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Everything You Need to Know about Big 4 Accounting Firms

7 Min Read

There is one number that stands out to burgeoning accounting professionals, and with good reason. The number four—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.

The Big 4 Needs Little Introduction

Some key numbers from each firm include:

  • Deloitte
    • Founded in 1845
    • 2020 Revenue – $47.6 billion
    • 330,000 employees
    • Located in 150 countries
    • U.S. Headquarters: New York, NY
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
    • Merged with Coopers & Lybrand in 1998
    • 2020 Revenue – $43 billion
    • 284,000 employees
    • Located in 157 countries
    • U.S. Headquarters: New York, NY
  • Ernst & Young
    • Originally Ernst & Whinney, merged in 1989 with firm Arthur Young & Co. to become Ernst & Young
    • 2020 Revenue – $37.2 billion
    • 300,000 employees
    • Located in more than 150 countries
    • U.S. Headquarters: New York, NY
  • KPMG
    • Formed in 1987 through a merger
    • 2020 Revenue – $29.2 billion
    • 227,000 employees
    • Located in 155 countries
    • U.S. Headquarters: Culver City, CA

According to Forbes, the Big 4 typically tops lists for best accounting firms to work for. 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 a year of work at a Big 4 firm with two to three years of 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.

Accounting Jobs Available at Big 4 Firms

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

Primarily, the Big 4 is looking for auditors. This reversed a trend seen in the rest of the industry. Still, a high demand exists for general accountancy and finance professionals.

Big 4 Accountants Average Salaries

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 two years of experience and reach 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 and extended vacation time, as well as gym memberships and free catered or cafeteria meals.

Education and Experience Requirements to Work at the Big 4

Any financial or accountant position at a Big 4 firm requires a college degree. Ideally, the degree 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 Master’s 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.

The Future for Big 4 Firms

As long as The Big 4 firms 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 to 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.

How to get your foot in the door with the ‘Big 4’

Four competitive accounting firms in the U.S manage over 78 percent of all U.S. public audits and 99 percent of all public company sales.5 In the accounting world, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young, and KPMG are the accounting firms to work for.

Competition can be high for these coveted companies, so standing out of the candidate pool is critical. By having a Master of Accountancy (MAcc) degree, graduates can get a scholastic step up and a foot in the door. Here are four qualities the Big 4 firms are looking for in new hires.

Have a degree from an accredited program

To be recognized by the thousands of applicants who apply for positions at the Big 4, graduates must stand out. Accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the gold standard for business schools offering accounting programs. AACSB-accredited schools focus on “continuous quality improvement in management and accounting education through innovation, engagement, and impact.” Less than five percent of institutions worldwide have this distinction, which is the highest standard for business schools around the globe.

Did you know? The University of Scranton’s Kania School of Management, which houses both the online MBA in accounting and the online MAcc programs, holds the prestigious AACSB accreditation.

Possess international accounting skills

While the Big 4 have some smaller clients, most are large international companies. Accountants must understand international accounting principles, as each of these firms, Deloitte and PwC especially, are global leaders with clients in every part of the world.6

An asset to these global companies is a candidate’s experience with scholastic and professional work in international accounting. Work attributes include accounting control for multinational enterprises, tax laws regarding foreign transactions, and financial reporting.

Take classes fit for the modern world

Tax laws change, and so do the needs of businesses. To ensure the curriculum offered at Scranton meets the needs of companies in today’s changing climates, the Accounting Department has created an accounting council.

Made of up practicing certified public accountants, The University of Scranton’s Accounting Department Professional Council (ADPC) offers curriculum consulting that keeps classes up-to-date, ensuring that every graduate receives the skills needed to perform in the modern world. Some of the most attractive attributes encouraged by the ADPC and appealing to the Big 4 include a high GPA and networking skills.

Pass the CPA exam

Additionally, many positions at the Big 4 require that candidates have passed the CPA. To help alleviate the stress of the important credential, it’s recommended that test-takers seek out exam-specific support. The high caliber of coursework and access to Wiley CPAexcel, a course that’s specifically geared toward taking and passing the exam, prepares graduates to earn their CPA license.

By using the Wiley CPAexcel program, nine out of 10 students pass the exam.7

While competition is fierce, The Big 4 firms are constantly looking for highly qualified graduates. Last year, PwC hired 20,000 graduates, and E&Y hired 18,000.8

By completing the rigorous courses required to obtain a Master of Accountancy through The University of Scranton, graduates will leave the program with the skills, knowledge, and foresight that the largest accounting firms in the country want in their employees.

With Scranton’s accreditation, professional coursework, knowledgeable faculty, and tools to help obtain a CPA license, graduates can get a foot in the door at the Big 4

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