In the world of professional services, there are so many possible career opportunities. Two popular options for you are working at a ‘Big 4’ accounting firm or in industry, which refers to any non-accounting firm where accountants work as employees.
Several differences contribute to the distinctiveness of the Big 4 companies vs industry. In this article, I have shortlisted the following 9:
- Career Development
- Client Base
- Service Offerings
- Scale of Operations
- Career Progression
- Job Security
- Work-Life Balance
- Technology Utilization
Below, I will discuss in detail the ‘Big 4’ vs. industry and the 9 subtle differences between the two.
1. Career Development
The Big 4 companies are well known for their comprehensive and structured training and development programs to hone their employees’ personal, business, and technical skills, especially in the accounting and finance divisions.
These programs at Big 4 companies range from classroom training, online courses, workshops, and conferences to on-the-job learning experiences.
Any EY employee on Quora states, “EY provides ample training – both technical and soft skill. EY has an amazing Learning & development team. They make sure to provide enough learning modules and sessions in a timely interval so that you can update yourself. The soft skill trainers (some are external) are one of the best in their field.”
On the other hand, Industry career development varies by sector and the individual company. Some firms in the industry provide formal training and advancement frameworks, similar to Big 4, while others have a more ad-hoc approach to employee development.
The Big 4 companies have broad expertise, focusing on a range of skills and offering diverse services.
Firms in the industry may have more niche expertise in a specific area or industry. They may have a smaller team and focus on providing tailored solutions to their clients.
3. Career Progression
At a Big 4 firm, you would typically find well-defined and structured career paths.
They often follow a hierarchical structure with clear levels of advancement, which provides a clear framework for career progression, with set criteria and expectations for moving up the ladder.
The industry encompasses firms of different sizes and structures, ranging from small to large regional or national companies. The career progression within these firms may vary based on their organizational structure and opportunities for advancement.
The table below summarizes the standardized career path at a Big 4 firm:
|Name of the Position||Years of Work Experience at the Firm|
|Associate||No prior work experience required|
|Senior Associate||3 years|
|Senior Manager||6-8 years|
|Partner||No fixed time frame|
4. Client Base
The clients of the Big 4 companies are typically large multinational corporations with significant financial resources. They demand high-quality services to ensure compliance with regulations and improve their operations.
On the other hand, firms in the industry cater to a broader range of clients, including:
- Small and medium-sized businesses
- Family-owned enterprises
5. Service Offerings
The Big 4 companies offer a more comprehensive range of services, including auditing, financial, tax, assurance, and consulting.
Industry firms may specialize in only one or two of these areas, including:
- Governmental accounting
- Private Accounting
- Internal auditing
- Forensic auditing
- Managerial Accounting
- Actuarial services
6. Scale of Operations
The scale of the Big 4 companies is significantly larger than that of most firms in the industry.
Compared to the broader industry, these firms have a global presence and stand out in terms of their size of operations, workforce, client base, and revenue figures.
Most firms in the industry are smaller, with a more limited range of services and a local or regional focus.
The table below shows the revenue, workforce, and global reach of each firm in the Big 4:
|Company Name||Revenue||Employees||Global Presence|
|EY||$45.2 bn||365,399||150 Countries|
|Deloitte||$59.3 bn||411,950||150 Countries|
|PwC||$50.3 bn||327,947||157 Countries|
|KPMG||$34.64 bn||359,499||155 Countries|
7. Job Security
While working at any of the Big 4 companies, you’ll rest assured of a long-term role with numerous benefits. These firms have strong reputations and large client bases, providing steady work and income for their employees.
Job security in the industry can vary depending on the individual company you opt for.
Some firms may experience financial difficulties or restructuring that could lead to layoffs, while others may provide a stable work environment to you.
8. Work-Life Balance
The workload at a Big 4 firm is considered much more demanding compared to the industry. High workload, long hours, travel requirements, and career advancement pressure make the job even more challenging.
On the flip side, the work in the industry may benefit you with much greater flexibility, employee autonomy, standard working hours, and niche specialization.
According to one of the Quora Contributors, “Well, work-life balance in Audit and Assurance is very bad. I have worked as a trainee and then Senior Consultant with one of the Big 4 audit firms in India for about 4 years. On average, during the year, I would work for 70-80 hours a week, and on some key engagements, it would be way more than that.”
9. Technology Utilization
The Big 4 accounting firms heavily invest in technology and digital solutions by incorporating AI, data analytics, and automation in their operations to enhance their service offerings.
While the Big 4 companies are at the forefront of technology adoption, other firms in the industry are slower in this race due to limited resources.