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Deloitte, PWC, KPMG & EY. Are the Big Four all the same?

Big Four accounting firms

Are they really all the same?

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 has adopted a “global purpose,” which it says is to  “build trust in society and to solve important problems,” and 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 Deloitte or maybe PWC….The two firms alternate as global leaders on a revenue basis. In 2016-2017, Deloitte had $38.8bn of revenues globally and PWC had $37.7bn. KPMG has yet to report its results for 2017, but it’s pretty tiny by comparison: revenues there were “just” $25.4bn in 2016.

Although PWC may have the highest revenues, Deloitte has by far the most staff – with 27,655 more than PWC. Curiously, EY has a lot of staff compared to the level of revenues they produce. While each PWC employee generates $160k in revenues, each member of EY staff generates $126k.

Best for hiring: Deloitte

KPMG hasn’t reported hiring numbers for 2016-2017, but among the firms that have, Deloitte comes top. In 2016 to 2017 it hired a massive 70,000 people globally – or one every eight minutes.

Best for audit: PWC

If audit is your area, PwC is the biggest firm on a global scale. In 2017, PWC made $17bn from its assurance business alone, compared to $12bn 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 consulting 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 ranks top in most consulting rankings and is a leader in risk, strategy and IT consulting globally.

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 persistently comes first in Vault’s ranking of the most prestigious accounting firms, followed by Deloitte, EY and KPMG. “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. PWC boasts that it works for 84% of Fortune 500 companies. 

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 PWC’s most recent people survey only 65% of its global employees said people there were considerate of life outside work (down from 66% in 2016).

In their defence, much like investment banks most Big Four firms are trying to do something to improve employees’ work-life balance. PWC is pushing flexible working and online meetings. In the UK, Deloitte 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 pay: Deloitte

If you’re working in the UK, figures for partner level pay suggest Deloitte is by far the most generous of the big four accounting firms. This may, however, be because Deloitte has a disproportionate number of partners working in its consulting business – where pay is typically higher than elsewhere.

Needless to say, the rank and file at Big Four accounting firms are paid a lot less than the partners. At PWC UK, the most recent accounts suggest the average person is paid £81k. At EY, the comparable figure for the year to June 2016 was £68k.

Comments (21)

  1. Thanks for the comparison.
    I have passed my early education prior to join firm as trainee student.
    I was looking for the best suitable firm for me.
    I think EY is at top position and i will join soon.

    Muhammad Shahzad Reply
  2. I’m starting at KPMG in August following my exam results. I however find that the resident KPMG branch on the Isle of Man has a better appeal to it than Deloitte. I think that’s personal preference, however I am sure as this article states, the work load will be great from all of the large firms.

  3. I think it’s important to realise that the organisational culture that may exist in PwC, KPMG, EY or Deloitte London or UK will not be reflected in many overseas jurisdictions where the Big Four have taken over many, many firms and re-branded them over the years. Whilst they may have introduced their processes the firms retain the culture of their senior partners. Whilst you may be expected to work round the clock in somewhere like London, New York or Dublin, you will find a totally different attitude to working hours in many other locations.

    Flying Dutchman Reply
  4. DELOITTE has no rivals..one step ahead…… If you want to become a leader, an entrepreneur, an innovator or a top manager, DELOITTE is the place to be.

    Davide Scialpi Reply
  5. The cultures of the Big Four firms vary a great deal depending on which country you are referring to. Besides the country culture you also have the company culture which can be very different depending on the growth and development journey of each firm.

    Pratap Nambiar Reply
  6. DELOITTE is the BEST..!! Trust me..!!

  7. It is evident that anyone should try to state that its Big 4 Firm present selection is the best possible selection. In any case, after several years working in Latin America in two of them, I can notice that, at least in my service line (Tax), EY is the best place to be when you look for an international experience where the transparent interaction between countries makes you feel part of a truly global team, every single day, not just when your project becomes international.

    For me it means developing a real world class talent and dealing with issues and ideas from all over the world every day, having a permanent benchmark of your present abilities and having very often the opportunity to understand global landscapes.

  8. You work stupidly hard and you need to get used to the deadlines that are tough , but in terms of culture and social interaction , as well as growth , competitiveness, and development in leadership skills in both audit and consulting…no other firm beats Deloitte- period.

  9. Deloitte is the best, no doubt. Just DU alone is good enough.

  10. KPMG rulez! Trust me, I have been with them 5 years now. Very relaxed atmosphere but demanding targets as well

  11. Your enjoyment of your time in any of these firms will be highly dependent on which bit of it you are in and how profitable it is. The good bits of EY were fun and had a good atmosphere (although you worked hard) whereas the bad bits -often in the FS part of the firm- were grim with not very strong partners scrabbling around for shreds of business. The advisory business model is broken with plenty of cheaper competition to the Big Four and so margins are squeezed. The contractor market also now plays a bigger role in competing against Big Four expertise too. Over the years many former colleagues have gone to other Big Four and found the situation broadly identical.

