Big 4 2013 Performance

A Look Into the Big 4 Accounting Firms

Big 4 Accounting Firms

The big 4 accounting firms lead the pack in terms of their auditing and accounting services which include things like taxation services risk assessment and control, external audit, etc. Not only do they provide excellent auditing and accounting services but they also offer massive employment opportunities to auditors and accountants in their many different offices located all over the world.

These big 4 accounting firms are the very best at what they do and are constantly involved in a race as to who can provide the best services and post the biggest revenue by the end of the fiscal year. It is no small wonder why these top 4 often end up competing for the top slots and this is especially true for the top two.

Interesting History of the Big 4 Accounting Firms

This list used to be the Big 8 but several mergers and dissolutions whittled the number down to just the big 4 accounting firms. It was by way of mergers and dissolutions that the number was reduced to what it is now. The mergers that took place to make the final list are mentioned below but one company is not mentioned and it is Arthur Anderson. This company’s failure is credited to its involvement with that Enron Scandal that shook the US and the world several years back. The company took such a big blow that they have been unable to stage a comeback to become the massive accounting firm that they were for so many years. It is interesting to note how the top accounting firms would combine their business and come up with brand new firms that would dominate the world in terms of services, employment, and many more.

The Top 4 Firms


DeloitteThis accounting firm has been in business for the last 100 years providing only the most excellent and varied services to its clients. It has been on the list of the big 4 accounting firms for several decades now. The company started back in England during the Industrial Revolution. It sparked a whole new type of enterprise that was able to raise capital simply by selling equities to the public. The GWR or the Great Western Railway was one of the earliest joint stock companies and was also the most famous. When the price declined in 1849, they turned to William Welch Deloitte, a public accountant, so he could audit the company. This was the move that started it all and would start a series of events and mergers that would lead to the formation of Deloitte as it is known today.

  • Audit and enterprise risk services, consulting, tax, financial advisory services, Deloitte growth enterprise services, and featured services.
  • Ranked 1st with a revenue of $32.4 billion.
  • Employs 203,000 employees in 150 countries.
  • Headquarters are located in NY, NY.

(PwC) PricewaterhouseCoopers


PwC is the 2nd largest accounting services provider in the world. It is relatively younger than Deloitte and other firms since it was formed back in 1998. It didn’t really start out as PwC but rather, it was the fruit of a merger that took place between two other leading firms offering accounting services–Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse. The merger took place when both accounting firms decided on the merger so that they could dedicate themselves provide services that were of value to their clients while working on offering and ensuring good relations with their clients and customers. There are PwC firms operating in countries all over the world. They are independently owned firms but still work to uphold the standards set in place by PwC. It used to rank first in the world in terms of revenue but was overtaken by Deloitte last 2013.

  • Ranked 2nd around the world with a revenue of $31.1 billion.
  • Counts 184, 285 partners, client service staff, and partner service staff under its name.
  • Has 776 offices spread out in 157 countries.
  • The company has headquarters in London and in NY, NY.

(E&Y) Ernst & Young


This is another company that was formed by way of a merger but unlike PwC, this merger happened way back. In the year 1989, Arthur Young merged with Ernst & Whinney and this resulted in the Ernst & Young that the world knows today. Like any company that has been running for a long time, the company has a long history of providing only the very best services and this means they choose people who are equipped with only the very best skills and those that have integrity, enthusiasm, motivation, teamwork, professionalism, and respect – the very values that drive the accounting firm. The company also provides training and development for the professional growth of their employees.

  • Assurance, tax, advisory, specialty services.
  • Ranked 3rd in the world with a revenue of $25.8 billion.
  • Has 190,000 people in more than 700 offices located in over 150 countries.
  • Global headquarters are located on London

Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG)


The history of this company can be traced 3 centuries to the names of its founding members whose initials form KPMG. The current company was formed back in 1987 when Peat and Marwick International and Klynveld Main Goerdeler merged together with their individual member firms. The K stands for Klynveld for Piet Klynveld who founded the Klynveld Kraayenhof & Co. accounting firm in Amsterdam way back in 1917. The P stands for William Barclay Peat who was the founder of the William Barclay Peat & Co. accounting firm in London. That was in the year 1870. The M is for James Marwick who was the founder of Marwick, Mitchell & Co. accounting firm together with Roger Mitchell in 1897. The G is for Dr. Reinhard Goerdeler who served as the chairman of Detusche Treuhand-Gesellscahft. He later became the chairman of KPMG.

