Big 4 Accounting Firms 2018-01-24T04:02:44+00:00

Big 4 Accounting Firms

What are the big 4 accounting firms? The big four accounting firms are the four largest international CPA firms in the world. They are well known for their large audit practices, auditing 99% of companies in the FTSE 1000. In addition to audit services of publicly traded companies, the Big Four also offers private company audits, assurance services, taxation, management consulting, corporate finance and other advisory services.

Big 4 Accounting Firms

Key Facts & Figures about the big 4 accounting firms

Big 4 Revenue 

The big 4 accountancy firms together earned $134.3 billion in 2017.

The break out of  the big four accounting firms in order :

Deloitte Revenue – $38.8 billion in 2017 Revenue

PwC Revenue – $37.7 billion in 2017 Revenue

EY Revenue – $31.4 billion in 2017 Revenue

KPMG Revenue– $26.4 billion in 2017 Revenue

Big Four Accounting Firms Number of Employees

The top four audit firms in the world employed almost 1 million in employees in 2017. The actual number is 944,968. The number of employees working at these firms will likely exceed 1 million in 2018.

The number of employees by big four accounting firms in order :

Deloitte Number of Employees – 263,900 employees in 2017

PwC Number of Employees – 236,235 employees in 2017

EY Number of Employees- 247,570 employees in 2017

KPMG Number of Employees– 197,263 employees in 2017

The number of employees at the big four was 887,382 in 2016.

Number of Countries Where the Big Four CPA Firms Operate

Each of the top 4 cpa firms operates in over 150 countries.

The actual number of countries by firm is included below

Deloitte – 150 countries

PwC – 158 Countries

EY – Over 150 countries

KPMG – 154 countries

Where is each top 4 cpa firms headquartered?

EY is headquartered in London, UK

Deloitte is headquartered in London, UK

KPMG is headquartered in Amstelveen, Netherlands

PwC is headquartered in New York City, NY

History of the big 4 accounting firms

Each of the big 4 accounting firms was created by a series of mergers. In the list below we’ve included the earliest start date of the member firms of each big 4 firm, and we’ve also included the last date of significant merger for each top accounting firm.

EY History – The earliest founding date for a member firm is 1849. The last major merger for Ernst & Young was in 1989.

PwC History – The earliest founding date for a member firm of PwC was in 1914. The last major merger date for PwC was in 1998 when Pricewaterhouse merged with Coopers & Lybrand.

Deloitte History – The earliest founding date for a member firm of Deloitte was in 1849. The last major merger date for Deloitte was in 1989.

KPMG History – The earliest founding date for a member firm of KPMG was in 1891. The last major merger date for KPMG was in 1987.

Why are the 4 big public accounting firms so important?

In order for a corporation to list on one of the major stock exchanges around the globe they need to have audited financial statements on a quarterly and annual basis. Most investors and companies prefer to have one of the Big Four audit those financial statements mainly because of the prestige the firms have developed. It is reported that PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG audit 99% of the FTSE 1000 and 96% of the FTSE 250 index. It is clear that they have the majority market share, a monopoly, on the audit of public corporations.

The big four audit firms offer something that mid tier accounting firms are not able to offer. They offer a large network of member firms around the world. What this means is that they have partnerships with firms across the world to tap into resources and services for their clients. The largest companies in the world operate in over a 100 countries, so they expect their advisors to have offices there as well. The big 4 are able to easily offer this to their clients. They all have over 150,o00 employees while the mid-tier accounting firms all have less than 100,000 employees. Visit our top 10 accounting firms pages to learn who the largest mid-tier accounting firms are in the world.

Another reason they want the big international accounting firms to audit them is because they have enough capital in case something goes wrong. They want to be able to have some recourse if the financial statements aren’t audited correctly. Since the top international accounting firms make billions of dollars each year, they have enough capital in case a shareholder wants to sue them. For example, when Enron went under, many people sued Arthur Andersen. Arthur Andersen was not able to survive that lawsuit because their level of involvement in the fraud was seen as too great.

Why do people work at the big four accountancy firms?

One of the biggest reasons that people want to work in the big 4 and accounting in general is that it offers great job stability.

Job stability

Let’s be honest most accountants are risk averse and they want a job that can weather any environment. Accounting is that job. Whether the economy is booming or in a down turn companies will always need accountants. They need auditors to audit their public financial statements or they need accountants to file their taxes and help them plan tax positions

Many conservative people like this about accounting. They don’t have to worry about being laid off or cut during a down time in the economy like other jobs.


Another reason that accountants want to work in accounting is because of the salary. The salary at the big 4 four accountancy firms is really great compared to many other jobs in other majors like liberal arts. This is especially true if you obtain your certified public accountant designation or chartered accountant designation. Just hopping on over to you can see that the average accountant makes $50k a year while the average CPA makes $64k. If you are in the U.S. or U.K. and you have a professional license you’ll be earning a lot more than this throughout your career but this provides a good example of the differential in pay between a non licensed accountant and a CPA.

Another thing that Payscale shows is common career path’s for CPA’s and you can see in this chart that many people can become CFO’s and CEO’s with a CPA. This is another reason that people flock to the top 4 cpa firms. It provides stability with a potential upside for career progression if you are interested in that.

