If you are into finance you could have heard of the “Big Four” already. Or to be precise, you could have dreamt of working with them once. Why not? Amongst the thousands of financial consulting firm today, the Big Four have secured an exclusive place for them as the leading providers of not only accounting but of professional services as well.
In an industry where the competition is always on the peak, these 4 companies have remained steadfast and withstood the dynamics of finance. They were adept at challenges and found opportunities to advance in their industry. Working in that kind of environment means endless growth and learning.
In this article, we will break down the important facts you need to know about the big four. Ultimately, we will provide you with tips that will lead you to your dream big four company.
What is the “Big Four”?
The Big Four is the world’s 4 major players in the professional services industry. These firms provide an extensive range of accounting and auditing services to publicly traded companies as well as large private companies worldwide.
They offer services like external audit, taxation services, management and business consultancy, and risk assessment and control. They also provide legal services in the finance industry.
The big four consists of Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Quick Facts About The Big Four
There were Big 8 before Big 4
It wasn’t the “Big Four” in the beginning. The 4 firms are the remaining players from the previous Big 8 professional services networks in the 1900s. The group was gradually reduced through a series of mergers and collapse of other members.
The Big 8 firms were: (1) Arthur Andersen, (2) Arthur Young & Co., (3) Coopers & Lybrand, (4) Ernst & Whiney, (5) Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, (6) KPMG, (7) Touché Ross, and (8) Price Waterhouse.
First Big 4 Member
KPMG is technically the first member of the big four. The firm was formed in 1987 through the merger of Peat Marwick Mitchell and Klynveld Main Goerdeler. The consolidation marked the ascent of the Big 8 into what is known today as the Big 4.
Youngest Big Four Member
PwC is the latest addition to the big four. Although the firm has histories dating back in the 19th century, PwC was officially established in 1998 by a merger between Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse.
Oldest Big Four Member
Deloitte is the oldest member of the big four with roots dating back in 1845. The business went through a series of restructures and mergers but kept its name Deloitte. It was formerly known as Deloitte, Plender, Griffiths & Co. and merged with Haskins & Sells and Touche Ross, to form Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.
Deloitte holds the record of having the largest revenue among the Big 4 for three consecutive years. In 2018, the firm recorded a $43.2B revenue as per Forbes’ report.
Largest company size
Deloitte is the largest company by employee size among the Big 4 accounting firms. In 2018, it has a total of 263,900 employees followed by EY with 247,570.
KPMG has a more diverse workforce compared to other Big 4 firms. In 2019 it ranked #12 in Forbes’ list of best employers for diversity. PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young rank at numbers 49, 52, and 58, respectively.
Of the Big 4, three of them are headquartered in Europe: EY, PwC, and KPMG. Deloitte is the lone American firm in the group.
Independent Overseas Operations
Although the big four spans across major territories, none of them is a single firm. They are each a network of firms, owned and managed independently, that agree to operate under the same name and general business terms. In this case, PwC Cambodia is completely independent of PwC Australia.
Break The Big 4 Campaign
In 2016, the Break Big 4 Campaign intensified after a taxation expert alleged that the big four engineers schemes of multinational tax avoidance that costs governments $1 trillion a year.
A Closer Look At The Big Four
Legal Name: Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
2018 Revenue: $43.2B
Employee Size: 263,900
Deloitte, founded by William Welch Deloitte in 1945, has undergone a series of mergers and reorganization over the years. After consolidating with smaller consulting firms in the US and UK, Deloitte has entered into an agreement with Haskins & Sells to form Deloitte, Haskins & Sells – which became part of the big 8. Later in 1990, the firm joined forces with Tohmatsu to form the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu we know today.
Deloitte is the largest accounting firm in terms of revenue. In 2018, it recorded a $43.2B revenue from traditional services like tax, consulting, audit & assurance, and risk financial advisory. It operates in over 150 territories.
Legal Name: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
2018 Revenue: $41.3B
Employee Size: 236,000
PwC traces its roots to 1849 when Samuel Price established an accounting firm. A few years later, William Cooper opened his own company. These firms were Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand which eventually became part of the Big 8. The two firms have merged to form PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1998.
PwC used to be the strongest among the Big 4 in terms of revenue until Deloitte overtook in 2016. It generated $41.3B in 2018 from assurance, consulting, and tax services. PwC employs 236,000 professionals across 158 countries.
Ernst & Young (EY)
Legal Name: Ernst & Young Global Limited
2018 Revenue: $34.8B
Employee Size: 247,570
Ernst & Young is a product of a merger between Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young in 1989. Like the other big four firms, EY has a long history of providing financial consulting services. Aside from the traditional accounting services, the firm also advances its market presence in Digital & Strategic consultancy. It expanded its market share in operations, strategy, HR, financial, and technology services consulting over the years.
EY can be considered as the middle child in the big four. It recorded the 3rd largest revenue in 2018 which amounts to $34.8B. It has a 247,570 pool of talents from over 150 countries.
Legal Name: KPMG International Cooperative
2018 Revenue: $28.9B
Employee Size: 207,050
KPMG is another product of a series of mergers. KPMG stands for Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler that comes from its parent companies, Klynveld Main Goerdeler and Peat Marwick. Institutionalized in 1987, the firm focuses on financial audit, tax, and advisory.
KPMG is relatively the smallest among the big four in terms of revenue and employee size. In 2018, it gained $28.9B from its global operation. The firm places great value on its 207,050 talents worldwide.
