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The highs and lows of working at the Big Four

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When it comes to workplace rankings in accounting, there is the Big Four and then everybody else. PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG always find their way to the top of any survey. Like Goldman or J.P. Morgan in banking, the Big Four are prestigious firms that look good on any accountant’s resume. They are climbing the ranks with their consulting businesses, too.

But of course not all fall madly in love with the Big Four. Like any firm, there are drawbacks in the minds of some employees. So, like what we did with banks in September, we took a look at some of the grumblings of employees who work at the top ranked accounting firms. The anonymous reviews come from Vault.com, which gave us a special peek into their database.

To be clear, we are admittedly cherry picking. These are the best-ranked accounting firms by employees, but the reviews provide a window into some potential drawbacks of working at a huge accounting firm. We looked at the “downers” of verified staffers who were employed in 2014.

Here are the general themes.

Hours and work-life balance

Far from a shocker, work-life balance, or a lack thereof, likely made up more than half the responses to what the biggest “downer” was at all four firms. This was consistent throughout tax, assurance and audit.

Employees complained that moving up in the organizations requires putting your personal life on hold as a junior. However, it’s worth noting that “long hours” is the most common complaint across all financial services companies. Bankers and consultants have the same problem. It’s just part of the job, particularly when you’re in your 20s.

Disconnect from partners

There is an overall lack of love for partners at the Big Four, at least among the lower ranks. Employees complained about partners not acknowledging them until they reach management ranks, a lack of top-down learning potential and partners who are on “power trips.” Dozens of workers wished for more mentoring opportunities from the most senior leaders.

Quotes like “leadership is disconnected from reality” were numerous.

Politics and red tape

“Internal office politics” was mentioned several times as a downer for Big Four employees. There wasn’t much explanation, but it was a clear theme. The bureaucracy and administrative hurdles of working at a big firm were also discussed ad nauseam – loading numbers into Excel, pulling together invoices etc. – while not getting enough exposure to the more interesting parts of the job.

Regulatory headaches

The Big Four does more audit, advisory and tax work for banks than any other firms. As such, the constantly changing regulations can be a bit of a headache, many employees admit.

“I just completed a seven-week internal inspection which seems to be something that could have been done in two weeks but we are so scared of our regulators at this point that we are doing more damage internally than good,” said one reviewer.

A few of the Big Four have gotten their hand slapped by regulators lately, including large fines and suspensions over what kind of work they can do with banks in New York, for example. Clearly, there has been a trickle down effect from the increased scrutiny.

Positives

By far the most highlighted positive of working for one of the Big Four is the experience that is gained, but also the brand that can be featured on a resume. The exit opportunities for people who put at least a few years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG are known to be excellent, at least when compared to other, smaller accounting and audit firms.

Excellent training and career development opportunities were also mentioned, despite the lack of overall love for the partner classes. Work flexibility was another common “upper” for all four firms, though employees didn’t go into much detail on what policies and initiatives they found most useful, other than working reduced hours from home.

The caliber of people working at the Big Four was also mentioned in hundreds of reviews. “Working with smart, energetic, collaborative people” was one of the more common responses you’d see.

Comments (2)

Comments
  1. I agree with all the above

  2. Having worked at a Big 4 firm and then moved to a bulge bracket bank, I can agree with most of the experiences there.

    The internal politics and ‘old school’ boy network is very much alive in the Big 4 – I would argue more so than in some of the banks. Additionally, I found the work dull and uninteresting at a junior level – very much doing the donkey work with little interest in career development from those above.

    The thing I do miss about the Big 4 is the people – many are highly talented, but my overall experiences of working in a bulge bracket bank have been second to none.

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