They're known as the big 4 accounting firms for a reason: they're the accounting companies that everyone has heard of, and their businesses span the globe. They're all great places to get your professional qualifications and start your career, even though they'll work you hard. Here are some pointers to assist you in making your decision.
A Quick Overview Of The Big 4 Accounting Firms
PwC is the most prestigious and biggest of the Big Four accounting firms, with a substantial and well-established audit customer base.
- Headquarters: London, UK
- Revenue: $35.4 billion
- Number of employees: 208,109
Deloitte is only a smidgeon smaller than PwC. Their audit services account for a far smaller portion of company revenue but consulting accounts for a bigger.
- Headquarters: New York, USA
- Revenue: $35.2 billion
- Number of employees: 225,400
EY is one of the biggest firms in terms of personnel, with a reasonably well-balanced range of services. It grew its overall income the fastest of the Big Four in 2015.
- Headquarters: London, UK
- Revenue: $28.7 billion
- Number of employees: 212,000
KPMG is the Big Four's smallest and most European-focused firm, with a significant consultancy and advising practice to complement its auditing.
- Headquarters: Amstelveen, Netherlands
- Revenue: $24.44 billion
- Number of employees: 173,965
The Big 4 accountancy firms are all eager to tell you how their culture sets them apart. Regrettably, this might result in their sounding extremely identical. Speaking with folks who have worked for more than one is the best approach to grasping the differences. Here are a few things to remember:
- PwC is the most prestigious of the four firms, and its employees are aware of this. There's a sense of security here that you won't get at Deloitte, for example, because of the firm's reputation and substantial audit business.
- Deloitte is a smaller firm in the UK than PwC and is eager to catch up. It focuses more on consulting, which means it's always looking for new assignments. This all adds up to a culture that is ambitious, competitive, and results-oriented.
- EY is known for its diversity, with a strong track record of promoting women and a long history of supporting LGBTQ rights. It's reputed to be one of the nicer workplaces.
- KPMG is regarded for its exceptional employee development, with pass rates for key credentials much exceeding the industry average. Its culture is unique, with less need to conform to the stereotype of a city graduate.
What Roles Are There For Students?
All of the big 4 accountancy firms offer:
- For first-year students, there are two-day residential programs (or second years on a four year course). They're an opportunity to learn more about what it's like to work at the organization, and if you do well, you might be fast-tracked to a summer internship.
- Internships for students in their penultimate year during the summer. These are in the field of accounting in which you're interested. You'll learn the ropes and work as part of a team over the course of six to eight weeks. If you perform well, you may be granted a permanent position following graduation.
- Year-in-industry students can participate in work placements. Anyone who needs to spend a year in industry as part of a four-year program can apply for this full-year placement.
While these programs are all quite similar, the companies also provide some unique opportunities. Listed below are a few examples:
- For students interested in the technical and IT side of the business, PwC offers a brief Tech Academy. A Data Analytics Academy for school leavers is also available for eight weeks.
- PwC also offers an Africa Firm Group Program for students interested in expanding their business in the continent.
- Student Digital Brand Ambassador is a role offered by EY in which you use your connections and social media presence to promote the EY brand on your campus.
- KPMG hosts a Women in Technology Insight Week to encourage female students to pursue careers in technology aspect of the business.
It's worth noting that all of the big 4 accounting firms have a specific placement or mentorship program for women. They'll also be on campus for career fairs, offering skills clinics, information sessions, and even mock interviews.
Who Are They Looking For?
The essential skills highlighted on each firm's application pages can help you figure out where you'd fit in best.
- PwC – including leadership, technical talents, business acumen, global acumen, and relationships.
- Deloitte - A strong interest in business, a smart and inquisitive mind, exceptional interpersonal skills, and a desire to roll up your sleeves and get engaged are all required.
- EY - for excellence, teamwork, integrity, mutual respect, and energy.
- KPMG - A good understanding of business, a desire to learn more, and the capacity to come up with novel solutions to issues.
There isn't much difference between these four companies because they all provide benefit packages. The standard 25-day vacation is available, with the opportunity to purchase additional days or cash them in for extra income. You can choose from different options, including private healthcare, life insurance, daycare vouchers, gym membership, and so on. Importantly, each provides a graduation loan to assist you in getting started.
The Big Four do not list a graduate starting salary on their websites, instead stating that it will be "generous." They'll likely all be similar. Accountant wages in London start at roughly £26,000 to £28,000 per year, rising to £30,000 or more by the end of your training contract.
Salary ranges for summer internships are said to be variable. PwC and EY are the most generous, offering £2,000 to £2,500 per month, while Deloitte and KPMG are the least generous, offering £1,650 to £1,850 per month.
In all the big 4 accounting firms, qualified accountants earn different salary range. PwC pays the most, ranging from £40,000 to £55,000 if you continue after your exams, but there's a lot of overlap. You may be offered £45,000 at any of the four firms.
Check out our salary guide for accountants.
Your first few years working in any big four will focus on obtaining a professional qualification. You can become a chartered accountant, a Chartered Tax Advisor, or a trained Actuary, depending on your interest. You may not require a professional qualification to work in consulting, but you will still need extensive training.
Although all four companies believe in flexible development and recognize that everyone learns differently, they have significantly varied interpretations of what this entails.
PwC employs a buddy system, with a little more senior colleague guiding you through the process. You'll have a partner or director mentor to guide you as you grow.
Deloitte emphasizes mentorship and flexible development programs, along with your professional qualifications.
EY emphasizes teaching through experiences and coaching, in addition to using e-learning. It's the only company whose training sites mention giving back to the community.
KPMG is one of the finest at guiding you through your professional certifications, and it offers a trainee network called the Academy that helps to make training more social.