There are four audit firms in the world which are categorized as ‘Big 4’, their names are listed below:
- Ernst & Young (EY)
- Deloitte Touche & Tohmatsu (DTT)
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC)
These professional services firms provide different services including auditing, business advisory, taxation and related services. The rankings of these Big 4 four firms varies from year to year and depends on various measures. For example, one of these may be number one based on the highest amount of revenue, and the other may be number one based on the higher number of employees etc. But these four firms are significantly larger than the rest of the audit firms in the world.
All other firms, other than Big 4 audit firms, are non-big 4 firms. We can classify them under top 10 or top 20 or top 50 (depending upon their respective category). So, if an audit firm is in ranking from number 5 to 10, that firm will be referred to as top 10 audit firm. Although Big 4 audit firms are also among top 10 audit firms, they are not usually referred to as top 10, as they have their distinctive ranking of Big 4 firms.
Below are the audit firms in considered in top 10 generally:
- Crowe Horwath
- Grant Thornton
- Baker Tilly
- Moss Adams
If you refer to most of the job advertisements in the field of auditing, accounting and finance, you’ll notice that a significant number of ads require Big Four candidates. Job posts contain wordings like “preference will be given to Big 4 candidates”, “candidate should have Big 4 background”, “A strong preference is for the Big 4 trained”, “Experience form Big 4 audit firms is mandatory”, and “Big 4 experience will be highly valued” etc.
This kind of sentences you’ll often find in jobs, and this conveys a message, i.e., most of the large companies prefer candidates who have good experience from Big 4 audit firms.
This preference is because of the following reasons:
- Big 4 candidates usually have worked on large scale assignments and projects like auditing of a listed or a multinational company or a large group. Such exposure rarely happens with candidates from small audit firms. This is because small audit firms usually have small and medium enterprises as their clientele.
- Big 4 audit firms provide rigorous training programs to their staff regularly. These training programs widely range from the use of software(s), ethical training, IFRS updates and interpersonal skills training. Such learning and development opportunities are not usually available to the staff of small audit firms because of budget and resource constraints.
- Big 4 audit firms are a preferred choice of candidates. Therefore, top graduates and high performing candidates prefer to choose Big 4. These candidates deliver better in audit firms and after that in the industry as well. The class of candidates left for small audit firms is usually not of impressive profile (however, exceptions always exist).
- Better branding and recognition of Big 4 exerts a significant impression on clients and the overall industry. This general perception means that any company would already be impressed with the profile of the candidate even before he or she enters the interview room. While on the other hand, candidates from small audit firms have to fight to obtain their credibility and significance.
- Cross-border secondments and assignments is another pie of the cake available mostly to the Big 4 candidates only. Many Big 4 audit firms send their staff to their international locations for different audit and advisory assignments. This arrangement provides candidates with an excellent opportunity to witness multiple work cultures, and it enhances the personal and professional growth of the candidates. However, such opportunities are rarely available to non-big four candidates.
However, it is not always the Big 4 audit firms and their candidates who are winners all the times. There are some points which are in favor of small and medium audit firms as well.
These are listed below:
- The career ladder is usually shorter in small audit firms. There would not be many hierarchy levels to reach the top level. In a small audit firm, a candidate may progress to Partner level in 5 to 7 years, while in a Big 4 audit firm, it may take around 20 years on average.
- Learning is, for sure, faster in small audit firms as compared to their large counterparts. This difference is because usually, an individual is handling all work of a short audit assignment. This single-handed-job provides an exceptional opportunity to learn all the items of an audit process, including preparation of financial statements, drafting and present management letter and performing audit procedures. While in the case of Big 4 audit firms, you may be given limited responsibility initially.
- Some company prefer candidates from audit firms as they are not demanding like the candidates from Big 4 audit firms. Some companies complain that Big 4 candidates change their jobs quickly as they get multiple offers, so they are not reliable or loyal. While candidates form non-Big 4 background are likely to stay in their roles for a relatively long period.
- Hiring a candidate from Big 4 audit firms require more money, so here comes the factor of cost. A company which prefers to save cost would evaluate a candidate from a small audit firm, and if they find him suitable, they would prefer this candidate over someone form Big 4, due to the apparent reason of cost-saving.
- Some candidates prefer small audit firms because they feel valued and important there. If the same candidate was in a Big 4 audit firm, he may not be able to grab that attention and significance, considering that there would be many other similar or better team members.
On an overall basis, we can conclude that there is no one best fit for everything. We cannot term clearly a Big 4 candidate better than a non-big 4 candidates. It depends a lot on one’s preference, option, context and personal capabilities. Each candidate should be evaluated at his own skill set and qualifications.