I know people say that all Big 4 Firms are the same on paper, but I would really like to know what is unique about each of these firms!
If you’re referring to Big 4 Accounting, what you will probably find is that they are quite similar, and the differences really lie in small differences in culture between the firms. Some have higher expectations in terms of work, some will have a more social atmosphere in their offices, it’s really dependent on finding a firm where you fit well.
The best way to do this is to talk to people from each of the companies and find out more about the culture and team dynamic at each firm. You can attend graduate and internship recruiter events where you can get a chance to talk more to people working at the firms.
Also, if you are interested in a particular service line, then consider which firms are better at these areas. For example, some consider EY to be quite good at IT consulting, Deloitte is seen as quite strong in their consulting service line, PwC is seen as strong in Auditing etc.
I’ll start by running through the similarities then I’ll move into the differences.
You’re right - the Big 4 are indeed the same on paper - there’s a reason why they’re clumped together as ‘the Big 4’ and considered each other’s competitors. The work done by each firm is essentially the same: accounting/audit/tax/deals/M&As etc… These Big 4’s are all structured similarly as well: partners run the show and bring in the clients (with the help of directors and sometimes managers), while the juniors do most of the actual preparation of tax returns and/or execution of the audits, and there’s also HR on the side managing recruitment of potential future employees (such as yourself).
Now: what makes each of these firms unique?
The first point of difference is the culture. The culture I’m referring to is the way your fellow co-workers, managers and partners interact with each other, how they work, and what their expectations and work-values are. Culture is immensely important since it impacts how well you enjoy working there - you’re surrounded by your co-workers everyday after all. An important point I’d like to emphasise is that there is no single, dominant ‘firm-wide’ culture. The reality is that each division (division meaning whether it’s tax or audit etc) has further subdivisions (e.g. within tax, there are multiple teams each consisting of a few partners, directors, managers and juniors). Each team has their own unique culture: some teams might not expect you to show up to work if you have nothing to do, while other teams may expect you to be at work 8:30-5:30 everyday regardless of workload. Hence, it’s hard to extrapolate a single firm-wide culture since the reality is that every team has a their own unique culture. So, not only is each Big 4 different, but also each team within each Big 4 is different (in response to your question about uniqueness).
Secondly, in terms of the ranges of services offered, PwC recently introduced PwC Legal. This is a very interesting move since it means that PwC now also provides clients with legal advice - legal advice which used to be offered by law firms. So, PwC is quite unique since no other Big 4 offers legal services.
The final line in the answer above mentions Deloitte being considered stronger in its consulting services and PwC being stronger in their auditing services. This is true and (because I think it’s an important point) I’m going to mention it again. I’m personally not sure whether EY is good at IT consulting hence I’ll stay silent about that. But if you’re someone who’s into consulting, I’d recommend placing Deloitte consulting above PwC Consulting on your priority list. Similarly, if you’re into audit/assurance, likewise with PwC assurance over Deloitte audit. However, even if you don’t get your first choice, remember that it’s still a Big 4 nonetheless, and these ranking differences can change over time so no need to fret!
Choosing which of the big four firms to work for can be difficult as, as mentioned above, on paper all the firms are relatively similar. All the firms have a good reputation and are going to offer good training and opportunities while also looking good on your C.V… As far as I am aware all firms offer pretty similar salaries and staff benefits.
Therefore, I agree with the above answer that it will come down to the culture of firm. All firms have different environments, structures and people. Which is the best firm will come down to your personality and preferences. My advice would be to apply to all firms so that when you go through the recruitment process you can get a feel for the company and the people. All interviews usually involve a tour of the office as well as a chance to meet managers and partners and ask them any questions you have. I found that this helped give me a pretty good idea of what each company was like. In my opinion its all about whether you feel like you will be able to fit into the environment so that your work experience is enjoyable and best suited to you!
I’m not an expert on the Big 4, but I have interned at Deloitte and had interviews with PwC, EY, and KPMG so I will comment from my limited experience with those firms.
As you’ve heard correctly, the Big 4 ultimately are very similar, especially in terms of the calibre of people, type of work undertaken, the size and quantity of transactions, and the prestige/status. Put simply, people outside of the Big 4 don’t really care which Big 4 you worked at, as long as it was a Big 4 firm and you gained the relevant experience from it. Other people do not distinguish between whether you worked at PwC or Deloitte.
In terms of differences, I think the key differences would be the culture of each firm, the clients they take on, and which service line you choose to be in. I’ll go through each briefly.
From working at Deloitte and meeting the people from other firms, it’s quite unrealistic to exactly say that there’s a “Deloitte” culture or a “PwC” culture or a “KPMG” culture. I found that each service line, each team, and each city office has their own culture. Because of the sheer size of each of the Big 4, I couldn’t really say that there was a distinct and individualised firm culture.
So when you’re making your choice, try get to know as many people from the firms as possible, talk to them and see if you’d like to work with them for 40 hours a week. The interview is another great place to see whether you’d fit in or not. During my recruitment, there was an opportunity after the interview to spend some time meeting the teams in the service line that I wanted to be in at their desks - so that’s another great way to gauge how you would find working there.
Another thing I found was that companies use different Big 4 firms for different professional services. For example, one company was using our Tax services at Deloitte but engaging in PwC’s audit services. So if there was a particular client you’d want to be involved with, that could be a factor in choosing.
It’s widely known that PwC’s audit line is the biggest, and Deloitte’s consulting line is the biggest. KPMG are well-known for their investment banking/financial advisory sector. However, I’ve heard that there’s not much difference between the Tax lines between each firm.
So another factor you’d want to take into consideration would be which service line you want to be in, and how each of the Big 4 position themselves in that sector.
Hope this helps and good luck!