If you stay and get your CA, which I think you should, you do not have to stay with the Big 4. Go to a smaller firm and within a week you will be handling the full job from preparing T4's, T1's cash flows, evaluating purchases and very little auditing. You will be in charge of the client from cradle to grave so you will know when you make a difference. I moved several years ago to a small firm and the job satisfaction is much higher.

    On the other hand there is still a busy season and if you wish to ski a lot being a CA is not for you.

  4. I won't lie but this post sounds really immature to me. If you feel this is not for you, then why did not you not quit a while back? Did you not know what "busy season" meant, and i find it hard to believe that with only 1 year to get your letter, you rather not get them and try something else.

    I agree that the profession is not for everyone, but your confusing the CA with Big 4. These are two separate things. As mentioned by the previous poster i know tons of people who left big firms, and love their life in smaller ones. In addition after getting the CA there are so many options in industry where you can make decent coin, and still enjoy the 9-5 lifestyle.

    If you think CA designation is a waste of time, than your post should have mentioned what profession/job you feel isnt a waist of time.

    By the way, Skiing and travelling all over the world are not jobs, their hobbies.

    1. See - this is why you should get out of accounting - people in accounting become rude and jaded like this person

    2. and maybe you shouldn't, or you will become an opinion whore like this person.

  5. The truth to the matter is that , you have no control even in the smaller firms if you are not the one who is calling the shots.

    I do everything as I work in a small firm. What I am thinking is, is working like a 'cog in a wheel' worth it.

    May be I am not what ppl call a 'CA elitist' or may be I work along a lot of CGAs.

  6. Hi there,

    My first gut feeling to this post is that, when you're 9/10ths the way there, why drop it all for no conceivable reason? Even if you decide to switch things up after that one year, you'll always have the designation as a safety net to minimize the risks that you're about to take.

    If you spend the next 2, 3, or 5 years exploring, you'll can have relieve from knowing that no matter how big a risk you take or how hard you fall, you'll always have your CA as a second option.

    I say people should think of getting their CA as an accomplishment, rather than a gate way to heaven, as much before me has repeated.

    Of course, this is all from the perspective of an undergrad who's still working to reach what you're experiencing right now.

  7. You've survived the worst, my friend. I know how you feel, I can sympathize with you.

    Is it worth it? yeah, having those two letters beside your name is a sign of endurance. Even if you don't stick around with big 4.

  8. I actually agree, the letters CA is a sign of endurance more than anything else.

  9. hey there,

    i have to agree with some of my fellow bloggers here. i mean your so close and that way i feel you should stick it out and get your designation. let me tell you something about what i am going through. i passed the cke and since then been approaching recruiters with not much dice. i mean one of the managers at top 5 firms couldnt even care less that i am doing all this independently under the new program. but do i wanna continue? you bet! i know that this route is just not numbers or letters after my name. but with time it ll get better.

  10. to the blogger above, there has been hiring going on in Alberta. Try applying there though the west coast follows CASB but I heard that Ontario students are being hired there,too.

    And I have seen job postings in small cities of ontario too!

  11. OP, I had the exact same thoughts as you 2 years ago. I started off my Big 4 career in Audit, and gosh did I hate my job especially during busy season. I was so disgusted at audit work that I really wanted to throw away everything, quit my CA path, and start doing something else (but I had no idea what to do). I couldn't imagine myself Auditing for another 2 years to qualify for CA.

    Luckily after my first year in Audit, I befriended a senior manager in my firm's consulting group, and he faciliated a permament transfer out of audit for me. The consulting work I'm doing now is infinitely better than than audit, and what's better is that my hours here will still count towards CA. I already fulfilled all my assurance hours during my Audit year, so now I only have Tax and Elective hours to worry about (I'm on the old traditional licensable path).

    Since you have a year left, I think you should just stick it out and qualify. At the end it will be all worth it. Now when I look back at my year in Audit, it's all a faint memory... and I'm really glad that I still stuck to the CA path. Had I given up on CA back then, I'm sure that I would be regretting the decision.

  12. Try transferring to consulting or joining a start-up business as a CFO/Controller, but I'd recommend finishing off your auditing hours and getting the CA designation.

    If all else fails, enroll in an MBA or IMBA so you can travel the world, go to school, and have a year or two to consider what you really want as a career. There are a lot of good MBA schools in the US and EU. Good luck!

