What Are the Big 4 Accounting Firms? (With Career Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The Big Four is the nickname used to refer to the four big accounting firms in the world as measured by revenue. Besides auditing services, the Big Four offer management, tax consulting, market research, valuation, assurance and legal advisory services. Working for one of these firms can help you improve your skills and position yourself as a skilled accounting professional. In this article, we discuss what the big four accounting firms are, list the primary revenue sources for these companies, share their history and revenue and provide tips to help you become a consultant with the Big Four.

What are the Big 4 accounting firms?

The Big Four accounting firms refer to the four largest accounting and auditing companies in the world, which bring in billions in revenue. Ranked by 2021 revenue figures, the big four are Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (Deloitte), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), respectively. The Big Four are certified public accounting firms that often handle audits for most companies that trade stocks publicly.

The Big Four rely on a global network of independently owned and managed firms that agree to share the common name, standards and brand of the Big Four. A firm working under the name of the Big Four typically operates in only one country and complies with its regulatory laws. For example, a KPMG office in Hong Kong can only offer its services to organisations within Hong Kong.

Related: What Does an Accountant Do? (With Job Duties and Salary)

Revenue sources for the Big 4

The Big Four also makes money by offering auditing services, market research, valuation, tax, legal advisory and assurance. They also generate revenue from offering consulting services, such as strategy and management consulting. Also, these firms audit a large part of the Fortune 500, which is a large market share of the top trading corporations. Auditing is the most profitable service for the Big Four. In 2021, the Big Four reported combined revenue of more than $160 billion with more than a million employees.

Related: What Does a Management Accountant Do? Definition, Duties and Salary

History and revenue generated by the Big Four

Here's how the Big Four accounting firms generated revenue in 2021:

PricewaterhouseCoopers

With more than 280,000 employees across 157 territories, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) ranks as the second-largest professional services network in the world. The company started when two companies, Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse, merged in 1998. The firm has maintained exceptional customer service since then, and the revenue it generated is increasing. PwC has headquarters in Hong Kong and London, but independent partners in the United States own it. Here are the primary services of the firm:

  • technology consulting

  • risk consulting

  • management consulting

  • strategy consulting

If you're a technology expert who loves solving problems, PwC might be a good place to work. The firm may provide you with lots of opportunities to work with and learn from experienced professionals. Also, you might meet various clients and you can work on a range of projects. PwC helps students prepare for their careers by offering part-time internships that complement their studies. During these internships, interns take part in meetings with clients and experts in the field, allowing them to absorb as much information as they can while still learning.

Related: What Is a Chartered Accountant? Definition and Career Guide

Deloitte

Deloitte started in 1985, and while it went through a series of acquisitions and mergers, it retained its original name. The company focuses on technology, strategy and operations and human capital. Deloitte usually targets MBA graduates, undergraduates and interns. It values ethics and integrity and looks for these qualities in those they hire.

The firm works to make a meaningful difference for its clients. As an employee of the company, your team might encourage you to challenge yourself. You might also have the opportunity to teach others. This firm is consistently named the Best Place to Launch a Career, the Most In-Demand Employer and one of the top five Most Appealing Places to Work. Working at Deloitte means you can expect to work with Fortune 500 companies in finance.

KPMG

KPMG, which stands for Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler, began when Klynveld Main Goerdeler merged with Peat Marwick in 1987. The company serves over 147 territories with about 230,000 employees worldwide. It has headquarters in Amstelveen, Netherlands, though it's also incorporated in the United Kingdom. The firm's primary sources of revenue include taxes and advisory services and financial audits. Here are the top consulting areas of the company:

  • business protection

  • business performance

  • social, environmental and governance

  • digital adoption and transformation

KPMG's primary focus is on technical and analytical work. It's a great company to work for if you want to cultivate a deep understanding of Fortune 500 business operations. Like the other Big Four companies, KPMG targets graduate and undergraduate students. It also offers continued education to its employees.

E&Y

This accounting firm began when Arthur Young merged with Ernst and Whinney in 1989. The company has active firms in more than 150 territories worldwide, and it employs over 300,000 employees. The headquarters of the company is located in London and it's ranked as the 11th largest organisation in the world. Some of the top services the firm offers include:

  • cross-advisory

  • IT risk and assurance

  • risk analysis

  • performance improvement

E&Y remains at the top of the list for awards, such as Best Places to Launch A Career, Where Women Want to Work, Most Diverse Companies and Best Places to Work. The company targets two main candidates, graduates and undergraduates with less than three years of work experience. The company also offers students associate positions where they receive on-the-job training and immediate placement in the fields of their choice. E&Y values collaboration, social impact and sustainable career growth for employees.

Tips to help you become a consultant with the Big Four

Here are a few tips to help you become a consultant with the Big Four:

Get good grades

Getting good grades at university can help you qualify for positions at one of the largest accounting firms in the world. If you meet these criteria, you can ask the university you attended to organise your application materials. The university may also provide you with various resources to help you ace the interview process. Alternatively, you can apply for other consulting roles at smaller companies. This can help you gain work experience prior to moving into a role at the Big Four.

Begin early

It may be challenging to become a consultant with a Big Four firm, but it's possible to gain employment in one firm if you're hardworking and determined. You can start the application process early in your time at university so you can increase your chances of success. To learn the skills and knowledge you can develop to help you join the company, consider working as a part-time intern. The Big Four usually recruits interns, graduates and professionals who have an advanced degree in accounting.

Related: 50 of the Highest Paying Jobs You Can Apply For

Choose the right company for you

It's important to choose a company with requirements that best suit your skills. Choosing the right accounting company can help you ensure that you work in the organisation for longer, and you might feel comfortable in the workplace. This can help you achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Do well during the interviews

The big four accounting firms primarily focus on employing professionals with excellent skills and determination. They usually have a series of interviews to help the hiring manager or team evaluate your qualifications. Thus, make sure to prepare for these interviews and practise multiple times to help increase your chances of getting hired for a role.

Related: 6 Common Interview Questions About Teamwork (With Answers)

Learn the right skills

Some of the key skills you can develop to help you become a consultant at one of the big accounting firms include the following:

  • resilience

  • self-confidence

  • emotional intelligence

  • thinking skills

  • leadership and management

  • commerciality

  • commitment to the company's vision and clients

  • determination

Recently, the firms started offering digital transformation consulting services to help organisations meet the needs of the digital age. Consider developing technical computer skills to help you perform these tasks effectively. You can also develop an understanding of tax laws and auditing and accounting standards in the country you work in.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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