The Complete Guide To Finding Best Accounting Firms In Canada

The Search For The Best Accounting Firms In Canada

Individuals,  businesses and nonprofits can all benefit from working with the top accounting firms in Canada. But first, what exactly are accounting firms?

Accounting firms are simply a group of accounting professionals providing a range of financial services to public and private clients. Accounting is a regulated profession and accounting firms are governed by provincial Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) organizations. Although most accounting companies employ CPAs, they also often are staffed with bookkeepers, tax preparers and others in supporting roles.

The services leading Canadian accounting firms provide range from tax preparation and planning to audit, and from consulting services to business advisory. 

Accounting firms work with individuals and companies or private and public organizations from various industries, including retail, manufacturing, healthcare, construction, and more. In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of finding the best accounting firms in Canada.

PART I: Understanding Accounting Firms In Canada

Accounting firms in Canada can differ by their operational structure, sizes and locations.

Operational Structure Of Accounting Firms In Canada

An infographic that shows the three operational structures of the best accounting firms in Canada which are sole practitioner, accounting firm partnerships, and accounting networks.
  1. Sole practitioner

A sole practitioner is a Chartered Professional Accountant who practices accounting and operates a firm without a CPA partner. Although they may have staff helping them with client work or administrative tasks. Sole practitioners often operate using a professional corporation.

RELATED: How to Find a Small Business Accountant Near Me

  1. Accounting firm partnerships

Two or more CPAs become the owners of the accounting firm. Together, they will manage the staff, make decisions for the business, and interact with the private and public clients directly. The LLP at the end of the firm’s name stands for Limited Liability Partnership and signifies that the firm is structured as a partnership while providing some protection for the individual partners.

  1. Accounting firm networks

Independent accounting firms that come together to provide accounting services through a broader and organized framework become an accounting firm network. These smaller independent firms become a part of a larger structure and follow its quality control policies and procedures. Although these accounting firms still operate independently under the network.

DISCOVER: 10 Questions to Ask Your Accountant Before You Hire Them

Types Of Accounting Firms In Canada By Size

  1. Local accounting firms

Local accounting firms in Canada provide financial, audit, tax, and accounting services to local clients in a particular geographical area or city. Since these firms are in a local community, they serve a wide range of clientele. Many of their clients tend to be individuals, small owner-managed businesses, non-profit organizations, and maybe even a few small public companies. Local accounting firms can have one or multiple offices within a specific location.

Local firms provide a wide range of accounting services, including preparation and examination of financial statements and personal and business tax returns, auditing, financial planning, bookkeeping, and more.

Some of the best accounting firms in Canada are local firms, since they have accounting, financial, and tax experts working on their teams. They have CPAs (Chartered Professional Accountants) and accounting professionals with knowledge and expertise in the local market.

Some examples of local firms include: 

  • SMCA Professional Corporation
  • Accelerate LLP
  • Gill and Bird LLP
  1. Regional accounting firms

Regional accounting firms have a slightly broader geographical scope than local accounting firms. They operate across a specific region or province, such as Ontario, Alberta, or Quebec. Regional accounting firms may have multiple offices operating across the region or province.

They provide all the same basic accounting and tax services as local firms, but will generally have more subject matter expertise in specialized areas such as business advisory, internal audit or corporate finance. 

Their clients range from small and mid-sized businesses in a wide range of industries to institutional or government clients. They also serve individuals, including those with a higher net-worth, and non-profit organizations.

Compared to local firms, regional firms tend to have a larger staff, which includes CPAs, tax experts, financial analysts, bookkeepers, and more. However, these professionals often have access to more resources than local firms and may have a higher level of specialization.

Some examples include:

  1. National accounting firms

National accounting firms in Canada operate across the country with multiple offices from coast to coast. They offer an even wider range of accounting services compared to local and regional firms. Some examples of professional services that might be offered by firms of this size could be fraud, forensics and investigations, international tax and cyber security. 

National accounting firms tend to cater to large public companies, corporations, organizations, and individuals with more complex accounting needs. They also have even larger numbers of staff, composed of CPAs, accounting and tax specialists, financial analysts, business advisors, and other professionals. 

Staff at these firms typically have a high level of expertise, knowledge and experience. Many national accounting firms are a member firm of global accounting networks that leverage resources and expertise of the larger international pool of professionals. Of the three examples below, all are members of international networks of firms. 

Some examples include:

  1. Big 4 accounting firms

As the name suggests, the Big 4 accounting firms operate worldwide, with offices established across the globe. Since they function internationally and are the largest firms, they offer the broadest range of services.

Previously eight, today’s largest accounting firms in the world belong to the ‘Big Four.’ The Big 4 refers to the top four accounting firms in the US based on revenue –  Deloitte, EY, PWC, and KPMG.

The Big Four provide a variety of services, including risk advisory and tax consulting, legal advisory, market research, assurance, valuation, and more, to major global companies and corporations, such as Ford, Apple, and Amazon.

They have the largest number of staff, including many accountants with different global designations, such as Chartered Accountants (CA), Certified Public Accountants, Chartered Global Management Accountants (CGMA), and more.

The Big 4 offer the broadest selection of financial services, including even the most specialized ones such as specialized IT system implementations and greenhouse gas emissions reporting. 

Moreover, they have professional analysts, experts, and specialists who not only have a high level of expertise in accounting, finance, business, tax and advisory, but also with a great understanding of cultural and regulatory differences in the international market.

The Big 4 accounting firms in Canada are Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG.

  • Deloitte

According to Statista, Deloitte LLP is the current front-runner in the Big Four based on its nearly whopping $69 billion USD total revenue in 2023. In the same year, Deloitte employed  456,000 staff members worldwide.