  • Tax services include domestic tax, indirect tax, international tax, and payroll services.
  • Advisory services include management consulting, risk consulting, and transactions & restructuring.
  • Global services include advisory, capability hubs, and tax professional services.
  • Ranked 4th with a revenue of $23,042 billion.
  • The company employs 155,000 professionals in 151 countries.
  • Headquarters are located in Amsterdam, North Holland.


 Big 4 Accounting Firm 2013 Performance

2013 #’s Revenue (Billion) Employees
PwC 32.4        202,885.00
Deloitte 32.1        184,235.00
EY 25.8        190,000.00
KPMG 23.4        155,000.00





Big 4 2013 Performance












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Accounting vs Finance: Part 4 – The work

To wrap up this 4 part series, I want to go into a little about the actual work itself and what you will be doing. Per usual, I will compare some typical roles in accounting with the typical roles in finance or banking.



In audit, your goal is ultimately to issue an opinion on a set of financial statements of a company. What this means is that for every item on a financial statement you have to dig down into every single sub account within that account, and make sure that each of those accounts are correct. It ends up being like inception where there are a ton of subaccounts, but in the end you have to have enough comfort that the account as whole isn’t crazy off so investors can trust the numbers (we call that free of material (or lage) misstatements).

What you will be doing as an early staff is doing a lot of testing of these accounts. For example the company has an expense account of 10M made up of consulting fees. The client would give you a list of every charge during the period that makes up a total of 10M. You would then use the audit software to select a random sample of those charges, lets say 25 to test. For each of those you choose to test, you will get the client to provide you an invoice from the consulting fiem, a copy of the check the company wrote to them, and then show the check clearing their bank account. If they all check out, the test is completed and the consulting fees account is what I like to call “legit.”

At the senior level (2-3 years) you are primarily focused on project management including making sure things are on schedule, the staff have work to do, the budget is on track, and working with managers/partners, and coordinating tax and advisory services, and also designing the tests for the staff to do. At the manager level (5+ years) and above level you are reviewing on a high level what is being done as well as helping with planning and completion of the audit.


In tax you have a similar hierarchy where the staff prepare a lot of work, seniors review the details, and the manager review at a high level. Tax staff will be performing a variety of services depending on the office they are in and the clients it serves. The most common are corporate returns, partnership returns, individual returns, transaction (M&A) work. You may also be able to work on international transfer pricing or international tax depending on your office. Along with completing the returns which involves considerable communication with the client, you will likely be researching certain tax topics and presenting your findings.  The deliverable in the end is of course the return or report.

One main difference between tax and audit is tax can work on multiple projects at one, while audit typically stays on one job through completion. There are of course times when audit seniors and managers have to split time between clients.

FP&A (Financial Planning and Analysis)

In FP&A, you will create reports that help the company measure their current and future situation. Some examples include:

  • Projections of the sales of each of the company’s market segments by produce line
  • Map out the estimated cash flows of the company over the next 12 months
  • Identify expense drivers in the manufacturing process for cost savings

Along with these reports, you could be assisting the accounting staff with the monthly/quarterly close or working on special projects like buy or lease of equipment/buildings. Beware that a lot of jobs that are titled FP&A can really be heavily focused on accounting and financial reporting rather than financial analysis.

Internal Audit

The internal audit department of a company is responsible for designing, implementing, and testing the controls they put in place that make sure the company is running properly as well as reporting accurate financial information. This often involves the IT department or IT auditors, as most controls are heavily embedded in the information systems. An example of an automated control would be that when the company scans an item as it is being shipped, it automatically creates an invoice and creates the sale in the financial statements (Cr. Sales, Db Accounts Receivables). An example of a manual control is that before a project manager orders the construction of a new building or equipment, he has to check with someone really high (depending on an org chart) and get approval. The internal auditors in both cases would test some transactions and ensure that everything is working correctly.

This is a less glamorous role, but can actually be a pretty solid gig. You get paid pretty well, work ~40 hours, and in some cases can do “consulting” in implementing and designing controls. Generally not challenging and limited advancement options (Director of IA being ceiling).


