Getting a job at one of the ‘Big 4’ firms will set you down a completely unrecognizable work path as compared to working at a regional firm.
The job title may be the same, but pretty much everything else will be different.
In the time I’ve spent researching becoming a consultant, the differences between the two career paths come up again and again. But what are the major differences?
The main 7 differences between working at a ‘Big 4’ firm or a regional firm are:
- The size and scope of the organization
- The amount of travel required
- The type of clients you will work with
- The services both sets of companies offer
- The career path
- Work-life balance
In this post, I’ll take a look at these seven differences in full.
7 Differences Between Working At A ‘Big 4’ Firm Or Working At A Regional Firm
1. Size And Scope
A big obvious difference is the simple scale of the two respective sectors.
Big 4 firms (KPMG, EY, PwC, and Deloitte) are enormous! They have hundreds of thousands of employees across around 150 countries across the world.
In the United States, the vast majority of states will have at least one of their branches, and some states have multiple.
The ‘Big 4’ firms are global professional services organizations. They are among the largest professional services firms in the world.
They are big, and they work with other big players in markets and industries.
On the other side of the equation, regional firms will be smaller. They will focus on:
- A more limited geographic scope
- Serving smaller clients
- Serving clients from their local area
A regional firm may specialize in just one service area, as opposed to the multiple represented by the Big 4.
In terms of size, regional firms can be anywhere between:
- A handful of workers
- One branch
- Several branches, with hundreds of employees
A big difference between the two types of firms is the amount of travel you may be required to do.
I should first say that the amount of travel is not set in stone when working at a Big 4 company. The amount of travel an employee has to undertake will vary depending on their sector, and the clients they are working with.
Having said that, in general employees of the Big 4 will require a vastly larger amount of travel.
This is because their company has a larger global presence and client base.
Employees will be required to travel for:
- Client meetings
This can involve trips within the same city, or country, or even to different destinations around the world.
Employees will often be on the road for several days or even weeks at a time.
At a regional firm, the client base will normally be more localized, so travel tends to be less of an issue.
Employees will still often travel for the same purposes (meetings, training, audits, etc), but the destinations will often be in the local city or region.
If you are looking to get a job in either the Big 4 or a regional firm, the amount of travel you want to do is likely to be a deciding factor. Want to see the world, and don’t mind living out of a suitcase for the next few years – the Big 4 is for you.
Want to stay closer to your local area – then a regional firm is the way to go.
I found an excellent Youtube video by Ryan Rafi where he compares the amount of travel for Big 4 consultants and more boutique consultants. You can watch it here:
In general, Big 4 firms are serving larger corporations, including the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies.
The Fortune 500 is an annual list created by Fortune Magazine of the 500 largest corporations in the United States by revenue. Although the Big 4 are not listed on the Fortune 500, this is because they do not publicly announce their annual revenue (as they are not public companies).
I wrote a whole article about why the ‘Big 4’ aren’t in the Fortune 500, which you can read here.
Big 4 firms provide professional services to large multinational corporations and government entities. These clients will typically have:
- Complex needs
- Require a wide range of professional services
- Require tax, auditing, advisory, and consulting services
Examples of clients that the Big 4 service, include:
|Sector||Company||Approximate Size Of Global Workforce|
|Retail||Walmart||2.2 million (Source)|
|Retail||Amazon||1.5 million (Source)|
|Finance||Berkshire Hathaway||372,000 (Source)|
Regional firms tend to serve local and smaller clients, including:
- Small to medium-sized businesses
- Government entities
- Non-profit organizations
These clients will often require more laser-focused services, rather than services across the full spectrum. They may require accounting, for example, or work on how to prepare their taxes.
The ‘Big 4’ firms offer a wide and comprehensive range of professional services, that include:
- Tax services
- Advisory services
They have the resources and expertise to serve clients across a variety of industries. They can also service global corporations, with branches across multiple countries.
A regional firm, may often have a more focused and niche area of service that they provide. They are often looking to specialize in the depth of skills they have in one area, rather than spread themselves too thinly across a range of services.
They often specialize in one geographic area or industry. Regional firms will often provide a more intimate and personal approach to client service.
5. Career Path
A big consideration for many when deciding what type of firm to join, is the prospective career path of each.
In general, the Big 4 firms tend to have a more structured and well-defined career path.
There is huge scope for opportunities for advancement. There is also the possibility of global advancement, if that’s something you’re interested in.
With this comes pressures, however. Working at a Big 4 firms is fast-paced and challenging. But on the flip side, their are opportunities for rapid advancement and global exposure.
Big 4 firms heavily invest in their employees. They are exposed to a wide number of clients and industries.
Many Big 4 employees go on to any of the following:
- Senior management positions
- Become partners
- Start their own businesses
Working for a regional firm, on the other hand, provides a less intense working environment.
In general, career advancement may be more gradual.
There is a focus on building deep relationships with clients.
It should be said, though, that regional firms still provide excellent remuneration, while also offering a rewarding career path for employees.
Here’s a table that demonstrates some of the pros can cons of working at a Big 4 firm or a regional firm, where career path is concerned:
|Big 4||-More Training|
-More opportunities for rapid advancement
-Opportunities for global redeployment
-Many will start their own business following employment
|-More challenging work environment|
-Less work-life balance
|Regional Firm||-A less frenetic and challenging environment|
-No risk of being redeployed globally
-Better work-life balance
-Generally more relaxed working life
-Fewer opportunities for rapid advancement
Big 4 Firms
There is some debate about this, but in general Big 4 firms offer higher compensation and benefits packages.
Your pay at a Big 4 firm will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- Years of experience
- Your location
- Your specific job role
Having said that, employees at a ‘Big 4’ firms tend to earn higher salaries and benefits compared to those at regional firms.
Big 4 are typically able to offer competitive compensation packages. They typically will offer:
- Health insurance
- Retirement plans
- Paid time off
- Performance-based bonuses
- Other incentives
The performance-based bonuses, in particular, can really skyrocket your pay packet.
Regional firms may have more limited resources. Subsequently, they may not be able to offer quite as lucrative offers as Big 4 companies.
However, you should bear in mind that you typically will be working fewer hours at a regional firm. Therefore, your hourly rate may not be that different between the two.
Jobs at regional firms are still lucrative when judged against the vast number of other potential careers.
They have many benefits, such as:
- Working in a regional firm can mean living somewhere where your cost of living is lower
- They are competitive in their local job market
- You work less hours than at a Big 4 firm (usually)
If you’re looking to find out the kinds of salaries to expect, then here’s a Youtube video that spills the beans on how much you can expect to be paid in different jobs in consulting:
7. Work-Life Balance
In general, professionals at regional firms report a much more positive work-life balance than those who work for the ‘Big 4’.
‘Big 4’ firms demand long hours and frequent travel.
It is a demanding sector of work, with highly pressurized targets, and many challenges for a work-life balance.
On the other hand, working at a regional firm will still be challenging, but usually less so than at a Big 4 firm.
There are typically fewer clients and more focused services.
The focus is often on providing high-quality services to a smaller group of clients, not rapid growth.
For many, this results in a more relaxed and less-pressurized environment, where you can balance the demands of work, leisure, and family and friends.