During the summer of 2020, in the heat of the pandemic, I had a rare opportunity: I was part of Ernst & Young’s first fully virtual internship experience. Depending on how you look at it, this is either a scar in my past or a badge of accomplishment. I certainly view it as the latter, but I did not initially. This post is geared towards students looking at interning at the “Big 4” in the coming years, so this post is particularly suitable for current or prospective accounting majors. But, if you are not considering accounting, there is still something here for you.
1. What are the “Big 4”?
The “Big 4” is a term used to refer to the four largest global accounting firms in the world. The firms, in no particular order, are EY (Ernst & Young), KPMG (Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler), PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers), and Delloite. While they differ in what portion of their business comes from which service line, they are known for high performance in three key areas: audit, tax, and consulting. Audit is also referred to as “assurance,” because the service line is geared towards assuring clients and users of clients’ financial statements that the statements are free from material misstatement. In other words, we make sure they did their accounting right. It is required by law that public companies get audited, and the largest ones rely on the Big 4. Consulting is pretty much what it sounds like – consultants are hired by clients to lend a set of fresh, expert eyes to business operations and decisions. For example, if a client is considering a new operational strategy, they may ask a team of Big 4 consultants to analyze, evaluate, and help make the decision. Tax is also fairly intuitive – public companies have to navigate a complex tax system whether they are US only, foreign, or multi-national; they also deal with often complex transactions (such as mergers or acquisitions) that have powerful tax implications. In short, successfully navigating the tax system requires expertise and planning, and the tax service line at Big 4 companies exists to provide that.
Disclaimer: I do not represent nor am I speaking on behalf of any of the Big 4; all information in this article is subject to change; the intent of this article and all following posts on the same subject is to help inform students, not to advise their career decisions.