    By the way, you may choose to reflect on your hobbies and personality to draw-up a few possible career paths, as well as ask friends/mentors for guidance/input/referral opportunities.

  13. He's already spent 2 years in Audit, so I'd say he has already finished off all his auditing hours.

  14. This site needs to stop posting such depressing posts about accounting

    a 1st yr accounting student

  15. ^
    Auditing is what's depressing here, not accounting. Get with the program, freshman.

  16. Stay with your dream but get the hell out of the firm you work for... do you actually want a good paying 'job'? A job is a treadmill. Get your CA and work for yourself - it doesn't have to be public accounting - or accounting - but get your CA. I got mine in 1993. A job... what a crazy mindset.

  17. ^ Hear hear... I agree with you bro. And that's exactly my plan.

  18. I have a question for you fellow posters, if you could turn back time to lets say your last year in university. Would you still continue down this path? I am just curious

  19. ^ Yes I would. By last year in uni, I'd have already completed most if not all of my CA courses... giving up at that point would be a giant waste.

  20. Have any of you regretted not doing CMA or CGA instead of CA?

  21. ^
    Funny question. You're asking people who have already obtained their CAs... since they have already put audit hell behind them, why would they regret not doing CMA/CGA??

  22. Go into finance (or accounting) and get some tangible experience, whatever the route. Then go to law school and practice corporate law so you can build some client relationships and solidify the basic skills of a lawyer. Leverage both and and move either in-house or into high finance (PE, HF, IB). You'll constantly be learning throughout the process, earning some money at various points in the process (except for the law school investment which you can recover after graduation if you get in a top firm). If you know how to leverage that diverse set of skills, you will be valuable at the management level and really get into strategic decision making roles. After some time, you can move out of the legal role, if you want a more mainstream business role, and you will have both made substantive contacts (as opposed to tangental or arm's length interactions) and seen a diverse set of business issues. Plus, you won't get abused like a CA-student; you will have to work hard (likely much harder) but you'll be compensated throughout the process better and remedy a lot of the complaints typically raised on this blog (bored, frustration with public accounting hierarchy, marketability, compensation, etc.). If you play your cards right, long run you could have a decent work life balance too, depending on your exit opportunities after the corporate law role, or some time not too long thereafter.

  23. Sorry, the above comment was posted on another discussion and I found it to be particularly relevant here. Note that the scenario described is not meant to be THE route for people, but rather, a route that one could consider. More importantly, it describes certain issues and how to consider decision making. The belows posts, which are related to the above post, hash out the details.

    In the first bullet point below, someone made a comment about how lawyers make less than accountants and its not "all it is cracked up to be". That point is meant to specifically address that individual's comment. See below.

  24. P.S. Regardless of your designation or career field, you will only get out of it, what you put into it. I made that assumption in my earlier comments, but realize it needs to be stated explicitly here. With that in mind, again, I say be strategic and thorough such that you can adapt and challenge yourself in a wide range of business careers, such that you can pursue what you want to pursue, rather than be viewed as "an auditor" or a "analyst or manager in industry" or "tax guy" simply by being boxed in by the industry dynamics of a path you chose. You should dictate your path, not the dynamics of your training program, designation, seniors or marketers (I still am surprised by the level of blatant marketing for the CA, and to a lesser extent, CMA...it is just not something you see with a CFA, let alone JD or MD).

    These comments were made on a debate on whether to pursue the CA/CMA/CGA designation, hence some of the comments above. I found it particularly relevant to share these thoughts here, after the last few discussion topics on (1) career changes, (2)whether the CA is worth it, and (3) the inside scoop with a former KPMG partner. Welcome all feedback.

  25. Sorry all - but it seems that the blog will not let me paste my comments from the other discussion that I originally posted on. If you go to this link: http://www.iwanttobeaca.com/2009/04/ca-cma-or-cga-designation.html?commentPage=12

    you will see the 3 point message I intended to copy here. Apologies for any inconvenience. When I pasted the posts here, they posted for a few seconds and then were deleted. My guess is it is some sort of anti-spam feature of so.


  26. Last attempt to try to paste here:

    Please make a few distinctions here.