Investment Banking

Investment bankers (specifically mergers & acquisitions) help companies raise capital through debt or stock issuance, or buy/sell/merge companies. The work at the lower level will be consumed by continuous editing of pitchbooks and financial models. Pitchbooks are presentations that the investment bank makes in efforts to “pitch” investors on a company they are representing and contain a ton of slides about the company, the industry, financial projections, “synergies,” and why it would be a good idea to buy the company. In addition to actually helping to create these pitchbooks and presentations you might actually have to help “create” them – as in work with the printing staff to get these things into a physical copy.  Financial models are elaborate excel calculations that show projections and forecasts, many of which are used in the pitchbooks.

Some of the specific tasks you may work on could include conducting capital structure analysis for issuers of debt and equity, financial modelling, assisting in the due diligence process, drafting offering memorandums, road-show presentations (pitch books), and other marketing materials.

The work itself can be mind numbing at times but also builds significant analytically and modelling skills that are in demand of private equity firms and other careers in finance.

Private Equity (PE)

At Private equity firms, which buy and sell companies, the lower level analysts spend their time updating the financial models of portfolio (companies they own) or prospective companies. They will take a deep dive into the performance of these companies as well as looking at the industry and how they stack up. They will help prepare the company for an IPO or exit to another buyer once the companies they purchased have matured. They work closely with investment bankers who frequently offer opportunities to purchase a company they represent.

As you move up in PE you may spend some time on the operations side, where you consult and guide the portfolio companies. The ultimate goal is to sell these companies, so they want someone from the PE firm making sure the changes are implemented to boost the companies profitability and thus the valuation. Another component of PE is sourcing deals, which are the lifeblood of business as they target prospective companies to purchase.

Sales & Trading (S&T)

In sales and trading, the banks facilitates trades for their clients. Initially someone in sales will be in contact with the client, obtaining information about what they want to do (ex buy or sell a stock) and the firm will work through a trader to have the security bought or sold in the market. The firm will actually take a position on the security, and then work to execute the trade by buying/selling all or pieces of it at various prices. Because of this, the firm may take a gain/loss depending on the spread of their purchase and sale, but it will also receive a commission on each sales.

Though the role is driven around the actual sales and trading, like you would see in a movie like Wall Street, Arbitrage, or Boiler Room. While this is a high intensity, fast paced, client facing, and quick thinking environment, there are also other aspects of the job. You could work on preparing client presentations, monitor markets and create sales ideas for clients, (though this is mainly done through the research function), and attend events like investor roadshows and IPOs.

Hedge Fund

Hedge funds are similar to sales and trading as they deal with the trading of securities, but hedge funds make trades on behalf of the firm itself (and the firm’s investors), rather than to provide liquidity to clients. Given this fact, there is a lot more research that has to be done for each trade. Some of the typical day to day responsibilities, outside of putting millions of dollars on the line may include:

  • Pouring through analyst reports on portfolio companies and prospective investments
  • Contacting management (or investor relations) of potential investments
  • Conducting industry analysis to see where the industry is headed and how the companies you’re following fit in that direction
  • Looking at macro-economic factors to get a picture of the markets as a whole
  • Create and update financial models of portfolio/potential companies

This ends the 4 part series comparing Accounting and Finance Careers. Have anything to add? Comment below.

Here is the map to each part:

Accounting vs Finance: Part 1 – Career Path 

Accounting vs Finance: Part 2 – Compensation

Accounting vs Finance: Part 3 – Lifestyle

Accounting vs Finance: Part 4 – The work (You are here)


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions
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Deloitte Interview Questions and Answers

The interview questions that Deloitte, and all other Big 4 firms (KPMG, Ernst & Young, PwC) tend to ask of prospective employees can be similar, even across the world.  Part of doing your homework before the interview is discovering those questions and putting together some answers in the event you get asked them. There are of course an unlimited amount of questions that could be asked, but if you focus on the questions that get asked most frequently, and start to think about how you might respond, you can have a real advantage.

I’ve been there first hand – you get in the interview and they ask you a question like “tell me about a time when you had to challenge the authority of someone above you.”  I couldn’t think of an answer. I thought for a few minutes, made a weird chuckle and said “umm… I really can’t think of anything.” As you can imagine, this is not ideal. When you’re stressed and uncomfortable in an interview, you simply aren’t able to think as clearly, particularly when trying to reflect on your past and produce an example that somehow presents you in a positive light. What you should do is take the time to come up with the answers to these questions while you have the time (which is now while you’re reading this post). Even if you don’t get asked that exact question, you may have a similar question asked that you can still apply that example to.

I interviewed a Manager at Deloitte about the interview questions that are the most frequent and he provided me with the following, which I will also explain a good example of each

Most Common Deloitte Interview Questions

1) Why do you want to work for Deloitte & Touche over the other Big 4

2) Why did you choose to be an accounting major?

