The Big 4.
PwC, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and Deloitte.
Anyone who has an interest in being accountant knows exactly who they are, and what they do. However, not every perspective accountant knows exactly what the life of someone who works for these firms is like.
I started my experience in one of the Big 4 in the Audit department. This is often where a lot of people start out.
For me, I was told at University that going into Audit would give me the widest possible experience and allow me to learn exactly what interested me. This was because when I was leaving University, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do long term (FYI – I studied Accounting and Finance at University).
It is important to note that every one of the Big 4 is different in their own ways, and also different depending upon location. For me, I worked in a relatively small office within the Financial Services sector.
This meant the vast majority of my work was within Banks, Trust Funds, Private Equity, and so on…
What I Loved About My Big 4 Firm
The main great thing about my office was that there were plenty of great individuals, from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were in my department, and others were in a completely different area.
As a part of my time there, I had various opportunities to experience other things other than my audit work. For example, I was able to become a part of the employment process alongside the Human Resources department, where I would help to interview the potential new joiners.
The credit of training with a Big 4 firm will stand you in good stead for your further career. It acts like a golden seal on your CV, and will mark you significantly higher above those who have trained at unknown or sub-tier firms.
There are some fantastic networking opportunities as a young accountant working within a Big 4 Firm. I was able to work with some incredible clients who were not only lovely people, but also an inspiration to look up to. Some clients will even try and pinch you from your firm once you qualify!
While the exams are incredibly difficult (I did ICAS and became a CA), they are very much worth it. I almost had a mental breakdown during one set of my exams, but I managed to pass those first time in the end. They are challenging, but teach you a lot about yourself. I think the support you are provided is likely far more significant at a Big 4 Firm compared to a small firm when it comes to exam support. However, saying that, they’re also likely to be a little less understanding when it comes to resits and failures. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of other people who they could replace you with…
What I Hated About My Big 4 Firm
The people were a pro and a con.
Some of the people there were fantastic, but also some were an absolute nightmare. At some points the office could have a very ‘high school’ feel, and there’s a significant level of office politics going on. Some people can adapt to this well, but others may hate it.
The hours during busy season can be very draining. Especially if you’re on a large client, you can expect to do 60+ hour weeks for a few months. This can be fine if you’ve got a great team. However, as previously mentioned, the people were not always great, so you could end up on a terrible team, which would make the busy period a nightmare.
Understaffing was a common issue during busy periods. Due to the nature of the job, as people qualified, they would often leave. Which meant during certain periods of the year, there would be significant outflows of staff, and the HR department never seemed to be able to handle it with an equal inflow of people.
However, also due to the nature of the job, during the months later in the year (late summer time), the work tends to dry up a little. This means that you could often find yourself with very little work to do, and by this point the understaffing definitely is not an issue.
There is little to nothing in terms of bonuses. The only major bonus I got during my time there was due to referrals (and it was a significant uncommon number of referrals I made). Generally speaking, an employee at Senior level and below was unlikely to get anything above £200 extra in bonuses before tax during the year.
I was never a fan of the system of measuring performance within the firm. I was often criticised on aspects out with my control. For example, I was once critiqued on how my face looked generally within the office by a Director during a feedback appraisal (resting bitch face problems…) It was in fact this event which set up the events for me deciding to leave the firm.
Overall, I would say I enjoyed my time at the firm for about 50% of the time I was there. I never joined with the intention of becoming an auditor for the long term, or even an accountant. I went into my training in order to gain further knowledge and experience, while gaining a rock-solid qualification with one of the best firms in the world.
Would I have enjoyed my time more at another firm? Quite possibly. But I don’t regret choosing a Big 4 firm, as it has greatly benefitted my career, and allowed me to network with people and businesses which I wouldn’t have been able to within a small firm.
I would always recommend going to a Big 4 Firm if you want to qualify as an accountant. I wouldn’t recommend staying there for the long term, as the salary and experiences are significantly better outside the firms within industry. However, as your starting foundation, you will struggle to find better.