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How to Become an Ex-auditor

How former auditors from the Big Four navigate the professional and emotional minefield to private industry

How to Become an Ex-auditor

Aspiring CPAs are drawn to the transformative power of the Big Four experience to endow them with a coveted professional identity. Within three years, though, half of all entry-level auditors leave public accounting. Researchers from Smith School of Business, Queen's University, studied how auditors grapple with their identities as auditors when they transition from the Big Four to private industry.

In interviews with 37 former auditors, the researchers observed the identity conflicts they experienced at the Big Four accounting firms, including value mismatch and meaninglessness of their work, which eventually caused them to leave their firms. But they also observed how CPAs worked to preserve their elite auditor identities once they were in private industry. The researchers suggest that firms revisit their human resource management practices in order to retain talent and preserve the value of the auditing profession.

The paper is written by researchers Bertrand Malsch, PricewaterhouseCoopers/Tom O'Neill Fellow of Accounting at Smith School of Business, and Laurence Daoust, assistant professor at HEC Montréal and a former Ph.D. student at Smith.

Download discussion paper (PDF, 1.6 MB)