3) Where would you like to be in your career after 5 years?

4) What is your greatest strength?

5) Walk me through your resume.


 How to answer Deloitte Interview Questions

1) “Deloitte consistently tops Businessweek’s tops best places to launch a career, and I also really like the idea of being able to work with some of the largest companies in the world. Deloitte is obviously a very respected accounting firm globally, but I am also really interested in Deloitte’s office here in XYZ. At the (insert recruiting event, Beta Alpha Psi meeting, Deloitte social ect) I was able to meet some of the people in the office and I really felt comfortable and enjoyed their company.  At some of the other offices I thought it was a little more uptight and uncomfortable. Also your office serves (insert client) and I am really interested in working in the (insert industry). ”

Honestly all big 4 are pretty much interchangable, at least when it comes time to leave public accounting. Some may bicker that PwC is the “best” and KPMG is the “worst” because Pwc is the biggest and KPMG is the smallest, but when an employer wants to fill a spot with a big 4 alum, there is no distinction among the firms. There really isn’t much difference between the firms as far as development or training. What actually matters is the office that you will be working for. For example a Deloitte office in Houston will be completely different than a Deloitte office in San Francisco. Similarly, KPMG can have a great office in a particular city and a not so good office in 4another city. What makes an office good is the clients they serve and culture of the office. You should express that you enjoy the company of the people (hopefully you’ve met some people in the office), and that you have an interest in the particular office you are interviewing for.

2) “I chose to be an accounting major because I was pretty good at math and really enjoyed the entry level accounting courses. I think I became the most excited about the accounting major when I discovered the career opportunities in public accounting. From the professors I’ve talked with and the research I’ve done online, public accounting offers such a great career and provides a great foundation right out of school. I wanted to set myself up for success and felt that accounting was the best route for me. ”

Depending on when your interview slot is, they will have heard the same answer from everyone: I like math, I like accounting, it is a stable career, it has good placement rates into jobs. Say something different, as I’ve described above, and turn it into why you like public accounting.

3) “One of the most attractive things about working in public accounting is the quick progression and promotions in your career. I have heard that typically after 5 years of being a good performer that you may be promoted to manager, and that is where I would want to be. There aren’t any other careers that I know of that offer management positions 5 years out of school and I think I would really enjoy being a manager.”

The more likely case is that you leave after 3 years for better pay and less hours, but you don’t need to tell them this. They want people that they can invest in and plan on sticking around for a while.

4) “I think my greatest strength is my ambition. It has gotten me to work really hard, make great grades, and allow me to be in front of you today. I think my ambition will make me a really hardworking and great employee.”

This question is a lot easier to answer than another frequent which is “what is your greatest weakness.”  Just say something that isn’t extremely superficial or fake.

5) I won’t give an sample here but what you need to focus are a few things:

GPA: If your GPA is great – then obviously just say it. If you have a high accounting GPA, say that instead

Internships/Jobs: Talk about the internships or jobs you had especially if they are accounting related. Discuss something you accomplished or a role you had.

Extracurricular: Discuss what you do outside of the classroom, whether it’s in a club, a fraternity/sorority, or even a sports team. They want to see well rounded people.

CPA Exam Requirements: You 100% have to be able to say that you have a plan to sit for the CPA exam. An example could be “I’m graduating next May and will start graduate school next May. I will be CPA eligible and will begin taking the exams after graduation.” If you don’t plan on being a CPA, you have no chance.

If you want to see the top 30 interview questions among all the big 4 with examples and explanations, take a look at the Big 4 Blueprint. This 50 page guide I created covers not just interviews but the entire recruiting spectrum from social events, to partner interviews, and Big 4 resumes.


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions
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Winter vs Summer Big 4 Internships (Deloitte, KPMG, EY, & PwC)

How to decide between Winter and Summer Internships with the Big 4


If you are trying to decide between a summer or winter internship with a big 4 (KPMG, Deloitte, Pwc, or E&Y) or public accounting firm, there are a few things you need to consider. Honestly it doesn’t make a big difference between the two time periods, because you’ll most likely get an offer as long as you have a good attitude and don’t screw everything up. We don’t expect a lot from interns, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but there is a big learning curve and we don’t really invest a ton of time into development because you’ll only be there for a few months. There is still a lot of training of course, but generally interns aren’t given really tough tasks that would require serious thought. So do your best and you’ll be fine.

