Boom may be too strong an adjective, if only because the continuing good fortune for the Big Four has been so steady in recent year-end results.

2005 was another good year to be in the accounting business, especially at the top. Consider:

  • In November, Pricewaterhouse Coopers reported that revenues for its member firms totaled $20.3 billion, an increase of nearly 17 percent, while revenues in North America and the Caribbean were up 16 percent.
  • Also in November, Ernst & Young announced that their worldwide revenues increased to $16.9 billion for the 2005 fiscal year. That represented a growth rate of 16 percent. E&Y achieved double-digit revenue growth in each of its geographic areas, including 16 percent in the Americas.
  • Just last week, KPMG International announced its 2005 revenues rose to $15.69 billion, an increase of 16.7 percent worldwide and a 15 percent bump within the Americas.
  • Meanwhile, right before the holiday, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu announced aggregate revenues for its member firms totaled $18.2 billion for the 2005 fiscal year, a 10.9 percent increase from last year. Deloitte's Americas region recorded a similar bounce, with revenues up 11.2 percent.

The growth isn't of course just in the Americas, all four of the big-time players, along with firms like BDO Seidman and Grant Thornton, have ambitious international aims. Within America, only time will tell if the industry can sustain such levels of growth. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has ensured that for the foreseeable be future, demands for public accountants will continue, but it'll be interesting to see if the trickle-down effect from those regulations continues as SOX matures and the law's nuances are spelled out in practical -- and more easily applicable -- terms.Asked about the No. 1 issue for most firms, staffing demands, the new chairwoman of the American Institute of CPAs says there needs to be less grumbling about SOX and the demands of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.
"We are so fortunate," said Leslie Murphy. "We're in a profession right now that has more work than available people and available resources. We need to keep that positive veil across all of this."

For now, it's a great time for the industry. Business at home for the major players looks to be steady, despite the occasional shuffling of auditors at the top, and the early figures coming in for the 2006 Accounting Today's Top 100 Firms list look to reveal solid growth for most of the country's midsized firms. With tax season just around the corner, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the smallest firms -- the mom and pop operations -- that their revenue returns are every bit as positive as the players at the top. And of course, they can find a few good staffers to pitch in while they need the help the most.

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