What are the Big Four?
The Big Four: Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC. The biggest professional services firms in the world don’t need an introduction to many, but they do deserve a look into. How do you get a job there? What is it like to work for them? What do they do? What do they not?
What are the Big Four?
The Big Four were, for most of the twentieth century were the Big Eight. Competition and scandal brought them together between the late 1980s and 2001 to create the four firms that exist today – Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Well, we say firms, but they’re not firms. The 1.4m employees between them (which makes them bigger than the US army) are a collection of national corporations across the globe that cooperate on standards, branding, and other things.
What do the Big Four do?
How long is a piece of string? Well, it’s a complicated situation. All are “professional services” firms, but the definition of what that constitutes is loose.
Their primary activity (or at least the one they’re best known for) is providing audit & assurance services, which is essentially accounting. They also provide tax & legal services as well as consulting services.
Although the Big Four started as a collection of accounting firms, all of them are now primarily consulting firms in terms of revenue, with Deloitte’s consulting revenue being larger than its other services’ revenue combined.
How easy is it to get a job with the Big Four?
Working for the Big Four is an exciting prospect. Between them, they took on 181,000 new employees worldwide in the last financial year, the majority of which are graduates. Deloitte, for instance, employs around 26,000 people in the UK and are taking on “2,500 graduates and apprentices” over the next year.
It has over 400,000 employees worldwide, compared to EY’s 365,000, PwC’s 328,000, and KPMG’s 265,000. All had similar growth throughout 2022, ranging from PwC’s 11% growth to Deloitte’s 19%.
In spite of the huge headcount (and hiring), getting a job at one of these firms is not to be scoffed at. It’s extremely competitive – PwC accepts around 3.8% of applications in the UK, which is barely a cut above Goldman Sachs’ 3% acceptance rate.
What’s more, when you become a partner, you’ll have to stump up some money (member’s capital) and you’ll only get it back if you resign or retire. This might sound like a bad deal, but partners get paid a lot and receive a share of the profits.
Measured in terms of revenues, Deloitte is the biggest Big Four firm. In 2022 its global revenues totaled $59.3bn, an increase of 18%, and it employed 411,000 people. Deloitte is massive.
Like most Big Four firms, Deloitte splits its business into different areas. They are audit and assurance, consulting, tax and legal, financial advisory, and risk advisory. Deloitte is particularly well known for its consulting arm, which grew at a rate of 23% in 2022, and which is itself divided into a technology consulting arm, a strategy and operations arm, and a ‘human capital’ (ie. Managing people) arm. Deloitte’s focus on consulting can be traced to the fact that it was the only Big Four firm to retain its consulting arm after the Enron scandal in the early 2000s.
PwC is the second biggest of the Big Four professional services firms. In 2022 its global revenues were $50.3bn, an 11.5% increase, and it employed 328,000 people.
While Deloitte is known for its strong consulting arm, PwC’s prominence has traditionally been in audit. It had the highest audit revenue among the Big Four, and that’s probably why it’s usually seen as one of the most prestigious (if not the most prestigious) Big Four firm to work for.
It’s also working hard to increase social mobility by, for example, changing the way it interviews students in the UK – interviews are now based around 'future focused' scenario questions which assess candidates' potential, instead of experience-based questions, which focus on past work experience.
The second biggest in terms of headcount but the third biggest in terms of revenue ($45bn), EY was the smallest big four firm for a long time.
EY’s business is split into four main groups: assurance, tax, advisory and transaction advisory. Transaction advisory professionals help with things like M&A and strategy advice. Mere advisory professionals include things like risk advisors, IT advisors and people who help make “performance improvements.”
EY is pushing strongly into technological consulting. It’s created an EY Global Innovation Garage (yes) in California to ‘foster innovative solutions for EY and its clients.’ And it already employs 20,000 data and analytics practitioners (of whom over 2,000 are actual data scientists) globally.
KPMG is the smallest of the big four firms both by headcount and revenue ($35bn), although its core audit & assurance sector is strong – even stronger than Deloitte’s, in fact.
The firm has a reputation for being more European than some other Big Four firms. Staff insiders describe a culture that is quirky, with less pressure to fit into the stereotypical city graduate lifestyle. KPMG is also big on learning and development, with a high spend on coaching and mentoring, both structured and informal.
Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: Zeno.Toulon@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance.
Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)