Struggling with the decision of whether to work for a Big 4 firm or a regional firm? It may be many accountants’ dream to work for one of the Big 4, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the right path for you. As with everything in life, there are benefits and drawbacks of both and these will help you make your decision. By comparing the two (Big 4 vs regional firm), we’ll help you start the process by outlining the Big 4 pros and cons.
Big 4 pros and cons
The pros of working for a Big 4 firm
Working with the best and brightest in accounting.
These firms only hire the best which means that you will be working with intelligent, talented, and motivated individuals every day. Not only will you have a close-knit, supportive group of colleagues, but you will also form a formidable network throughout the whole firm.
Working with some of the biggest clients.
Even as a first-year associate, you’ll be required to visit clients and spend time understanding their processes and financial controls, whilst also learning how to deal with any complicated situations with the help of seniors. The breadth and quality of clients at a Big 4 firm is unrivaled so your experience here will be unique and will give you great exposure.
Having a flexible schedule.
Outside of tax season and when you’re not working on a client, you have a ton of flexibility to work when and where you want as long as your work gets completed on time and is of high quality.
Above-average benefit packages.
Depending on the firm you work for, you could have as much as 25 vacation days a year as soon as you start, very good parental leave or season tickets to local sporting events. Most firms offer a 401k match, great health benefits, some sort of gym reimbursement, worldwide discounts, and travel points as well as hosting lavish parties.
Learning and growth opportunities.
A substantial Big 4 pro is the many growth opportunities that come with the job. Not only will you receive constant training and hands-on experience to expand your expertise and skill set, but you will also have the ability to lead your own audit or tax team early on, you will receive first-class mentoring and coaching, and you will be sponsored to undertake a globally recognised professional qualification (CPA).
Prestige and respect.
Working for one of the world’s largest organisations, you will get the instant respect that comes with working for a global market leader.
The Big 4 have remained relatively unscathed in times of financial crisis. Business has continued to grow so a position here is considered to be a secure one.
A huge resume boost.
Working for Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, or EY will allow you to get your foot in the door with almost any accounting firm that you want. Experience at a Big 4 firm is a seal of approval and you will continue to receive a higher level of respect in your next position too.
Participation in Big 4 recruiting.
This could be on either side of the Big 4 pros and cons list depending on if you enjoy it or not, but the opportunity is there. Many accountants enjoy returning to their school or visiting other educational establishments to promote the company and talk about their experience to younger generations.
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The Cons of Working for a Big 4 Firm
During the busy season (January-April) you will work whatever hours are needed to make that deadline; this usually means 60-80 hours per week so working from 9 am to 8 pm every day, even on some weekends. It is rare to have a consecutive stretch of 40 hours per week for more than a few weeks out of the year.
When thinking about the Big 4 vs regional firm, one big con of a Big 4 firm is that you’re serving the biggest corporations in every industry. This means that clients demand more and they have higher expectations which in turn means you will have to work really hard to deliver a high-quality product.
You are not allowed to take any personal time off during busy season which means that there is a big chunk of the year where you will be restricted to work. (Want to know how to make partner AND still have a life?)
Salaries are lower than in other industries (such as professionals working at an investment bank) with no signing-on fee or bonus. Many accountants feel especially dissatisfied with their salaries and bonuses during the busy season. A lower wage also makes it difficult to live in or even near some big cities.
Rigid promotion policies.
The organisational structure is very hierarchical and the promotion policies very rigid. For example, employees can’t stay on one level, moving up is not a career choice. On the other hand, promotions are largely tied to your years of experience rather than being based on merit which can be limiting (e.g. you can only be promoted to senior after two years, you can only make manager after five years, and making partner usually takes around 14 years).
For every project you work on for over 40 hours, you have to create a self-evaluation for yourself. These take time and many find them difficult.
Big 4 accounting firms have massive corporate structures so firm politics will play a big role in your daily work life. (Learn how to navigate firm politics!)
You will spend a lot of time out of the office visiting clients that are a long way from home. This can mean a lot of time commuting or consecutive nights away from home.
Lack of variety.
You may spend more than 80% of your time on one single client, especially if the client is large and high-profile. While this is great for career progression, it does mean that you have less exposure to other companies and industries. It may also get quite tedious if you like variety in your work.
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Big 4 vs regional firm – which is better?
While working at a regional firm might mean less pressure and more variety when it comes to clients and client work, there’s no denying the benefits that working at a Big 4 accounting firm brings. Not only will the name on your resume boost your career elsewhere, but you’ll also become an incredibly talented accountant with a wealth of skills and experience because of it.