Grant Thornton, traditionally among the second tier of accounting firms behind the Big Four that dominate the profession, is catching up to its larger brethren in terms of its desirability as a workplace.

A new ranking released today from career internet site Vault.com shows that Grant Thornton took third place in the 2014 Vault Accounting 50 ranking of the top accounting firms to work for in North America behind PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte, respectively. Ernst & Young took fourth place.

Vault.com interviewed 7,900 accountants at all levels within public accounting firms between December 2012 and February 2013 for the 2014 awards. (The survey marks its awards for the following year since it originally began the rankings late in the 2011 calendar year.)  Respondents were asked to rate their own firm as well as their competitors. It uses a weighted formula to decipher the overall winners from the firms’ prestige ratings and quality of life ratings.  The formula is based on the following:

40 percent prestige
20 percent firm culture
10 percent work/life balance
10 percent compensation
10 percent overall job satisfaction
5 percent business outlook
5 percent formal training

Commonly called a “little brother” to the Big Four, Grant Thornton appears to be showing it is more than a match for the big league players–at least in terms of its attractiveness to employees. The firm also reached the top spot in the Vault awards in 2011.

Its return to the top three again this year shows Grant Thornton is a force to be reckoned with in terms of providing alluring workplacees. Survey respondents not working at Grant Thornton said it is an “up and coming force in the profession.”

In terms of the marketplace, Grant Thornton’s revenues were up 9.3% to $1.2 billion during the fiscal year ending July 31, 2012. It attributes some of this growth to recent acquisitions, such as the full-service accounting and advisory firm CCR and Computer Technology Associates’ Health Solutions division.

Strategic acquisitions helped overall winner PricewaterhouseCoopers to bridge some skills gaps, according to survey respondents. PwC has had a series of acquisitions in recent years, buying social media firm Ant’s Eye View last year and sustainability and business analytics assets from Folio Technologies in 2011. It acquired Diamond Management and Consulting, a business strategy firm, in 2010.

PwC returned to the No.1 spot overall in the ranking after coming in fourth last year and also won the title of the “Most Prestigious” firm to work for in North America, a sub category of the Vault Accounting 50 award, for its fifth straight win in that category.

For their parts, Ernst & Young and KPMG fell in the overall ranking, with E&Y slipping to the No. 4 spot from the No 1 spot attained last year and KPMG coming in at No. 6 versus  a No. 5 finish last year.

Among second-tier firms, Rothstein Kass was the winner in Vault.com’s “Quality of Life Rankings,” another sub category of the Vault Accounting 50 awards, taking took eighth place overall. Survey respondents cited flexible work time and numerous training opportunities to help staff grow professionally as reasons for the firm’s high ranking.

Further, Rothstein Kass took first place in “Work/Life Balance,” “Firm Culture,” “Internal Mobility,” “Hours,” “Supervisor Relationships,” “Leadership,” “Informal Training,” and “Green Initiatives.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers also ranked high in quality of life categories, It took the top spot in “Business Outlook;” “Formal Training;” and “Diversity,” both by itself and in the areas of veterans and alternative lifestyles.

A couple of lesser known accounting service firms filled out the rest of the Vault Accounting 50 top rankings. Moss Adams, a West coast-based CPA and business consulting firm, and Plante & Moran, a Midwest-based audit and tax consultancy, both squeezed into the ninth and ten positions in the study.

In other top 10 placements, BDO USA took fifth place in the overall awards, while McGladrey & Pullen/RSM McGladrey finished seventh place.

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