big 4 accounting firms

Big 4 accounting firmsGetting a job and becoming a partner of one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms is seen as the pinnacle of a professional advisors success. In this article, we explore, who are the Big 4 Accounting Firms, what does it take to get a job at one of them, and how to grow your career to partner in these firms.

The Big 4 Accounting Firms: Who are they?

These are the 4 largest global networks of accountancy and consulting firms. They are:

  • Deloitte
  • PwC – PriceWaterhouseCoopers
  • EY – Ernest & Young
  • KPMG

Unusually, they are not one big global company. They are actually networks which share a common name, brand, quality standards and some very close ties. There is a reason why they have not taken steps to actually merge into a multinational organisation. In 2002 Arthur Andersen, which was once a member of this group when they were the Big 5, collapsed as a result of losing their licence to audit in the US due to the Enron scandal. This effectively meant that Andersens did not have a business in the US, and its reputation was irrevocably destroyed in the other regions it practiced. The other members of the Big 5 network saw how quickly one ‘rotten’ apple in the barrel could effectively bring down a whole business. As a result it is unlikely that any of the Big 4 Accounting Firms will ever contemplate becoming one global company.

The Big 4 Accounting Firms: How big are they?

If you add up the revenue of the Big 4 Accounting Firms in the UK these would be bigger than the rest of the top 100 UK accountancy firms put together. If you look at the Wikipedia Entry for the Big 4 firms you can see that despite their network nature they are equivalent to the size of a large multinational firm. If you are interested the Wikipedia Entry contains a list of the members of the Big 4 networks across the globe.

What services do the Big 4 Accounting Firms provide?

At the heart of a Big 4 firm is an audit practice. They audit over 80% of all US public companies and audit virtually all the FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 companies. Traditionally the Big 4 firms would call their client base the large multinationals and public listed companies. However, in the UK, they have entered into the ‘Mid-market’, the companies which sit between the large public FTSE listed companies and SMEs, as well as SMEs. Given the Big 4 firm’s strong relationship with their audit clients, it is not surprising that they have built up strong specialist practices outside of their original audit remit. These services include management consultancy, legal, advisory, corporate finance, forensic, tax compliance and consulting, HR, human capital, corporate recovery amongst many others. In the last 5 years after originally selling off their consultancy practices, the Big 4 have been rebuilding their consultancy practices.

How do you get a job at a Big 4 firm?

There are 3 typical routes to entry. As a graduate trainee, apprenticeship or as an experienced lateral hire.

Graduate trainee and apprenticeship

Typically the Big 4 will take 6000 graduate trainees every year Until recently the Big 4 firms in the UK would take the brightest and the best graduates from the best universities. They would filter out anyone without good A-level grades or degree. That is now changing. EY, Deloitte and PwC have all recently made moves to increase social mobility within their firms. E.g. Deloitte offers 100 apprenticeships every year to school leavers and EY and PwC have dropped their requirements for minimum A-Level grades.  

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