Jobs at the Big Four accounting and consulting firms have long been considered lower paying and less prestigious than jobs at investment banks. If you work in audit or assurance, this might be true. But if you hit the right spot, the Big Four can pay every well indeed.
This generosity is predictably most evident at the top of the tree. The Big Four - PWC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY - are very hiearchical and if you reach highest rung as a partner or principal, you'll also reach the best salaries and a profit share. In the UK, local branches of Big Four firms divulge average profit per partner. In 2018/2019 UK partners at PWC got £765k ($1m) each, partners at Deloitte got £882k, partners at EY got £679k and partners at KPMG (which is cutting costs) got £640k. While that's not exactly on a par with the amount investment banks pay their top staff (their 'material risk takers'), it's not bad either. The Big Four can be big on pay.
Clearly, however, not everyone will become a Big Four partner. There are only 1,000 of them at Deloitte in the UK, and the firm employs over 19,000 people in total. Moreover, not all partners get the big money: you need to be an equity partner or a 'principal' who shares the profits, not just a run-of-the-mill partner who gets a salary like everyone else. It takes around 15 years to become partner, so also need to think how you're going to make money in the meantime.
The best paid jobs in the Big Four
The best paid jobs in the Big Four are not in audit. Most firms employ armies of junior auditors who are paid ok but not brilliantly. Publicly available salaries linked with H1B visas in the U.S. show, for example that Deloitte employs a small army of audit assistants on less than $50k. KPMG, meanwhile, employs associates in the U.S. on H1B visas on salaries starting at $42k.
Instead, if you want to earn the biggest money in the Big Four, you need to go after jobs in consulting, advisory (including M&A, financial restucturing and broad corporate finance) and - increasingly - technology.
The table below shows a spread of salaries paid by Big Four firms to H1B visa hires across American in 2019. While H1B visa salaries can be lower than the norm as firms fill roles with low cost staff from overseas, the salaries in the table below are at least a proxy for the rates on offer in different roles. Technology jobs are up and coming, particularly at EY, which has recruited around 20 people as computer and information systems managers on salaries over $300k since July.
Mostly though, if you want to get the highest salaries at the Big Four, you need to work your way up the hierarchy. Starting as an assistant auditor (or associate if you're in consulting and advisory) you either progress to becoming a full auditor and senior auditor, or go on to senior associate, manager, senior manager, director, managing director and principal. The pay figures for principals in the table below don't reflect the profit share and are simply salaries alone. - When profits are added in, pay is likely to double.
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