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

Meanwhile, PwC has $53 billion USD total revenue in 2032, running second behind Deloitte. In 2022, 328,000 employees from all around the world made up PwC.

  • Ernst & Young (EY)

The third largest accounting firm based on revenue is Ernst & Young (EY). It had a total revenue of $49 billion USD in 2023. In the same year, EY employed nearly 395,000 staff members worldwide.

  • Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG)

Last but not least in the Big Four, Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) had a total revenue of $36 billion USD in 2023. Its number of employees grew to 273,000 staff members globally in 2023.

Behind every successful accounting firm in Canada are teams of reliable and skillful accountants, managers, and partners who guarantee to deliver only the best accounting, business consulting, and financial advisory services for you and small businesses.

Organizational Structure Of An Accounting Firm

Most accounting firms across Canada have a hierarchical staff structure.

The hierarchical structure of typical accounting firms in Canada which is composed of accountants at the bottom of the structure, managers, and partners at the top of the structure.
  1. Accountants

At the bottom of the pyramid are the accountants who prepare the majority of the work. They are involved in the initial preparation and analysis, which is later reviewed.

  • Staff Accountants – Entry-level professionals who perform the most basic accounting or tax work, as well as audit testing.
  • Senior Accountants – More experienced and skilled staff who handle more complicated work. They may also review the output of staff accountants.
  1. Managers

The managers oversee and review the work of staff and senior accountants to ensure that it meets the firm’s standards. Apart from overseeing more junior staff, managers are more involved in client communication, particularly over technical matters.

  1. Partners

The partners are the owners of the accounting firm and enjoy participation in the profits. They oversee and review the output of all staff and are primarily in charge of the client relationship, including sales matters. They also manage the internal business operations of the firm.

PART II: Top Accounting Firms In Canada: Which One Do You Need?

Canada’s largest accounting firms can be divided into two categories: full-service accounting firms and specialty firms. But what are the similarities and differences between these two?

Full-Service Accounting Firms vs Specialty Accounting Firms

  1. What are full-service accounting firms?

Generally, a full-service accounting firm in Canada provides the usual ‘bread and butter’ accounting and bookkeeping services that you would expect from any firm engaged in public accounting. This ranges from bookkeeping to financial statement preparation, and from personal tax to corporate tax. It may also often include common services like financial planning and advisory services. These firms make up the bulk of business accounting firms out there. 

At a glance, you can’t go wrong with selecting a full-service Canadian accounting firm. But you still need to weigh the pros and cons of working with each to find which firm is right for you. And depending on your needs, a specialty accounting and business firm might be an even better fit.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Accounting and Tax Services in Canada

  1. What are specialty accounting firms?

Specialty accounting firms are registered CPA firms in Canada that provide more niche or specialized services. They tend to have much deeper knowledge and expertise in their speciality than most full-service accounting firms would. They may also have some notable gaps in services offered, missing some of the more typical ones like financial statement preparation or tax work.

Although full-service accounting firms are attractive to most clients, certain services and markets seem to favor specialty accounting firms. For instance, markets such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary have led to a growth in more specialty corporate finance services. Generally, the larger the market, the greater the availability of specialized accounting solutions. 

Examples Of Specialty Accounting Firms In Canada
  1. Forensic accounting firm

These firms provide investigative and litigation support services involving financial matters. They utilize accounting, auditing, and investigative skills to uncover financial crimes and wrongdoing.

  1. Business advisory firm

Business advisory firms provide business advice and guidance on a company’s operations, management, and other areas in order to help them design strategic business plans and make informed decisions.

Among the services business advisory firms may provide are financial analysis, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic planning.

A Note on Non-CPA Accounting Services Firms

We need to briefly mention non-CPA accounting services firms since there are so many of them out there and navigating the market for accounting services can be confusing. H&R Block is probably the most well known example. These are companies that are not registered with any CPA regulatory body and may or may not have staff with any accounting designations such as a CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant). These companies provide basic accounting and financial services such as bookkeeping, financial consulting, and tax preparation. They typically employ professionals with accounting and financial-related degrees, but sometimes they may have accounting certifications and designations. 

However, unlike the full-service or specialty accounting firms, the non-CPA firms are not subjected to the same level of regulatory oversight performed by accounting boards and bodies, and do not offer the same protection to clients in the form of standardized training and competence, liability insurance, and professional conduct and discipline. Nevertheless, reputable non-CPA firms can still be a reasonable option depending on your accounting and business consulting needs. 

LEARN MORE: How to Find a Small Business Accountant Near Me

Preparing For The Future: Is Your Business Ready To Work With The Best Accounting Firms In Canada?

The definition of ‘best accounting firms’ really depends on your unique needs. The best firm for you is not necessarily the best firm for others. For example, if you’re the owner of a local restaurant in Halifax, the best firm for you is likely not the same as for someone who is a newcomer to Canada who has just moved to Vancouver and holds significant international investments. The best firm for a third generation farmer in Saskatchewan with tax and succession planning needs will likely differ from a salaried teacher living nearby who needs help with personal tax. 

First and foremost, you must consider your needs before deciding which top accounting firms to choose in Canada. The key is to match the level of expertise and support you need for your shortlist of accounting firms you are considering working with. A bit of research and a solid understanding of your needs and preferences is the first step in finding the best Canadian accounting and advisory firm that is dedicated to assist you.

Once you have a good grasp of your specific accounting and tax needs, other considerations follow, including the location of the firm, qualifications and certifications, experience, and fees. See our article on finding accounting and tax services in Canada for more. By considering these factors, you can soon be working with the best accounting firms in Canada for you.

Find the right accounting firms in Canada for you with CPA Guide. CPA Guide matches and connects you to the accountants who are the best fit for you. Let us at CPA Guide do the hard work and find a CPA for you.