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Is there really any difference between EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PWC?

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.

The Partners

The Big Four is run not by shareholders as a company but by its partners. It might take you over a decade to reach the peak, but the pie is lucrative when you cut it up for dessert.

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.

Deloitte

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

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.

EY

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

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.

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Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: Zeno.Toulon@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance.

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AUTHORZeno Toulon
  • Ra
    Randorando
    7 June 2019

    How is EY the smallest, yet it's 3rd in revenue and 2nd in the number of Employees?

  • eb
    eboniprincess
    27 March 2018

    Helpful comments give insights to the comparisons.

  • Ti
    Tim
    30 November 2017

    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 !!!

  • Mu
    Muk_siri
    8 July 2017

    It is very useful and attractive article.

  • Al
    Alex
    7 October 2016

    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.

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