Working for PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG. What’s the difference?



If you’ve decided to work for a Big Four accounting firm, you may be ambivalent about which one you go for. After all, they’re all pretty similar aren’t they? That depends upon who you speak to.

“They’re all much of a muchness,” says a London-based Big Four recruiter. “They’ll all work you hard. They all work with big clients. They’re all global.” Stevan Rolls, UK head of HR for Deloitte, partially agrees: “The Big Four are pretty similar in that they’re all large professional partnerships and have a lot in common, but there are important structural and cultural differences too.”

Employees who’ve skipped between the firms say these differences are noticeable when you’re on the ground. “When I moved from Deloitte to PwC, I was surprised at how different the culture was,” says one UK-based PwC employee. “In the UK, PwC is the largest firm and Deloitte was playing catch-up – that created a very competitive culture at Deloitte, whereas PwC was more comfortable in its skin. There’s less pressure to put revenue growth before everything else.”

If PwC is less ‘competitive’ than Deloitte, it also stands accused of being more arrogant and more pleased with itself. PwC is disproportionately focused on the stuffier audit side of the business, while Deloitte (which was the only Big Four firm to retain its consulting arm after the Enron scandal in the early 2000s) has a far larger focus on consulting work. Rolls says this makes Deloitte more entrepreneurial: “Audit has historically been an annuity business, where you keep the same clients year after year. However, in consulting you start each year with a clean slate and need to go out and find the business and start again.” People at Deloitte are confident but not arrogant, adds Rolls: “There’s a very can-do approach. A huge concentration of quality.”

Ultimately, however, most Big Four firms will make similar sorts of claims. “EY is different – we’re a more globally aligned business and we’re very entrepreneurial,” says a director in HR at the firm. “We’re more focused on people’s talents rather than their backgrounds,” says Rolls at Deloitte. “We recruit and reward based on merit, irrespective of difference and background, in a fair and consistent way,” claims KPMG.

To help cut through all the claims and counterclaims, we’ve looked at the stats and the awards and the online testimonials of Big Four employees globally. Using these measures, we’ve assembled the pointers below. We think they’re right, but feel free to challenge them in the comments box beneath if you think they’re not.

Best for sheer size: Deloitte

If you want to work for a Big Four firm that’s a beast on a global scale, you want to work for Deloitte, or maybe PwC….The two firms alternate as global leaders on a revenue basis. Right now, Deloitte occupies the top slot globally with $34.2bn of revenues. PwC is not far behind, however, with $32bn. EY is on $27.4bn. KPMG is coming last on ‘just’ $24.8bn.

Deloitte also employs enough people to populate a small city: it had 210,000 professionals globally in 2014. PwC had 195,000. EY had 190,000 and ‘little’ KPMG only had 162,000.

Best for overall growth: EY

Big Four firms are big, established beasts. Here, you will not find the sorts of crazy revenue growth associated with a company that lets users swap photos of their gerbils. The firm with the fastest overall revenue growth in 2014 was EY, with a steady 6.8%.

There were some big discrepancies in growth rates regionally, however. If you want a firm that’s growing fast in the Americas, try KPMG which achieved 10.1% last year. If you want a firm that’s growing fast in Asia, try PwC, which achieved a 9.1% growth rate in 2014 compared to just 3.8% across APAC for KPMG.

Best for audit: PWC

If audit is your area, PwC is the biggest firm on a global scale. In 2014, PWC made $15bn from its audit business – 34% more than its closest competitor (EY). PWC also gets a disproportionate amount of its revenues from audit: 44% compared to 30% at Deloitte.

Best for consulting and advisory: Deloitte

If PWC is an audit machine, Deloitte is its consulting equivalent. Although all Big Four firms are now trying to build their consulting practices, Deloitte had a serious head-start after retaining its consulting business in the early 2000s. As a result, Deloitte’s combined consulting and advisory businesses generated $17.6bn in revenues last year, This was 76% more than its closest competitor (PwC).

Best for promoting women: EY

Like investment banks, Big Four firms are lacking in senior women. Like investment banks, they have many programmes to try and remedy this. And like investment banks, they don’t seem to be getting very far. Based on figures for last year, the best Big Four firm for promoting women looks like EY, where 26% of the newly promoted partners were women. The worst looks like Deloitte, where 21% of people promoted to partner, principal and director were female.

Best for hiring graduates: All

We’re not going to say that any one Big Four firm is better for hiring graduates than others. They all hire enough graduates to staff a small investment bank on a yearly basis. Last year, PwC hired 20,000 graduates globally. EY hired 18,000.

Best for prestige: PwC

By all accounts, PwC is the best Big Four firm if you put a premium on prestige and generally impressing other people. PwC came first in the Vault’s 2015 ranking of top accounting firms. EY came second, Deloitte came third, KPMG came fourth. “PwC has historically been seen as having the best clients,” says the UK accounting recruiter (this may change since the introduction of mandatory audit rotations in the EU). The “prestige that comes with working at PwC” is a big reason for working there according to employees who spoke to the Vault.

Best for working hours: None

If you work for the Big Four, you may work shorter hours than if you work in banking. But you will still be worked stupidly hard. All Big Four firms are lambasted by employees who complain about the hours they work. The Vault survey unearthed people complaining about long hours and stress at Deloitte, being worn down at KPMG, “sacrifices” at EY and “working three weeks straight without a day off” at PwC.

It’s possible, however, that PwC’s working hours are more extreme than others. “No work-life balance – if you don’t mind a 90% work 10% life this is the place for you,” complains one employee on Glassdoor.

Best for employee happiness and crazy fun: EY

If you’re in the UK at least, EY is the place to work if you want to be happy and engaged. It ranked 14th among the 25 ‘Best Big Companies to Work For’ in 2015 – ahead of Deloitte, which came 22nd and was the only other Big Four firm on the list. Among other things, EY won plaudits for: inviting employees, ‘to dress up in yellow costumes or wigs and post photos of themselves on the intranet,’ to mark the first anniversary of its name change from Ernst & Young to EY.

Best for pay: EY

If you’re intending to spend your entire career at one single Big Four firm, EY is the place to be for pay. In the UK at least, figures from Emolument show that EY pays the most throughout a 15 year+ career. Conversely, PWC pays the least.

Different firms pay different amounts at different career stages, however. When you have 10-15 years’ experience, Emolument’s figures suggest that KPMG is most rewarding. When, you have 5-10 years’ experience, it’s Deloitte.

Source: Ms Sarah Butcher