What's it like working in audit for the Big Four?
So you want to work for one of the big four accounting firms (PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Deloitte)? But what do you want to do? While these firms started out as accountants offering auditing services (independent validation that companies' accounts are correct), they've diversified. These days, they're also about corporate finance advice (eg. M&A), technology consulting, risk consulting, strategy consulting and advice on people and change. So, which Big Four job do you want?
Not old-fashioned audit, according to those in the know.
"Audit is the worst job in the Big Four," says an one ex-audit associate who worked for one of the Big Four in London. "It's also the worst job I've ever had. - The hours are long, the pay is low and it's extremely boring. The work's very process-driven. We call it, 'ticking and bashing' which basically means admin work where you tick boxes confirming that you've followed a process.
"Audit only suits people who are very conservative, very agreeable, and only interested in prolonging a university-type experience rather than making a mark in the world," he adds.
He isn't the only one complaining. An associate in audit for a rival firm agrees that the job is not great. "The work just isn't very engaging," he complains. "Although audit is very client-facing, you're adding minimal value to clients and the work is very dry."
Auditors' biggest gripe is pay. You generally earn a lot less in auditing jobs with the big four than you do in consulting jobs with the same firms. In 2018, the average salary for an auditor working in private practice in the UK was £58k ($73k) according to the ICAEW's salary survey. In New York, senior auditors at the Big Four are paid around $80k according to Glassdoor. By comparison, as a senior associate in the consulting arm of a Big Four firm you can expect around $100k.
The pay discrepancy causes complaints when auditors have to work long hours. "In the busy season, our hours come close to the hours you work in IBD (an investment banking division), but our salary doesn't even come close," complains one audit associate. "We get paid a lot less than everyone else in the tax, consulting, risk advisory and corporate finance departments here."
Auditors are usually divided into specialist industry teams and some teams are reportedly worse than others.
At the bottom of the pile are the auditor jobs which focus on financial services firms. If you're auditing a capital markets business or an asset manager, junior auditors warn that you'll have to work "awful hours" and spend your spare time continuously updating your knowledge to keep on top of regulations. By comparison, if you work on a technology media and telecoms team you'll reportedly work more reasonable hours and have more interesting clients. If you work in big teams like energy and resources you'll have a healthy social life.
It's not all bad in audit though. The juniors we spoke to pointed out that starting out in audit means you get paid to take a qualification (the ACA in the UK) which you can use to become an accountant in industry, or even move into banking as a product controller or equity researcher. You also get contact time with the senior management team in client firms and you can become very knowledgeable about your sector, which could lead to a CFO or consulting role in future. Equally, while you may well work 80 hour weeks in the busy season when clients in your sector are preparing their annual reports, you should be able to work flexibly the rest of the time.
The people are also a plus. "If you get on the right team, you can quickly look past the dryness of the work, because the majority of people here are great," says one audit junior, explaining why he sticks with it.
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