    (1) Compare apples to apples. Working at a Big 4 accounting firm or the like should be compared with working at a top Bay Street or Wall Street law firm. It is very easy to make your claim when you compare the high end or even average part of the spectrum in one profession with the low end of another. For example, a first year associate at a top Bay Street law firm will make approximately $90,000 to $110,000 (Stikeman and Davies Ward salaries respectively), and $85,000 for their 10 month articling period. This excludes bonuses. A wall street law firm, starting salary is $160,000, market rate (the term market rate is in reference to wall street market rate, not somewhere in Kansas or something). And those salaries move upwards quickly. Example - 4th year associate in NYC will make $225,000. If you don't believe these figures, just go on any website like vault or abovethelaw and you will find this data publically available. Bonuses move up quick as well. Currently, they are at $15,000 for 1st years, but back in 2007 they were around $35,000, market rate bonuses. Figures are a bit lower for Canadian firms, but they tend to catch up by around 5th to 7th year.

  27. and last attempt at the second part:

    (2) Realize that the crux of the message was to demonstrate how one could round out a skill set that is very marketable that will enable you to have much more selection in where you take your career. A lot of these associates stick around at their firms for 2-4 years, like in the Big 4, to get the experience and then move on. In the scenario depicted in the earlier post, the jist was to set up one's self to open an incredible number of doors. The finance doors open up well with that skill set, because you would have gotten exposure to the quantitative aspects of a deal, plus the experience of how to run a deal. I give the finance example because it seems a rather large number of CAs, some of which have posted on this board, are interested in that field, but similar options are easily crafted for industry via in-house. It is sad to see so much emphasis on the money, when fulfillment from you career is an incredibly important factor that often gets overlooked.

    (3) It is rather unfortunate to see so many people being blindsided by the marketing efforts promoting the CA designation these days. It is promoting a track which is not all that it is hyped up to be, and can cause an influx of supply and negative economic implications for the profession in the medium term future. The post above was meant to suggest that instead of jumping on the band wagon, whether it be CA, CMA, or CGA, explore a set of skills and options that excite you, motivate you and are enabling in terms of career options, rather than follow the crowd. This is not to bash on any of the three designations, as they are all respectible, and can be a part of the early years of the scenario depicted in the prior post. If you enjoy pure accounting and want to work in industry, more power to you. If you realize that is what you want and it will make you happy at the end of the day, go after it 100%. My post was reflective of the general sentiment that many seem to have on this blog across discussion topics that they are in this CA program to get in and get out. That is to say, they aren't happy with the work but are sticking it out to get to something else. My point is, if you are going to "stick it out", which is necessary in any industry really, be aware of the exit opportunities, and know what the opportunity costs are. For many on this blog it seems, given the end goal of some, they may be able to get to those career paths through more economically efficient, and intellectually diverse backgrounds (that can include accounting...i opted for finance), where they can have even more substantive interactions with professionals on a daily basis on their way to their end goals. I say do it smart, rather than go with the crowd.

    I say this as a corporate lawyer and prior finance experience, with a significant other in the Big 4. We both knew what motivated us and have crafted ways to get there. But many on this board seem to be focused on money or swayed by marketing, or both. The business world is far too diverse to reduce to arbitrary debates about which is better (CA, CMA, CGA), so make well-informed decisions.

    I addressed the compensation remark, and tried to elaborate more clearly my original point. If anyone has more qualms with my thoughts, please share. I will gladly respond (in a civilized manner) either by clarifying/refuting a qualm with substantiated facts or accept a point I have not considered. But please make justified comments.

  28. Over the past few months i feel that the blog owners have given up on posting here. Unlike previous years where there were usually 3-4 postings per month, it appears there are hardly any posts. It is unfortunate to see since i really liked this blog. Guess i will need to go somewhere else now.

  29. To the person that posted the above comment about law, are you saying that you think becomming a corporate lawyer is worth it... I was wondering if you ever come in contact with people who have a ca-cbv, cma-cbv or cga-cbv?? and how attractive is the cbv designation.. rather which combination would be the best?

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  32. I'm actually interested in acquiring a degree to have an accountant career anytime soon. Do you offer online schooling too

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  35. Hey wow! Not sure if you've qualified or left by now, but I had the same struggle this year.. the CA does a wonderful job of marketing towards students like us.

    I just wanted to say through the struggles I had this year - life is short; it's not worth doing anything that doesn't make you happy. What are you going to do with money and status at the end of your life anyways?

    All the best

  36. In a lot of the comments here, people have said that you should continue doing CA as a back up. But what I'd like to know is that if you really don't want to work in anything CA related what's the point of having this back up. Doesn't it just mean that your back up going to be doing something you dislike?