The biggest distinction between the two periods of time is that in the summer, there is really not a huge demand for interns. Most of the work for audit and tax is around the winter, though there are exceptions. The winter interns (January-March) will be the busiest and will have more than the summer interns due to the client workload. We work crazy hours during busy season, and usually (hopefully) it gets to a more normal schedule in the summer, where we are planning the year end audits and doing quarterly reviews. For audit are plenty of clients that have a 6/30/12 “year end” (instead of 12/31/12, which is what makes us make us busy January-March) which will keep you busy, and tax has several reporting deadlines approaching and special tasks they will be working on.

Ok so you will be busier in the winter – what does that mean. Put simply – it means you could get a ton of overtime (hours over 40). Big 4 Interns get paid $20-$30 an hour with the intention of matching the full time salary of a first year, assuming a 40 hour week. Except they frequently work 60 or more hours a week during busy season and end up making more than the managers during this time. For this reason alone, I think it is worth doing a winter internship rather than a summer. On the other hand they may only work you 40 hours a week, so there is that to consider.

Another reason I think winter is better than summer is that since you will usually be working longer, you will naturally get more experience. I’ve seen it and also heard from other seniors that those who have done a winter internship compared with a summer internship start off as a 1st year pick up things quicker and are better at their jobs. In addition to working longer, you may actually add some value to the engagement and pitch in and perform some actual testwork. I frequently see summer interns working on things that are not time sensitive like rolling forward documents.** I don’t say this to discourage summer interns like they aren’t helpful, because that isn’t the case, it’s just that when we’re busy we utilize the interns more. If you are a summer intern and you are on a busy client, you will have the same experience.

The downside to working a winter big 4 internship is that you will have to take a semester off from school. I think this tradeoff is well worth it. Yeah, you could finish a semester earlier, but college isn’t the worst thing ever to stick around in. If you are deciding between no internship and a winter internship, absolutely take the winter internship, even if it means an extra semester.

* A 60 hour workweek would probably look like M-Th 9am to 10pm, and Friday probably leave at 6. I haven’t seen interns work weekends before but it is possible. This is assuming the team has a “working” lunch and dinner, by (interns) bringing in food so the audit/tax fest can go uninterrupted.

** “Rolling forward” documents and files mean that you take the testwork or memos ect, and update it for the current year so that we don’t have to “re-invent” the wheel and we can leverage our testwork from the prior year. Usually things haven’t changed from year to year and all that is needed is updating the dates and names on the workpaper. Do use caution here because situations will change, so read through whatever you’re rolling forward and try and pick up on if anything has changed.

Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions
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How to be a Public Accounting Audit Intern Pro

Congratulations on getting an internship. Public accounting is a great start to your career. If you’re still on the hunt for an internship, check out the Big 4 Blueprint, where I outline networking, the Big 4 interview questions and how to answer them. You will typically see the same KPMG, EY, Deloitte, and PWC Interview questions at the big 4 or regional firms, and mastering how to answer them is key to landing an offer. Now on to how to be a pro:

What you will be doing:

Interns are a prized possession by audit teams because they will do they the tasks that no one else wants to do. This doesn’t mean that the tasks are difficult or hard, but rather just the opposite. It’s fitting for the intern to have these kinds of responsibilities because they are often tasks that do not need a lot of instruction. Here are a few of the most common tasks (and how to be a pro at them).

1) Placing orders for lunch/dinner, and picking it up/having it delivered.

When we are confined to a conference room for countless hours of the day, the absolute best part of the day is eating. Plenty of (billed) hours are spent scouring the online menu for the perfect meals, just slightly under the price threshold.

How to be a pro: Develop a system, and stick to it. The most common method for interns placing food orders is either through the firm’s instant messenger or through email. You’ll likely start with sending out menu to everyone. Make sure to send out the menu, not the website. For example, instead of take the extra 2 seconds and find the menu online and send out Write down their order or print out their emails.

Do a completeness check. Completeness in audit means making sure that everything that should be included, is included. So completeness of a food order means DONT FORGET ANYONE. If the team is in multiple rooms, it probably means the managers/partners are in another room. Make sure to run down your list of who you sent the menu out to, and who you got orders from. They might not want to be bothered to place an order, but they will be pissed when they don’t get food.

I know it sounds trivial that I’m explaining this much about placing a food order, but it will be a large portion of your responsibilities and is one of the only times some of the seniors and managers interact with you – so don’t mess it up.

