If you’ve decided to work for a Big Four accounting firm, you may be ambivalent about which one you go for. After all, they’re all pretty similar aren’t they? That depends upon who you speak to.
“They’re all much of a muchness,” says a London-based Big Four recruiter. “They’ll all work you hard. They all work with big clients. They’re all global.” Stevan Rolls, a UK-based partner for global talent at Deloitte, partially agrees: “The Big Four are pretty similar in that they’re all large professional partnerships and have a lot in common, but there are important structural and cultural differences too.”
Employees who’ve skipped between the firms say these differences are noticeable when you’re on the ground. “When I moved from Deloitte to PwC, I was surprised at how different the culture was,” says one UK-based PwC employee. “In the UK, PwC is the largest firm and Deloitte was playing catch-up – that created a very competitive culture at Deloitte, whereas PwC was more comfortable in its skin. There’s less pressure to put revenue growth before everything else.”
If PwC is less ‘competitive’ than Deloitte, it also stands accused of being more arrogant and more pleased with itself. PwC is disproportionately focused on the stuffier audit side of the business, while Deloitte (which was the only Big Four firm to retain its consulting arm after the Enron scandal in the early 2000s) has traditionally had a far larger focus on consulting work. Rolls told us this makes Deloitte more entrepreneurial: “Audit has historically been an annuity business, where you keep the same clients year after year. However, in consulting you start each year with a clean slate and need to go out and find the business and start again.” People at Deloitte are confident but not arrogant, adds Rolls: “There’s a very can-do approach. A huge concentration of quality.”
Ultimately, however, most Big Four firms make distinctly similar (and fairly nebulous) claims about their differences. Martin Blackburn, UK People Director at KPMG says KPMG is special because it’s a “responsible business,” contributing to the “community at large.” Maggie Stilwell, EY’s Managing Partner for Talent, UK & Ireland, says EY is special because it “walks the talk” on diversity and inclusiveness, has a clear vision globally, and is growing in the UK. PWC says it offers, “opportunities to grow as an individual” in a place where, “quality and value mean everything.” Only Deloitte touts harder-headed business advantages, stressing its “multidisciplinary nature,” and the “breadth and depth” of its operation.
To help cut through all the claims and counterclaims, we’ve looked at the stats and the awards and the online testimonials of Big Four employees globally. Using these measures, we’ve assembled the pointers below. We think they’re right, but feel free to challenge them in the comments box beneath if you think they’re not.
Best for sheer size: PWC
If you want to work for a Big Four firm that’s a beast on a global scale, you want to work for PWC, or maybe Deloitte….The two firms alternate as global leaders on a revenue basis. In 2015, PWC had $35.4bn of revenues globally. KPMG was tiny by comparison, with ‘just’ $24.4bn.
Although PWC may have the highest revenues, Deloitte has by far the most staff – with 17,300 more than PWC. Curiously, EY has a lot of staff compared to the level of revenues they produce. While each PWC employee generates $170k in revenues, each member of EY staff generates $135k.
Best for overall growth: EY
Big Four firms are big, established beasts. Unlike investment banks, they are also growing steady. In 2015, the firm with the fastest overall revenue growth was the smallest – EY – with an impressive 12%.
EY is also growing its headcount the fastest – it hiked employee numbers by 12.3% in 2015, compared to 7% at KPMG and Deloitte and 6% at PWC.
Best in Asia Pac
PWC (predictably) generates the most revenues in Asia Pac. KPMG and EY are – equally predictably – the smallest. Most Big Four firms are growing fast in the Asia Pacific region – at PWC, revenues there increased by 9% last year. At EY, they were up 13%.
Best for audit: PWC
If audit is your area, PwC is the biggest firm on a global scale. In 2015, PWC made $15.2n from its audit business, compared to $11.3bn at EY. PWC has traditionally been more reliant on its audit business than other firms – although it tried to address this in 2014, when it acquired consulting firm Booz & Co to boost its consuting revenues.
Best for consulting and advisory: Deloitte
If PWC is an audit machine, Deloitte is its consulting equivalent. Although all Big Four firms are now trying to build their consulting practices, Deloitte had a serious head-start after retaining its consulting business in the early 2000s. As a result, Deloitte’s consulting business alone generated $12.2bn in revenues last year, However, PWC’s newly bulked-up consulting arm was close behind, with $11.2bn in in revenues in 2015.
Best for promoting women: EY
Like investment banks, Big Four firms are lacking in senior women. Like investment banks, they have many programmes to try and remedy this. And like investment banks, they’re not necessarily getting very far. EY, however, stands out as promoting far more women than the rest: in 2015 31% of its new partners globally were women. The worst looks like Deloitte, where 25% of people promoted to partner, principal and director were female.
Best for hiring graduates: All
We’re not going to say that any one Big Four firm is better for hiring graduates than others. They all hire enough graduates to staff a small investment bank on a yearly basis. Last year, PwC hired 24,000 graduates globally, up from 20,000 one year earlier. Numbers are smaller on a country-by-country basis, but still impressive. EY hires 1,500 graduates in the UK every year – on a par with PWC.
Best for prestige: PwC
By all accounts, PwC is the best Big Four firm if you put a premium on prestige and generally impressing other people. PwC came first in the Vault’s latest ranking of top accounting firms – and has done so for many years. Deloitte came second (displacing EY), EY came third and KPMG came fifth behind Grant Thornton. “PwC has historically been seen as having the best clients,” says the UK accounting recruiter (this may change since the introduction of mandatory audit rotations in the EU). The “prestige that comes with working at PwC” is a big reason for working there according to employees who spoke to the Vault.
Best for working hours: KPMG and Deloitte?
If you work for the Big Four, you may work shorter hours than if you work in banking. But you will still be worked stupidly hard. All Big Four firms are lambasted by employees who complain about the hours they work. The Vault surveys have unearthed people complaining about long hours and stress at Deloitte, being worn down at KPMG, “sacrifices” at EY and “working three weeks straight without a day off” at PwC.
It’s possible, however, that PwC’s working hours are more extreme than others. “No work-life balance – if you don’t mind a 90% work 10% life this is the place for you,” complains one employee on Glassdoor. Another says the work life balance is especially bad between December and April – when audit employees have their busy periods.
In their defence, much like investment banks most Big Four firms are trying to do something to improve employees’ work-life balance. In the UK, Deloitte says it has a, ‘WorkAgility Programme’ which allows people to work flexibly, including a ‘Time Out’ scheme, which “enables our people to take a month’s unpaid leave at a time that suits both them and the business.” KPMG has something similar – the firm has introduced an “intelligent working” programme in the UK which focuses on outcomes rather than time at work and uses real life role-models to showcase the possibility of fitting life in around work.
Best for career development: EY, or KPMG
If you’re in the UK at least, EY looks like the best place to be if you’re looking for proactive career development. The firm ranked 14th on the Sunday Times’ list of the Best Big Companies to work for, with special plaudits for its student induction programme.
KPMG has also made big strides in this area, and is making big efforts to recruit and promote people irrespective of social background. Martin Blackburn, head of HR in the UK, said the firm introduced a new, ‘GROW programme’ to help people in the mid-to-senior grades and unblock challenges to career progression. There’s also a new KPMG career development team to help people who want to stay in KPMG and those who want to leave.
Best for pay: KPMG in Audit, Deloitte in consulting
If you’re working in the UK, figures from pay data company Emolument suggest KPMG is by far the best payer in audit. However, Deloitte is by far the best payer in consulting.
Find out where PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG feature in the 2016 eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer Rankings