The “Big Four,” as they are called in the business world, are the four largest accounting firms in the world. This elite group is made up of KPMG, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte. Between them, they employ hundreds of thousands of people world-wide. Following the Big Four, the next biggest accounting firms in the U.S. employ fewer than 10,000 people each. Most accounting firms in the US are regional, and employee only a few hundred accountants, if that..
As an accounting major, you may hear that Big 4 jobs are what everyone aims for. Among the arguments I heard in their favor as a student new to the accounting recruiting process were the commonly repeated: their fame, the networking opportunities, and their superior training.
Just what are the benefits of working at one of the Big Four firms? Are Big 4 salaries any higher than regional firms? Is their training really better? Or are the benefits more intangible, such as being able to find a better job later with that well-recognized Big Four name on your resume? Know what advantages you’re competing for before you make up your mind on whether a Big Four company is the right fit for you.
Big Four Training
Although smaller regional accounting firms offer plenty of training to their employees, it is much easier for the Big Four to offer a wide variety of training opportunities. Because they are so large, they can afford to have courses in-house, whereas at a smaller firm, employees have to find courses outside of their firm, and then convince their manager that it is a good training for the company to pay for. Of course, even at small firms, employees must all meet minimum education requirements each year to retain their CPA certification, so regional firms do pay for the courses their employees need.
A company like Deloitte (one of the Big Four), however, holds annual mandatory trainings for new employees with standardized curricula. Employees do not have to ask their managers for permission, but are instead sent off to a remote location for a week or two packed with training sessions. Deloitte is currently in the process of building an entire facility called “Deloitte University” where they will host all of their training.
Big Four Clients
In public accounting, many young accountants are biding their time, waiting for the chance to hire on at one of the client companies. If you know where you would ultimately like to work, but plan to start out in public accounting, then the type of clients you will get to work with are important.
Big Four firms have a wide variety of clients, most of which are large. During my internship with a Big 4 company, every company I worked on was a global corporation. I got the opportunity to meet with people from all over the world.
Most smaller, local firms will have smaller, local clients. Some local firms also have a specialized industry, such as real estate, or non-profit organizations. However, a typical employee will get to work with far more clients at a smaller firm than at a Big 4 firm, as the Big Four clients are so large that a typical auditor, for example, will work one big audit per year and a few small ones. At a small firm, audits are much shorter, and so you will have contact with more clients.
On the other hand, if you don’t plan to move out of public accounting, than looking at clients in terms of future job prospects may not be the highest criteria on your list when looking for a job.
Other benefits of working for a Big Four firm
Most of the benefits of working at a Big 4 accounting firm come from the sheer size. Working for a company with offices all over the US, and all over the world, means that if you need to move to a different city later in life, then there is a good chance you can keep working for the same company.
At a large accounting firm there is also more opportunity for specialization. The Big 4 firms have departments in all areas, from consulting to forensic accounting. On the other hand, if you prefer to be a generalist, it may be difficult to keep from being forced to specialize.
You also do get a bit more travel if you work at a firm that serves international clients, but don’t count on this as a deciding factor if you’re looking for a Big 4 job, as most of your clients will be located near your office.
There are many significant benefits to working at a Big 4 firm. How much these benefits matter to you depends on what your goals. For example, one of the most important benefits of working for a Big 4 firm is their brand name on your resume, since they are so well known world-wide. If you are looking for a place to jump-start your accounting career, Big Four is definitely the place to be.