2) Sending out confirmations.

Auditors send out confirmations to third party bankers, customers, and vendors. For example you could send out an accounts receivable confirmation which is a document that says something to the effect of  “The auditors want us to ask you to confirm that you owe us money. Please confirm that you agree that at 12/31/13, you owed us $XX for invoices 1, 2 and 3.” The company being audited will sign these paper documents with their letterhead, and then they will be mailed out by the auditor’s with return envelopes that go back to the auditor’s office. So a company that has accounts payable with the company you’re auditing will sign it (hopefully) and say that they agree with what was said within it. An intern will frequently be tasked with taking these letters to the office, copying them, and mailing them out.

How to be a pro: Make copies and SCAN! I was an intern and sent out some confirmations and lost one of the copies. The team will usually tell you to make sure you make copies of everything you send, but making a copy and a scan of the document protects you from you or someone else losing the paper copy. Before you put them in the envelopes and send them off, do a 1 to 1 check, matching each original with the copy. Then just run all the copies or originals through a scanner. Grab a folder from the supply room and put a label on them.

3) Actual Testing

If you’re lucky you might actually get to do some auditing! The most frequent types of testing that is done interns is going to be some simple stuff, but doing it with 100% accuracy is the what you’re after. One of the biggest things that will help you is when you find out what you will be working on, to look through the prior year testwork. Try to get an understanding of why the work is done the way it is and what the audit objective is. Usually there will be a “Purpose:” in the file somewhere to show you what it is doing. Here is an example to see what kind of testing you will be doing.

Accounts Receivable confirmations:

To test that accounts receivables “exist,” auditors send out confirmation to the customers who owe them money, with the hopes that the company responds and says yep, that is correct. An accounts receivable confirmation will look something like this (in obviously more legal terms):

XYZ Firm is auditing our financial statements, and we need your help with one of their procedures. Back on 12/31/XX, our records show that you owed us $10,255 for invoices 112, 114, and 119. Could you confirm that these numbers are correct?

The customer will sign that they agree with what is on the paper or disagree and mail it back to the audit firm office. They could also just not send it back at all, which happens pretty frequently.

Your job is to (I assume other firms do it this way, I can’t imagine another way) scan the mailed confirmation to PDF, and then document it in the PDF, and make it look exactly like the prior year confirmations. If there aren’t prior year workpapers, they will show you the template for how to document a confirmation. There will be a confirmation testwork excel sheet with the invoices and amounts listed. You will agree the amounts that were signed by the customer to the invoices amounts in the testing sheet. You will reference the file name for the PDF confirmation beside the invoice in the excel sheet, and then from the PDF to the excel sheet. This is called “ticking and tying.” This sounds simple, but make sure that you review your work, and don’t leave anything out.

4) Rely on other interns or first years

You aren’t expected to know everything as as a big 4 or accounting intern and are definitely expected to ask questions. I would recommend choosing who you ask questions to, depending on the question. I say this because seniors usually have a lot on their plate and their time is in big demand. If you have simple questions about the software, expenses,  or where to drink at the upcoming intern conference, try to reach out to first years or other interns. All large firms have internal chat software where you can easily communicate these quick questions. Especially if you are doing a winter internship, the first years are perfect because they have been through all of these same questions recently (if they started on the usually fall start date). I don’t mean to discourage you from asking questions from the senior, because you should feel you should be open to any question. Also if you talk among your intern cohort, it looks like you are really smart and just know the answers!

With all of this said, one pet peeve people have of the interns is that they appear to be scared to ask questions, and end up sitting there doing nothing. This is not what you want. If you are stuck, ask a question. If you don’t know what you’re doing – ask questions. The good thing about public accounting is that you learn so much because you are forced to ask questions, and get immediate direct feedback. You will typically be sitting in a conference room with 4-8 other people, and if one person doesn’t know the answer, someone in the room will. My point with this last tip is to think about your question first, and then direct to the most appropriate person.

Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions
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Keys to being a Top-Rated 1st Year accountant

This is a summary of things that I wish I had known going into my first year, or maybe I was told and should have payed more attention. For many of these you have heard them before but I wanted to actually add some value so I gave you actual ways you can put them into practice. If you have any additional suggestions feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below. If you’re still in the process of trying to get an job as a first year,  check out the Big 4 Blueprint where I explain the top Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and EY interview questions and answers to ensure you have the best chance of getting an offer.

