Which Big 4 Firm is Most Prestigious?

Published: Jan 17, 2013

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Vault is currently conducting its annual Accounting Survey, which asks thousands of accounting professionals at the top firms in the industry to rate their own firms in a variety of “quality of life” categories, including compensation, culture, hours, work/life balance, training, and diversity. The survey also asks professionals to rate their competitor firms in terms of prestige.

To that end, last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers ranked No. 1 in Vault's prestige rankings. PwC edged out Ernst & Young, which ranked second, and Deloitte, which ranked third. KPMG ranked fourth. In fact, during the 10 years that Vault's been ranking accounting firms, these four firms, also known as the Big 4, have always taken the top four spots in our prestige rankings. Which is why many students looking to break into accounting begin their job search with the Big 4. And, inevitably, many students who do so run into the same hurdle: how to distinguish one Big 4 firm from another.

To help leap that hurdle, below is a sampling of qualitative responses we’ve received thus far from those who’ve taken the survey*. The comments come in response to a question asking professionals to offer a few words describing their perception of firms other than their own. These comments make up what Vault calls “the Buzz,” defined as “outside perception of a firm” (that is, not necessarily facts about a firm). And so, the latest Buzz on the Big 4:

PwC (#1)
“Very prestigious,” “Quality personnel,” “Great firm but very cutthroat,” “Rebranding was a waste,” “Doing good things with respect to transparency with employees,” “Solid reputation but considered an accountant mill,” “Recent poor PCAOB inspection findings,” “Arrogant,” “Many women in senior positions,” “Great reputation,” “Big name but turnover factory,” “Forward thinking,” “Well respected,” “High quality work,” “Most prestigious of the Big 4,” “No room to grow,” “Sweatshop,” “Friendly,” “Feels old,” “Traditional,” “Well known,” “Very strong worldwide,” “Top Big 4”

E&Y (#2)
“Best of the Big 4,” “I love everyone I work with who is ex-E&Y,” “Inattentive,” “Being a cog in the machine doesn't sound like fun,” “Many burned out accountants,” “You’ll get lost in the crowd,” “Solid reputation,” “They treat their employees terribly,” “Big name but turnover factory,” “Very aggressive firm but over-promises in the marketplace,” “Good client base,” “Prestigious but controlling corporate culture,” “Well regarded,” “PwC’s main competition,” “Male-dominated,” “Very good work/life balance,” “Personable,” “Higher quality than Deloitte or KPMG,” “Treat clients well and good brand but negative view of the partners I've met,” “Strong,” “Quality firm”

Deloitte (#3)
“Great firm,” “Very prestigious,” “International network,” “Overworking employees beyond every other firm,” “Only focused on consulting,” “Doesn't seem to care about audit anymore,” “Great advisory department,” “Few females in leadership positions,” “Snobby,” “Elitist,” “Not a good work/life balance,” “Respected,” “Tax practice is struggling,” “Very good firm full of strong and driven people,” “Has important clients,” “Second best Big 4 after PwC,” “Strong Big 4 firm but seems to be in decline,” “Good quality work,” “Struggling with people initiatives,” “Offers wide range of services,” “Good brand”

KPMG (#4)
“Somewhat prestigious,” “Underpaid and overworked,” “Worst of the Big 4,” “Best work/life balance in the Big 4,” “Losing their way,” “Pigeonhole you into one industry,” “Dynamic,” “Gigantic,” “Behind the curve on technology,” “Least prestigious of the Big 4,” “Smallest of the Big 4,” Fraternity-like,” “They like to party,” “Big 3’s kid brother,” “Just gearing up a new advisory practice,” “If they slack anymore it will be called the Big 3,” “Bottom-barrel university recruits,” “Used car salesmen,” “Good social culture,” “Firm nobody visits at the career fair,” “Still haunted by tax scandals,” “Okay audit quality,” “Doesn't seem to have strong leadership,” “Good firm”

*There’s still time to take the 2013 Vault Accounting Survey, so if you work for Ernst & Young or KPMG or another top-100 accounting firm and would like to tell us what it's like to work at your firm, fill out the survey (which should take you between 10 and 15 minutes to complete).

Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.

Read more:
PwC Named Most Prestigious Accounting Firm
50 Best Accounting Firms to Work For