February 28, 2019

Big 4 Salary

Read more about Business

Do you dream of working for one of the Big 4 and taking home that monstrous salary you know they make?

It's no secret that many finance professionals want to get into one of the Big 4 companies. Whether you are just starting out as an accountant or you are working your way up to partner, you stand to earn many benefits from working at a Big 4 firm.

The starting salaries for any of the firms typically range between $40,000 and $60,000. If you are starting right out of college, that's not a bad start! What happens once you start working your way up the ladder? Keep reading to find out more.

Who Are the Big 4?

In case you aren't aware of them all, the Big 4 firms are:

Deloitte
This is one of the top firms in the world as they have accumulated many smaller firms throughout the years. Their headquarters are located in New York.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers
PwC is the second top accounting firm in the world. With headquarters in London, they have almost 200,000 employees worldwide.

Ernst & Young
E&Y is the third-largest accounting firm in the world. E&Y has headquarters in London as well, but they operate in more than 150 countries worldwide.

KPMG
KPMG has headquarters in the Netherlands, but they employ more than 150,000 employees worldwide.

The Positions and Their Starting Big 4 Firm Salaries

If you start at a Big 4 firm right out of college, you'll likely start out as an associate, but with hard work and proper training, you can work your way up to one of the following positions in your lifetime:

How Long Does It Take to Become a Partner at a Big 4 Company?
Each firm is different and it often depends on your experience and/or performance, but typically it takes 10 to 15 years to become a partner at a Big 4 firm.

Associate
Typically, an associate is a new graduate with a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting. Some employees, though, have been in the workforce for 2-3 years when they join one of the Big 4 as an associate. At this level, you support the senior accountants and auditors.

You handle the basic bookkeeping as well as accounts receivable and payable. Associates often start at the $40,000 - $60,000 salary range.

Senior Associate
Many associates earn the title "Senior Associate" after two or three years. Senior Associates oversee a group of associates and are the main contact for upper management. While you'll still handle the day-to-day accounting operations, you'll do so at more of a management level.

Senior associates make anywhere from $60,000 - $80,000, and that's after only two or three years of employment.

Manager
At the manager level, you'll stop working on the day-to-day operations and do more overseeing of the entire department. Managers oversee associates and senior associates.

You'll typically need between 5 and 7 years of experience at one of the Big 4 firms before reaching this position, where you're more focused on project management and efficiency. Managers make $100,000 - $135,000 per year.

Senior Manager
Senior managers work directly with outside clients. You create and nurture the relationships, which does involve quite a bit of travel as you meet with your clients in person. Senior managers have a much higher level of responsibility without actually buying into the company as a partner.

Senior managers make between $150,000 and $180,000 per year.

Partner
Partners in the Big 4 firms don't earn a salary - instead, they own a part of the company. Now, there could be thousands of other partners, but it's still a big deal. Partners earn units or profits in the company.

Just as you start at the bottom of the ladder's rungs as an associate, you'll start at the bottom as a partner too. Each company has anywhere from 7 to 10 partner levels that you can achieve and use to increase your income.

 PositionStarting Salary 
Associate$40,000 - $60,000
Senior Associate$60,000 - $80,000
Manager$100,000 - $135,000
Senior Manager$150,000 - $180,000
PartnerShare of Profit or Equity

The Factors That Determine Your Salary

Your exact salary working for a Big 4 firm depends on two distinct factors:

  1. Department
    Depending on your location and experience, certain departments have higher starting salaries than others. It depends on which services are more highly demanded in the area in which you work, as each of the companies operates worldwide. For example, some areas may have a high demand for tax associates while others may have a higher demand for audit associates.

  2. Location
    The cost of living will determine your starting salary as well. If you live in a high-cost area, like New York City, you'll likely have a higher starting salary than an associate in Houston.

    The Big 4 firms look at the combination of the need for employees in specific departments with the cost of living in the location to determine the starting salary.

Other Benefits of Working for a Big 4 Firm

Money is an obvious factor in choosing to work for a Big 4 firm, but you may want to consider the other benefits of working with such a high profile company:

  • You'll Learn A Lot: Because you work with clients, you can be exposed to new problems on a daily basis. There is a lot to learn, making you a valuable employee, as you'll have well-rounded experience and skill as you move up the ladder.

  • Work Around the World: If you've always dreamt of living abroad, you may have a stellar chance of doing so working for one of the Big 4 firms. Even if you don't live abroad, as you work your way up to Senior Manager, you'll do quite a bit of travel, which can give you the worldly experience you desire.

  • Advancement Occurs Often: Unlike other companies, you won't have to worry about staying stuck in the same position year after year. If you work hard, prove yourself, and stay focused, you could climb up that hierarchy in the shortest amount of time, and achieve partner status in as little as 10 years.

  • Respect in the Industry: If you do decide to leave a Big 4 firm and you leave on good terms, you may have many doors open to you just because of the Big 4 experience on your resume.

Bottom Line

If you are interested in working your way to employment at a Big 4 firm, you'll need to know their requirements. Deloitte, for example, prefers employees who went through one of their sponsored university programs. Each of the Big 4 firms also prefers to hire interns who worked for them previously because they know the ropes and can quickly become valuable employees.

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