1) Do not be afraid to ask questions

Public accounting is a pull, not a push learning environment. You are not expected to know what you are doing and lots and lots of questions are expected. There is nothing more frustrating than to give an “easy” task to a first year and then come back and they are still trying to figure it out. Suck up your pride. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb – you probably don’t have all the information or don’t know where to look to get the required information.

It’s ok if you need help or clarification. Sitting and staring at the workpaper because you don’t know how to approach it or got stuck at some point isn’t good for anyone.

One caveat to this is with excel formulas. If you are having trouble figuring out a vlookup or if/then ect, use google. There will ALWAYS be a clearly defined example of how to properly use an excel formula online. If you haven’t downloaded the free ebook, it has detailed examples. There is also a ton of excel shortcuts which make you look smart and save time. I actually forgot a few of the formula syntax’s I had put in there and have been using it as reference. One note on vlookups – the problem is usually formatting.

 2) Develop a systematic organization method – or use my technique

On my desktop, along with a ton of other random stuff (although I prefer to keep things orderly)

  • “Current Client” – A folder for whatever client I’m on. I usually put it separate from other folders/files. I also drag it to the quicklaunch menu in windows for quick acces or if I have other screens open and don’t want to go to desktop.
  • Clients – Here I keep a folder containing folders I used on past clients. When I roll off the engagement I move the files here. Never delete anything.
  • Temp – I keep a “temp” folder for items that I don’t really need to organize, but I just don’t want them to clutter my desktop. This is usually if I need to email someone something and have to save it somewhere first.
  • Reference – I keep files from training or company guidance that may be relevant. Also controls the testing matrix and those types of things
  • Pending items – This will be a big help and I wish I had this sooner. What I usually do is take whatever sections I’m assigned on my current client, take the prior year file and somehow get it into a project management mode in excel. (Depending on your firm’s software, it may be easy to do). For each test and file that was in the workpapers last year, I put it in a row in excel (Obviously things may change, but you won’t be expected to know when a change in audit strategy is needed for a little while). I do is keep a running check on what is finished and what I will need to complete it. I will also list questions I need to ask to complete as well as whatever is pending the client . I like to put something like “sent request for XYZ detail 8/21/13.” You can get creative with color coding green/yellow/red ect. This sounds basic/overkill but you will soon realize how important organization is.

Within the client folders, I have a folder for controls testing, substantive testing. These two will hold the bulk of the documents for a client. I also in this main client folder I keep:

  • Trial balance, Prior Year trial balance
  • Financial Statements
  • Assignment Schedule – a schedule of when my sections are to be complete. Usually given to you by a senior when you start the engagement.

Within the controls or substantive folder I have a sub-folder for each process, such as fixed assets, expenses, revenue – whatever I’ll be working on. Within those folders, depending on how many tests we do for each section, I will have a subfolder within them. So for example substantive procedures over fixed assets I might include:

  • Fixed Asset Rollforward
  • Construction in Progress
  • Depreciation
  • Valuation/Impairment

Within the email client - there are also some useful tools.

You may see that some seniors/managers keep emails in subfolders similar to how I have it on my desktop above. I do not recommend you implement this practice until after your first year. The only problem with this is that when you try to search something, you won’t be able to find it unless you click “search entire inbox” or whatever it is. It’s not that you may waste a few seconds, but that you don’t think someone sent you something and they actually did.

On the other hand, you should keep a folder dedicated solely to outstanding client requests. When I send an email requesting a response or document from a client contact, I drag that email from the sent folder to “client requests.” When they respond, I move it back to the sent folder (don’t delete it – never delete anything). This makes it easy to track when you sent requests and who you need to follow up with.

Within outlook, you should also utilize the “task” feature. When you get an email, there will be a little box or check to the right of the email. If you click it, it will move it to a  task pane on the bottom right hand side. This is especially helpful when you are in the middle of something and don’t have time to respond or deal with it immediately. Instead of relying on your ability to remember such things, it will be there sitting in your task bar. When you get a moment, go through and try to and clear the running list of things.

3) Take notes

You will get this beat into you non-stop during training so I’ll just give you tips on how to do it effectively instead of just saying to do it.