Reasons To Work at Big Four
Many young professionals aspire of working at the big four firms. Their global reach, training programs, career development and progression, and the monetary incentives they offer set them apart from other firms in the eyes of working professionals and new graduates alike. Let’s break down the reason why do people are keen on working at the big four.
There’s nothing better than working in a company with a good reputation ‒ everyone knows that. Successful firms such as the big four provide high morale to their employees. Working for market leaders gives you a whole range of opportunities and puts you on a vantage point when moving to another job. Having one of the big four in your resume is an excellent way to impress prospective employers.
Variety of Work
When working for a large organization, chances are you’ll be exposed to different tasks. Most likely, you’ll be collaborating with different businesses, work off-site, and even do business travels. You’ll never know the scope of tasks you will be handling, which means more opportunity for learning and growth.
Large firms provide immense career growth opportunities for their employees. There is always room to move around, whether you want to climb the ladder to a more senior position or shift to other service lines.
Aside from internal promotions, the big four also provides infinite networking opportunities. Day by day, you would meet experienced clients who could have a fair share in your professional growth. Essentially, you are building contacts who can eventually help you should you consider a career change.
Salary and Incentives
We work to make both ends meet, that’s the goal. Apparently, the big four offers more than your bills. For entry-level positions, the salaries of the big four are fairly similar. They range anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, depending on the department, country, city, and office location. But this doesn’t stay on a certain level in a long time and frequently raises. Most of the time, they also offer bonuses based on performance.
Jobs at the Big Four
There are six general job opportunities you can land in accounting and consulting firms like the big four. In this section, we will discuss each job profile and the possible progression your career path could take.
This is an entry-level position you can land in the big four firms. Usually, an associate collaborates and works with other team members to ensure that the clients’ needs are being met. In accounting, associates are typically accountants providing support to senior auditors and accountants with bookkeeping, clerical, and administrative duties.
This position is a level higher than an associate. Senior associates have almost similar duties with associates, but on a higher magnitude. They usually serve as the primary point of contact for clients during an engagement.
This is a managerial position that is concerned with supervising a team of associates and senior associates. Managers do not deal with basic tasks revolving around data and numbers. In many instances, they are responsible for setting policies that enable and encourage the optimum performance of other employees.
Senior Manager is the progression of the manager. This position is client-centered and focuses on building relationships with stakeholders outside the firm. Although they may still take involvement in team operations, this is very minimal. They might guide associates directly or they might direct several managers, who in turn directly manage the associates.
This is one of the top designations in any accounting and consulting firms. It would take at least a decade to be in this position.
Big Four partners are in charge of overseeing functional units and even a geographic location. They are also involved in crafting strategic policies that enhance the position and integrity of their business.
This is the highest designation one can achieve in any professional services firm. They take part in all the strategic decisions made by the firm. Senior Partners are equivalent to chief executives who in charge of a firm’s overall practice, management, and day-to-day operations.
Tips to be Hired at Big Four
Getting into big four is a tough going. Although they hire thousands of new employees yearly, the process of being hired is not an easy walk. The competition for an entry point into these firms is high. If a regular job hunting is already hard, landing a job offer in the big four is much harder. To be hired, you will need careful preparations to battle towards your dream job.
Know which big four you want to work for
You can target all of them but that’s not ideal. You would need time to learn about the company you are applying for and you can’t do that if you have your hands full. It would be helpful to identify which big four firms you want to work for and why. Choose the firm that aligns with your career objectives and invest your time learning about them.
Also, remember that these firms have several lines of services including audit, consulting, tax, technology, and advisory. Choose the specific division where you want to work in relation to your skills. Big firms prefer candidates to have a definite idea of where they want to work and why they want to get into a particular business area.
Build your network
Big Four firms frequently hold information sessions that young professionals can take as an opportunity to build their network. Meeting people who are already working for those firms can help you get a good recommendation eventually. Networking events can also help you understand how the firms you are interested in are doing business.
Apply for internship with the Big Four
If you are considering to work in the Big Four, you should prepare for it ahead of time. Consider spending your internship during your senior year in similar companies, or better in the big four themselves. Having first-hand experience in the business will benefit you in the long run once you officially start your career. If you’re lucky enough, these firms can also choose to hire you once your internship ends.
Draft a good cover letter and a resume
Some really good applicants fail to land their dream job because of faulty cover letters and resumes. The application process begins once you draft your letter of intent and resume, so that alone can determine your success in job hunting.
One common mistake of applicants is sending general resumes and cover letters to companies. Instead of doing this, write a cover letter and a resume relative to the big four firms you are applying for. This way, you’ll effectively showcase your knowledge about them and increase your chances of landing an interview.
Prepare for Interviews and Exams
It wouldn’t hurt to practice with the common interview questions. Those may not be the exact questions your interviewer may throw at you, but that will give you an idea of how to answer once a similar question pops up.
When applying for the big four firms, applicants usually have to undergo a series of different interviews. There’s the initial interview, panel interview, and final interview. The big four is also strongly attached to phone interviews but you shouldn’t take that lightly either. In any job interview, it is important to come mentally prepared to be able to convey what’s in your mind.
Exams are also a big part of the big four’s recruitment process. Expect for psychometric tests in the initial stages of your application process. Some firms conduct numerical and verbal reasoning tests to asses how will candidates react in different scenarios.