For those starting their accountancy career, achieving the status of partner at their firm can seem a lofty ambition. If you are a trainee at one of the Big4 firms the route to becoming a partner is to progress up the corporate ladder. At the bottom of the ladder are the interns (trainees), who, upon qualifying become associates.
The next step is to be promoted to a senior associate, then a manager, senior manager and then (hopefully) being offered a partnership. The length of time it takes to become a partner will be at least 10-12 years, which seems a long time, yet if you start as a graduate trainee at 21, this means you could make partner by the time you are in your early thirties. Fast progression is made even more possible if your area of specialisation e.g. tax is an area the firm particularly needs expertise in.
On being offered a position as a partner you will be encouraged to buy into the firm i.e. invest your own money in the firm (possibly by taking out a loan) in order to become a part-owner of the firm. New partners make the decision to invest in the knowledge that they will receive a big salary which will go up every year (starting from about 60,000-160,000 per year to 500,000 and above), and upon retiring they will receive dividends each year thereafter.
By part owning the firm however a partner has to consider the financial risk involved to him/herself should the firm become involved in any litigation, since then as part-owner would be considered culpable, even if they were not personally responsible. The Big4 firms employ over 500 partners each, with KPMG having over 800.
The route to the top is more difficult for some than others women and ethnic minorities are severely under-represented at partnership level, with some large accountancy practices having none at all at the top level. The Big4 have less than 5% ethnic minorities and less than 10% women partners. This is more surprising if you consider that most of the big firms take on an equal amount of male and female graduate trainees, and reinforces the stereotypical image of partners all being white and male.
However the top firms are starting to recognise that they might be missing out on talent and beginning to bring into practice new working conditions e.g. flexitime in order to help with childcare arrangements.