Having a professional license can provide job safety for years to come with a good salary.

Career progression

Now let’s get into more specific reasons why people want to work for the big 4. The big 4 are really prestigious and they open a lot of doors in people’s careers. People like this about working for the big four cpa firms. If you are amibitous and have a lot plans for your career then the big four cpa firms can be a great place to work.

Like we said before, a CPA can open the door to being a CFO but working at the Big 4 just increases those chances. Many employers like seeing the big 4 on your resume. It shows that you can do anything because big 4 accountants work on the largest clients in the world which means they face the most complex issues in financial accounting that there is to face. Big 4 accountants are also famous for working long hours which is a downside but employers know this and that’s another reason they value having the big 4 experience on the resume. It shows you are willing to put in tough work to get the job done. This prestige an ability to appeal to recruiters if you choose to leave the top international accountancy firms is another big reason many people choose a career with the big 4.

Those are the primary the reasons that people choose a career in accounting and at the big four auditing firms. Now that you see all the great things that  accounting have to offer I’m sure you are more pumped than ever to get started on your path towards landing your big 4 job. I wish you success in your interviewing and big 4 career path.

Do you have to work at the big 4 to have a successful career in accounting?

Now that we know who the top audit firms are lets discuss whether you have to work there to be successful. Most people want to know about the big 4 accounting firms because they hear about them when they investigate a career in accounting. They are all over the internet and colleges trying to recruit employees. You do not have to work at the 4 largest accounting firms to be successful in accounting, but your career will be a lot easier if you do. Many employers have great respect for anyone that has a big four audit firm on their resume. This is because people know what it takes to be a big 4 accountant.

Being a big 4 accountant means dealing with long hours and tough personalities. It means dealing with tough clients. You have to be willing to do anything at a big four company. You have to travel a lot and sometimes you don’t know when you will be traveling. The work is not easy and requires a lot of thought. The more years you spend in the big 4; the more respect people have for you. Especially is you end being a Deloitte partner, EY Partner, KPMG partner or PwC partner.

In conclusion, you do not have to work in public accounting to be successful as an accountant, but it will make your career success much easier.

Big 4 Accounting Firm Salary

Many people want to know what the salaries are like at the big 4. It is pretty obvious what the salaries are like at the big 4 just by understanding the structure. Salaries at the big 4 are very low for people starting out while the salaries earned by big 4 partners are extremely high. Even though partners don’t really earn what most people would call a salary.

Most associates in the big 4 start out at around $50,000 to $60,000 in the United States. This can obviously go higher depending on the amount of credential that you enter the firm with. If you have a law degree or an LLM, you will obviously earn more than 60,000, but the average starting salary at the big 4 is probably between $50,000 to $60,000.

Based on my experience and knowledge of the big4, it is also not typical to see anyone make over 100,000 until they reach manager. People can earn $100,000 before manager, but those people are usually highly rated and they work in a big city like New York. Don’t go work for the big 4 and think that you are going to be rich in a year or two. You can make a lot of money at the big 4, but you need to be patient first.

Additionally, the most that people typically can earn without making partner is in the $200,000 range. You can earn up to $300,000 if you are a high ranking managing director. However, most people below managing director are capped out at around the $200,000 range.

In conclusion, you can expect to start out at around $50,000 at the big 4 and end up around $200,000 unless you make partner.

Big 4 Partner Salary

What can you expect to earn as a partner working at one of the four public accounting firms.

Big Four Audit Firms Ranking

Which firm is one of the best companies to work for? Visit our big 4 ranking 2017 page to find out which are the best accounting companies to work for and how they rank against each other in terms of big 4 revenue.

CPA – Certified Public Accountant

In order to be a big four accounting firm partner, you need to obtain your CPA license. If you are unable to obtain your CPA license, then the highest status you can ever reach at the big four is principal. In order to be a principal, you still need a credential. The typical credential to be a principal at the big 4 is a law degree.

Why do the four big accounting firms require the CPA? They require their employees to be certified public accountants because the accounting firms have faced lots of scandals over the years. They believe it will help them prevent scandals by having all candidates obtain a CPA license. Does it work? Of course not.

Public accountants are important to the economy of the country and the world. In theory, they provide security the world’s publicly traded institutions by signing off on their financial statements. Without a designation to standardize the expectations from a public accountant, then investors wouldn’t have faith in public financial statements.

Big Four Structure (Partnership vs. Corporation)

The big 4 accounting firms are structured as partnerships. This means that all the partners own the firm. Most of the firms are LLPs. LLP stands for Limited Liability Partnership.

This structure governs the way that the big 4 are run. Many people believe that the big 4 are run like corporations, but they are not. They are run like several businesses that all operate independently.

For example, EY New York is run independently from EY Hong Kong. Their approaches to acquiring business and executing work should be the same but they aren’t because each partnership operates on its own.

The 4 top accounting firms also have different service lines with different partners in each service line. The service lines at the top accounting firms are typically advisory, tax and audit.

