An online database of salaries earned by chartered professional accountants aims to create better pay transparency within the profession.An online database of salaries earned by chartered professional accountants and finance professionals aims to create better pay transparency within the profession. Big4Transparency, a website and online platform created by an Ottawa entrepreneur, allows CPAs to submit data about their salaries anonymously and include information about certifications, experience, education and location, as well as personal details like gender and ethnicity. The database currently has over 10,000 data entries and has reached accountants worldwide. Founder Dominic Piscopo says the site has “opened all the doors” for more transparency in the industry. Piscopo, a CPA and senior financial analyst at Ottawa tech firm Rewind, studied accounting in university and joined one of the “Big Four” accounting firms — Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — to embark on his career as a CPA. While at the firm, Piscopo said he gained experience but also saw firsthand some of the flaws of the industry. “Early in your career in public accounting, hours tend to be long while salaries are fairly low, which may be a contributing factor to some of the shortages of CPAs we are seeing today," he said. "To me, it was important to define what the rewards might look like later down the line and go in knowing what to expect — that's where salary transparency is important." After researching salaries at other accounting firms, Piscopo said he learned he was not being paid competitively. “That was my inspiration for the website. I was able to canvas the firms, get specific salaries and argue an increase, so I was able to get my whole cohort an increase in salary because the firm wasn’t even aware that the pay wasn’t competitive,” said Piscopo. “This was an obvious problem to me because, as soon as you log in to Reddit or Fishbowl, people are always curious about what other people are making and the existing data is not very extensive,” he explained. “What we want to know is if someone with my experience in my city is making this exact salary as compared to me. “Often it’s a range between $50,000 (per year) and $70,000,” he continued. “That’s a huge range and that $20,000 makes all the difference.” Piscopo said he didn’t have experience in coding or website design, so he built the website after experimenting with no-code website tools. “I found a website builder that connects a back-end database to a front-end website. It was really interesting and I thought, ‘There’s a lot to be done here,’” he said. “I saw on Reddit that there were people sharing data in a disorganized way, so I just said, ‘Why don’t we contribute it here’ and it will be somewhere for everyone to read instead of just in the comments hidden somewhere.” Big4Transparency.com went “viral” online in August 2021, Piscopo said, and he quickly had to standardize the data input to manage all the traffic coming to the website. Piscopo stressed that he is careful to keep the platform objective. In fact, the website serves any accounting firm, big or small, and Piscopo said he just chose the name “Big4Transparency” because of the familiarity of the term in the industry. Since then, it’s become a pun that he is “big for” transparency, he laughed. As the sole operator and founder of Big4Transparency, Piscopo said the Ottawa business community has been “extremely enthusiastic” about helping his venture. Entrepreneurs in the Ottawa scene as well as in the accounting scene at large have been "really supportive," and Solon Angel, founder of MindBridge, has been a "great supporter." Angel came across Piscopo and Big4Transparency over LinkedIn and immediately wanted to help. “What he’s doing is super important,” said Angel. “That’s why, when I saw it from someone local, I thought it was brilliant. “It’s great for employers and employees and makes the whole industry better,” he continued. “‘I'm an entrepreneur and, with the condition of the labour market, you never really know. The ultimate data is with Big4Transparency. It’s straight-up information and a good employer wants that.” With continued growth, Piscopo is looking at ways of monetizing the tool. He started a job board and listed available positions, but said it was like a “treadmill.” “It all started off being just for the good of the people, but I had so much traffic, so I realized I had to do something more,” he said. Hesitant to run advertisements on the website out of concern it would “cheapen” the overall effect, Piscopo is beginning to sell the “deep dives” that he conducts into the data. “There’s the basic salary data, but I wanted it to be useful in an academic setting or whatever, so I’ve done more analysis. I look at gender pay gaps, see if women are underrepresented, check if people earning more also earn higher bonuses, and create data studies,” he explained. “I just digest the data to make it more useful to people.” The studies are shared in newsletters, which now have 5,000 subscribers and host sponsors, and the platform has come “full circle,” with some big firms expressing interest in accessing the data. “Some firms don’t even know they were paying less than their competitor and now the data is actually going back to those firms,” he said. “They can see what their competitors are offering.” In addition to the data, Piscopo has begun creating hiring channels for CPAs to “make the job search more enjoyable.” Participants can enter criteria for a desired role and, if they are chosen by a recruiter, Big4Transparency.com streamlines the process, with Piscopo taking a small percentage and giving the CPA $1,000 if they are placed. “As a CPA, you get lots of recruitment messages on LinkedIn all the time and a lot are not good quality, so this is just filtering that,” he explained. Five candidates are currently in the interview process and 50 more have signed up for the service, Piscopo said. Eric Saumure, CPA and principal of Ottawa “cloud” accounting firm ZenBooks, said firms like the Big Four have a history of not divulging salaries on job postings. “People go through the whole recruiting process and it’s a surprise of what they’ll be offered,” he said. “I’ve gone through the big firm process and I can speak from experience.” While Big Four firms are known for having heavier workloads and lower pay early on, Saumure said, the salaries tend to increase with time. “But that’s not what everyone wants,” he said. “There's a big shift in the industry between a traditional firm and a modern firm. The transparency is always needed, but I think it can be misleading,” Saumure explained. “Accountants don’t just want the biggest salary, they want work-life balance and to build a real career.” The potential for increased equity in the workplace is also important, Saumure continued. “Highlighting any differences will be the first step to resolving any pay gap, so the more metrics included in data the better,” he said. “It provides context as to why there might be differences.” Going forward, Piscopo has big hopes for Big4Transparency. The platform is continuing to grow in data points and reach, attracting interest from two American universities and with users spanning Nigeria, India and the U.K. While the site is pulling in earnings in the low five-figure range and has “huge potential,” Piscopo said he doesn’t plan to leave his position with Rewind. “In the long term, this could be huge. There are massive businesses built around this and the accounting niche is a little underserved, so there’s a lot of potential there to grow,” Piscopo said. “I haven’t even scratched the surface and there’s potential that’s beneficial to everyone. “It’s a huge testament to just getting out there and putting things out into the world. You don’t need the background or pedigree to do it,” he said. “If you have a vision, something you care about the way I do about salary transparency, you can really make a difference.”
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