    In summary you can get very valuable experience from consulting although you will work very hard. You will not enjoy all of it or even much of it though you will make good friends on the way. The number of people who take to consulting and love it is tiny.

  12. I’m worked at Deloitte and KPMG – the culture and working hours are really dependent on the team you join. I found the hours at KPMG were much more amenable; and overall prefer KPMG… but that’s just me.

  13. EY was terrible to work for, management was a joke and the pay was even worse. KPMG has been a godsend in comparison. #EYSlaves

  14. The people here saying Deloitte is the best or PwC is the best really miss the point. I’ve worked at 2 big 4 firms and my wife all 4 (though one was only vacation work). While there are some truths in the overall analysis above, each division within each member firm is a beast upon itself. Some have great cultures, others don’t. Some are stronger in audit or consulting, against wider international trends. Some have fantastic work life balance, others are horrible. I have no issues with my work life balance, however many of my audit colleagues clearly have that ledger out of balance. Upon saying that, this seems to be the case across all big 4 firms.

  15. It all depends on the individuals (partners and/or managers) you work with, not so much the firm itself. You can work for DT or PwC and brag all you want to your friends, but if you work for terrible partners and managers (yes, there are many!), your life will be a nightmare. Unfortunately, in most occasions it’s quite difficult to distant yourself from the horrible partners/managers, especially when you are at staff/senior level. You can go and talk to other partners/managers and try to roll off of those horrendous people and their projects, but trust me – it will bite you back. So instead of analyzing which one has the most revenues or which one is the best for women (they all are quite flexible for working moms and women in general, I must admit), try to find out who you will be working with once you start there- for campus recruits, go to those events where big 4 people attend and talk to them and see who you like. For experienced hires – try to meet up with some people from the office you are aiming to join before you leap. At the end of the day, there would be some element of luck as to who you wind up working with whether you like it or not.

  16. This depends on which country the big fours are operating in.Apparently am working with Pwc Uganda and i find it the best in terms of career development .Otherwise the rest may look similar but there is a difference with these firms

  17. Right choice bro…

  18. I worked at both PwC and EY in Asia and while the hours are almost the same, the culture is totally different.

    At PwC, excellence is expected of you regardless if you’ve worked 2 hours or 20 hours. It was dreadful. They encourage every employee to be compete with each other in an extremely arrogant way. It’s difficult to get promoted unless you play office politics and the most annoying thing was, they keep trying to ramp-up their employee-branding repertoire by telling everyone about their ‘Work-Life Balance’ programmes inside an outside the firm (mostly for PR purposes). One example is their as flexible working arrangements of which I was interested in taking at the time. When I went into the intranet to search for the terms & conditions, the language was extremely vague. There wasn’t any particular procedure to apply for it other than having your boss say “I’m fine with you working three days a week”. But even if your boss is okay with that, you’ve got to get HR on your side as well as they decide whether you’re eligible to have flexible working arrangements. In truth, 99% of the people working there aren’t qualified. You’ve got to be either the bosses’ pet or an extremely valued employee to even be considered for such programmes. In short, PwC is all talk and no walk – pretty on the outside, but corrupted on the inside. As for compensation and benefits, they don’t pay you well compared to the work/hours you put in.

    When I moved to EY, at first, I thought it was going to be worse. They don’t invest as much on their office space unlike PwC so I thought I was entering hell. My desk wasn’t as fancy, and my phone had no screen. It all changed in an instant though in my first week.

    It really is about the culture. People at EY (at least here in Asia) are honestly friendly (compared to the shady people at PwC). One late night on my first month there, a colleague whom I’ve never met, saw me and approached me and made small talk? I told him I have work to complete in the morning. After he left, I went to the washroom. When I returned, there was a bag of food on my desk. I searched for him to say thanks, and he shared with me his first late night story in EY about 15 years ago (I didn’t mention to him I used to work at PwC as I know late nights all too well). It was only two weeks later I found out he was actually a partner! Most of the partners at EY are like that – extremely humble. There weren’t as many late nights in EY, but if there was, I got along amazingly with everyone who was doing the same. We all share jokes, food. It was odd, there are days I just stayed later, just so I can hang out with the ‘owls’ – although I would prefer if we all hanged out at a restaurant or bar instead (Not to say I didn’t have any other friends, but I mostly only hang out with them on weekends). Ironically, at EY, they don’t balk about “work-life balance”. You never hear those words coming out of the leadership team. Maybe because they too know it’s bullshit – because when one talks about Work-Life Balance it only means one thing: Time to do other things than work. And in this industry, the nature of the job doesn’t give you much time. As for pay, it’s still not as much compared to the effort you put in but the better culture makes a difference between you wanting to stab someone or just being grateful you’re around humble, intelligent people.

  19. It is very useful and attractive article.

  20. EY are by far the best employer I have ever had. I will stay here for the rest of my working life, I love it. We’re trusted to manage our work without being micro-managed and we enjoy flexible working arrangements. The D&I focus and inclusion makes EY a joy to work for, oh and apart from that, we’re the fastest growing of the Big 4.This is the place to be !!!

  21. Helpful comments give insights to the comparisons.

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