Regulation of the Big 4 Firms

The big 4 accounting firms are highly regulated companies. This is in large part due to their history of scandals and fraud. Accountants are often caught up in fraud or are negligent when performing an audit.

The big 4 accountants main regulators are the SEC, PCAOB and the IRS to some extent.

SEC – The SEC is the securities and exchange commission. They are responsible for regulating the distribution and selling of securities of public companies. This means that they regulate all public companies in the United States. Part of companies being public is that they have to issue financial statements that are audited. This is how the regulation of the big 4 comes into play. Since the big 4 audit most of the country’s public companies, they end up running into the SEC a lot. If you are ever on an audit of a public company, you most likely have an SEC concurring partner who reviews the financial statements for comments that might come up from the SEC.

Big 4 Accounting Firms

Deloitte is another one of the largest international accounting firms in the world. They were formed from the merger of Deloitte Haskins & Sells and Touche Ross in 1989.

They are the largest professional services firm as it relates to revenue for the fiscal year ended 2016. They earned $36.8 billion in 2016. In 2015, Deloitte’s Revenue was $35.2 billion.

Formerly known as Pricewaterhousecoopers, PWC is one of the largest of the 4 big public accounting firms. They made $35.9 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ended 2016.
223,000 employees as of their latest fiscal year.
Has over 400 clients out of the 500 companies that are in the Fortune 500.
PwC is also the largest tax accounting firm in the world since their tax practice earns more revenue than any other tax accounting firm.
Ernst & Young PVT LTD was formed in 1989 when Ernst and Whinney and Arthur Young & Co. merged.
E&Y is headquartered in the United Kingdom. Their headquarters are located at 6 More London Place, London SE1.
The firm is composed of thousands of public accountants that focus primarily on auditing.
The number of employees working at Ernst and Young is well over 200,000.
KPMG was founded in 1987 when Peat Marwick Mitchell and Co and Klynveld Main Goerdler merged to form one firm.
What is the full form of KPMG? KPMG stands for Klynveld Peat Marwick and Goerdler.
KPMG earned $25.42 billion in 2016. This makes them the fourth largest public accounting firm in the world. The number of employees working at KPMG is 188,982 employees for the fiscal year ended 2016.

In order to learn about the big 4 accounting firms you will have to learn about their history. Before they became the big 4 accounting firms, they were the Big 5 Accounting firms. Before they were the big 5 accounting firms, they were the big eight accounting firms.

Big 5 Accounting Firms

The 5 big accounting firms predated the big four accounting firms. They were the largest accounting firms until 2002. The big 5 accounting firms were Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, Arthur Andersen, KPMG and Pricewaterhouse coopers.

They ceased being the big five when Arthur Andersen imploded due to fraud related to Enron.

Enron Scandal and Arthur Andersen

One of the central scandals of the accounting industry was the Enron Scandal. In 2001, it was found out that Enron has reported billions of dollars in revenue utilizing accounting fraud. Eventually Enron went bankrupt. The pain didn’t stop there though. Enron didn’t only destroy one of the nation’s largest corporations, it also destroyed one of the world’s largest accounting firms.

From the Enron scandal came the collapse of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Arthur Andersen was one of the big 5 accounting firms. Once Arthur Andersen collapsed, there were only 4 accounting firms left to audit the majority of the public companies in the world.

Arthur Andersen was convicted of obstruction of justice on June 15, 2002. This was primarily related to their shredding of documents related to Enron.

Who were the players for Arthur Andersen?

David Duncan – Lead Audit Partner – David Duncan was the lead audit partner on the Enron account since 1997 and was a key witness in the trial against Arthur Andersen. He oversaw the shredding of documents related to Enron.

Nancy Temple – General Counsel for Arthur Andersen

The conviction of Arthur Andersen was later reversed by the Supreme Court based on a technicality. The Supreme Court said that Arthur Andersen should not have been convicted because it was hard to prove that Arthur Andersen was consciously committing the wrongdoing.

One of the primary reasons for Arthur Andersen’s conviction was a memo from Nancy Temple.

Big 8 Accounting Firms

The 8 big accounting firms predated the big five accounting firms. The phrase was used to the largest public accounting firms in the world until 1989. They were no longer referred to the big 8 after a series of mergers. The big eight were:

  1. Arthur Andersen
  2. Arthur Young
  3. Deloitte Haskins and Sells
  4. Ernst & Whinney
  5. Peat Marwick Mitchell
  6. Price Waterhouse
  7. Touche Ross
  8. Coopers & Lybrand
Big 8 Accounting Firms

Top 10 Accounting Firms

The big 4 accounting firms are obviously the largest accounting firms in the world, but who are the other largest accounting firms in the world? The big 4 obviously take up the 4 top spots of the largest accounting firms in the world. The ranking of the top 10 accounting firms is below:

  1. Deloitte
  2. PwC
  3. EY
  4. KPMG
  5. BDO
  6. RSM
  7. Grant Thornton
  8. Crowe Horwath
  9. Baker Tilly
  10. Nexia International

The rankings are based on the revenues of all the accounting firms. The 4 biggest accounting firms earn way more revenue than all the other top ten firms.

top 10 accounting firms