And then there were... four
The largest accounting firms on the planet are known as the "Big Four," and are among the most well known throughout the world. (Previously, it was the Big Eight, which became the Big Six and then the Big Five when PriceWaterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand merged to form PricewaterhouseCoopers. Due to the collapse of Arthur Andersen, we're now down to four.) The Big Four is made up of:
- Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
- Ernst & Young
In addition to the Big Four, there are hundreds of other accounting firms, ranging from small proprietorships to large international partnerships. The difference between these firms and the Big Four is size, often measured in terms of billings. The Big Four have billings in excess of $24 billion a year.
Many students pursuing accounting aim to start their careers at one of the Big Four firms. The Big Four have offices throughout Australia, as well as in many other countries. These firms recruit at a majority of the top schools throughout the world.
More than the four
Yes, the bigger companies have their role to play on the international stage, but many graduates may find smaller firms offer more responsibility more rapidly. Some organisations will put pressure on graduates to "be" the company; others may allow employees more freedom to be themselves. The culture of a company is important, especially in the beginning as you find your feet and confidence, so choose with care.
Outside of the Big Four, large players include BDO Kendalls, WHK Horwath and Grant Thornton. Local accounting firms operate in a small number of cities and tend to focus on small businesses and individuals. These organizations conduct more tax and tax planning engagements and traditionally handle more of the bookkeeping responsibilities for their clients.
While most people start their careers at a public accounting firm, many gain valuable experience in public accounting and switch to the private sector after a couple of years. Accountants with public accounting experience are well positioned to take financial officer positions at corporations, government agencies or nonprofits.