Skip to Content

5 Reasons Why Big 4 Partners (Sometimes) Get Fired

It is certainly possible for partners at the ‘Big Four’ firms to be fired, though it’s pretty rare.

Partners at Big Four firms (KPMG, EY, Deloitte, and PwC) are part owners of their respective firms. Firing a partner would require a thorough investigation and review. It would normally be because of reasons such as financial irregularities or professional misconduct.

In this post, I’ll look at:

  • Do partners at the ‘Big Four’ firms ever really get fired?
  • The 5 most important reasons why this might happen
  • How often partners at the Big 4 are fired
  • How many partners there are at the Big 4
  • How are the partners at the Big 4 employed
Big 4 office building

Do Partners At The Big 4 Get Fired?

It is definitely something that does sometimes happen, but it is definitely on the rare side.

Partners are the most senior members of the firm, and they have not got there by chance!

They have shown excellence in their profession over a significant number of years. They are responsible for bringing in new business and clients and managing existing client relationships.

They uphold the firm’s values and standards.

However, there are certainly reasons why some can and do get fired. Let’s take a look at the 5 most common reasons:

5 Reasons Why Partners At The Big 4 Might Get Fired

1. Poor Performance

This is the most obvious reason.

Poor performance for a partner will normally need to be shown over a long time period, rather than a single mistake (normally).

Some issues that may constitute poor performance over time include:

  • The partner lacks the ability to generate new business
  • They fail to meet targets such as financial targets
  • Complaints from clients
  • Lack of ability to manage and lead a team
  • Weaknesses in their professional development or industry knowledge

Poor performance would most likely lead to disciplinary action first, before the possibility of being fired further down the line.

2. Violating Ethical Standards

These kinds of firings may be the ones you hear about more ‘on the grapevine’ because they’re a bit more shocking, and could involve criminality.

Violating ethical standards for a partner at a Big 4 company could involve any of the following:

  • Engaging in discriminatory or bullying behavior
  • Harassment
  • Engaging in fraud
  • Misusing confidential information
  • Accepting bribes
  • Misuse of company resources
  • Violating regulations related to auditing
  • Getting involved in insider trading

Once again, any of these violations could lead to disciplinary proceedings, getting fired, or even criminal prosecution.

3. Misconduct

Misconduct really comes under anything that may violate the firm’s procedures, policies, or ethical standards.

Some examples include:

  • Violating anti-money laundering laws
  • Violating tax laws
  • Harassing behavior
  • Engaging in discriminatory behavior
  • Violation of laws and regulations
  • Misusing company resources
  • Falsifying time records
  • Billing clients for work not performed
  • Accepting gifts or bribes

It is important for partners at Big 4 firms to conduct themselves with professionalism at all times.

4. Financial Mismanagement

It is likely this is one of the more common areas.

Partners are jointly responsible for managing the financial aspects of the company.

Financial mismanagement could include any of the following:

  • Misappropriation of funds
  • Embezzlement
  • Failure to maintain accurate financial records
  • Failing to collect fees for work that was performed
  • Failing to properly allocate expenses
  • Billing clients for non-existent work
  • Making unauthorized financial decisions

Of course, any of these actions can really affect the financial performance of the firm.

5. Lack Of Compliance

This basically means that partners are expected to be compliant with all professional standards and regulations.

Lack of compliance could involve any of the following:

  • Failure to comply with anti-corruption laws
  • Failure to comply with auditing standards
  • Failure to comply with data privacy laws
  • Lack of compliance with money laundering laws
  • Failure to adhere to their own company’s policies and procedures
  • Failure to disclose significant conflicts of interest

How Often Are Partners At The Big 4 Fired?

There is currently no data available that states how often partners at the Big 4 are fired. None of the four firms released this information to the public.

However, in my opinion, it is likely to be extremely rare.

Partners are the nucleus of all of the Big 4. These are skilled professionals who have worked their way up on merit.

Getting rid of a partner would not be an easy task. That would need an investigation and a review, which would be time-consuming and costly.

Partners are paid anywhere from $300,000 a year to around $3,000,000, so they hold coveted positions.

How Many Partners Are There At The Big 4?

Of course, the number of partners at the ‘Big Four’ varies over time.

Partners will come and go for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • They retire
  • They find a new job at a different firm
  • They are promoted to new positions

The Big 4 are giant companies that all operate in more than 100 countries around the world.

In the US alone, the Big 4 are represented in virtually every single state.

Approximately speaking, there are currently the following numbers of partners in the Big 4 firms: (figures according to Statistica)

Big Four FirmApproximate Number Of Partners
Ernst and Young3500
Price Waterhouse Coopers3850


How Are The Partners In The Big 4 Employed?

One issue to remember is that partners at the Big 4 are not actually employees of the company. They are joint owners of the firm, and so have a very different set of rights and responsibilities to employees.

Partners see themselves as owners of their own businesses within the firm and have a big say in the firm’s overall success.

Partners have a voice in setting the direction and management of the firm.

They also share the profits! This really does demonstrate that they have a long-term commitment to the firm’s success.

Partners don’t just normally receive a salary. They also get a cut of the company’s profits.

All this adds up to make them much less vulnerable to being fired than the average employee.


  • Will Bennett

    Will Bennett is a Cambridge graduate. He worked as a Consultant and Senior Consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in London. Will is the Founder of The Cambridge Consultant.