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FAQs About Big 4 Accounting Firms

There is one number that stands out to burgeoning accounting professionals and with good reason. The number 4—as in The Big 4—is linked to career stability, growth and prestige.

The Big 4 Needs Little Introduction

These Big 4 are the four largest public accounting firms in the world:

  • Deloitte
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG

These firms offer an amazing array of accounting and auditing services. The Big 4 firms offer significant employment and professional development opportunities to accounting professionals across many sectors, both domestically and internationally.

The four firms used to be eight, but due to mergers, acquisitions and dissolutions dating back to 1987, only four large firms remained by 2002. Together, they amass more than $100 billion in earnings and have continuously experienced growth year-over-year. There is no question why many graduates and entry-level professionals strive for accounting careers at these firms.

The Big 4 employs hundreds of thousands of dedicated professionals. Working for any of the Big 4 firms is a career boost.

Big 4 Employment Demographics

Some key numbers from each firm include:

  • Deloitte
    • Founded in 1845
    • 2014 Revenue - $34.2 billion
    • 200,000 employees
    • Located in 150 countries
    • US Headquarters: New York, NY
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers
    • Merged with Coopers & Lybrand in 1998
    • 195,000 employees
    • 2014 Revenue - $34 billion
    • Located in 157 countries
    • US Headquarters: New York, NY
  • Ernst & Young
    • Originally Ernst & Whinney, merged in 1989 with firm Arthur Young to become Ernst & Young
    • 2014 Revenue - $27.4 billion
    • 190,000 employees
    • Located in more than 150 countries
    • US Headquarters: New York, NY
  • KPMG
    • Formed in 1987 through a merger
    • 2014 Revenue - $24.8 billion
    • 162,000 employees
    • Located in 155 countries
    • US Headquarters: Culver City, CA

The Big 4 typically tops lists for “best accounting firms places to work” with Ernst & Young leading the pack in 2015, according to Forbes.1 These organizations work hard to build a competent team and recruit the best.

Benefits: Big 4 vs. Smaller Firms

Despite the well-known condition of working long hours at large accounting firms, the benefits outweigh it all. These benefits are hard to find outside of a Big 4 firm but start with name recognition and exposure.

The Big 4 gives instant credibility to any accounting professional, at any level. Regardless of whether professionals leave to work in smaller firms or to head up corporate finance departments, the respect that comes with working with the Big 4 is unmatched. Additionally, by working at one of the Big 4, accountants are exposed to a wide swath of industries and companies. These opportunities often help accountancy professionals determine their next career move.

Expedited Accounting Career Path

Due to the hectic and fast-paced work environment, Big 4 accounting pros garner experience faster than others who join a smaller, boutique firm after college. Because of the size and type of clients, many equate 1 year of work at a Big 4 firm with 2 or 3 years work anywhere else in the industry. This experience alone can fast track professionals to senior roles, increasing earning potential and job security.

Free Professional Accountant Development

The accounting industry is at the mercy of federal regulations, new laws and frequent changes. This environment not only requires but encourages consistent professional development.

The Big 4 is known for organizational training and helping to pay for additional certification and credentials. For example, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, runs PwC Open University, a platform for employees to listen to webcasts and get industry alerts. Deloitte offers specific leadership training for its employee’s longevity and career development.

What Accounting Jobs are Available at Big 4 Firms?

Because these firms are largest of their kind, the Big 4 employs individuals who can perform external audit, taxation services, management and business consultancy, and risk assessment and control duties.

Primarily, the Big 4 is looking for auditors, with an increase in open positions available for 2015. This reversed a trend seen in the rest of the industry that year. Currently a high demand exists for general accountancy and finance professionals.3

How Much Do Big 4 Accountants Earn?

Expectations are high for a Big 4 accounting salary. The salaries for Big 4 accountants vary widely, however, depending on education, experience and organization. They can range starting annually from the low-to-mid $50k with at least 2 years of experience and reach to close to $500k after career growth and job title changes. Moreover, the Big 4 provides compensation that most firms do not that includes generous 401k plans, extended vacation times, as well as gym memberships and free catered or cafeteria meals.4

What are Education and Experience Requirements for Big 4 Work?

Any financial or accountant position at a Big 4 firm requires a college degree. The degree ideally should be business related and with any post-graduate degree, it’s useful for quick acceptance and your own confidence to earn a degree in a specialized area, like a Masters in Accountancy.

The Big 4 firms also prefer recruiting professionals who have a few years of experience. This can be accomplished through real job experience or even internships. In fact, the Big 4 firms have a longstanding history with organizational internships and pursuing an internship prior to applying for a job can help applicants on their quest to work for one of the Big 4.

What is the Future for Big 4 Firms?

As long as the members of the Big 4 continue with a higher standard of work their future is amazingly robust. The Big 4 has maintained consistent growth, albeit slower than some industries. This stability is due the international reach of each of the companies.

The Big 4 firms are experimenting with streamlining job duties for audit and better use of technology to become more efficient. This transition time is poised to create a slew of new opportunities for accountancy professionals. Take advantage of it and aim high.

One detail important to note is that supplemental credentials and/or training are required to work in accountancy. For instance, a CPA must take the CPA exam and get licensed.






Want more about how to get in with the Big 4? Download our free professional accounting guide.

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