  • You will need to manage watching the senior/second year show you what to do and at the same time jotting down notes. It may be a struggle because some people are “do-ers” meaning they learn easier by doing, rather than just watching.
  • If your firm uses Outlook, it has tools for quick note taking. Using the task bar mentioned earlier, you can double click the subject line and start typing. Another way to easily keep track of stuff. This is great when a senior starts randomly giving you a task.
  • If you take notes on paper and have bad handwriting, get them onto the computer so you will be able to read it. Or maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this…
  • Ask for clarifiation if you don’t know. If you don’t know now, you likely won’t know later when you’re trying to figure it out.

Never underestimate the amount of documentation needed from ‘walkthroughs’. I’m giving these their own section because they’re that big of a deal.  You will go on the walkthrough and think you know everything about the process, only to realize you didn’t cover half of what you needed to. While on walkthroughs, keep in mind that you need to be focusing on:

  • When/where things hit the accounting information system  - Ex: When a sale is recorded, when an account payable is recorded ect.
  • What information systems the reports/files are being pulled, and where the document comes from – Is it an excel file that they create or is a report generated from their SAP system?
  • If the control is XYZ reviews the XYZ find what they are actually reviewing and what would make them not say “Ok this looks good.” Try to get a dollar value.
  • Keep in mind that the prior year documentation may not have everything you need. There has been recent guidance from the PCAOB and the walkthrough procedures are being overhauled.

4) Diligent self review

Again you will get this beat into you, but here are some things you absolutely have to do before signing off on a workpaper. The extra time taken to review your work will save tons of time for you and the reviewer.

  • Make sure tickmarks are referenced out (see below)
  • Work on something else for a few minutes, and then come back and check for spelling/errors. You will hardly ever find mistakes like this if you do it right after you finish.
  • Within the audit software you will see that “assertions” from audit class are back. CEAVOP didn’t go away and they are relevant to your work. If the audit program the senior set up says we’re testing CEA of fixed assets, but the testwork shows C&A – you need to ask, or fix it. These are great “coaching moments” for you to understand how certain methods of testwork cover these assertions. Assertions can change from year to year and the testwork template may not have changed, so this is something you will likely be exposed to.
  • Did you perform the tests the audit program says? The software will usually say “XZY obtained the ZXY schedule and performed the following procedures:.” This is similar to the assertions where things may change.
  • Make sure the dates are changed. Almost all workpapers are “rolled forward” meaning they take the prior year document, change the substance, and re-use it. These documents are usually filled with dates like the client’s year end.

5) How Tickmarks Work

Tickmarks are a way of saying that the number on this workpaper also appears on another workpaper. A tickmark (TM) is usually a reference to the number  assigned to a workpaper within your firm’s audit software (an example could be

When a number is going to another workpaper, it goes on the right side of that number. If it is coming from a workpaper, it goes on the left side. If you’re on w/p 1.4.2 have put a TM to workpaper 1.4.3, there should be a TM on 1.4.3 with that same number going to 1.4.2.

Tickmarks Example

Auditing is all about levels of detail – at the top have the Financial Statements and then you have the trial balance (TB), which is more detailed and breaks out individual accounts and subgroups. Within each trial balance” account you have a detailed list of transactions/entries that have a total equaling that trial balance account.

So say you’re working on SG&A expenes, and the financial statements show SG&A is$50M. There will be a “trial balance”, with amounts for each SG&A account and subtotals within each group (payroll, maintenance, ect). The grand total under SG&A on the trial balance will be $50M. Lets say admin expenses are $10M and there is only 1 account. You will get a detailed list of transactions totaling $10M. Since the detailed transaction is the supporting documentation, the numbers are going UP to the financial statements.

Lets say the workpaper that has the detailed transaction is workpaper 2.5, the trial balance is TB, and the Financial Statements are FS. It would look like this:

On the total on the detail at 2.5:             $20,000,000 TB

On the trial balance:                           2.5 $20,000,000 FS

On the Financial Statements             TB   $20,000,000

It’s easy right? Now don’t forget to check your references. Your reviewer will always check your TM references so this will be just one less thing to fix.

Other Tips

Don’t whine – nobody likes a complainer.

Have fun at first year training and network with people. If a group is talking about going out to bars later see if you can link up. Try to at least remember a few faces because as people leave the firm, classes get smaller and more you start to see the some of the same people.

You are not there to find fraud, and you will most likely never see any. There is also usually a reason for any “mistake” you find.


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions
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Accounting vs Investment Banking: Part 3 – Lifestyle


Busy periods

The longest hours for accountants will usually be during their time in public accounting. There is a good amount of travel, frequently periods of long hours including “busy season” which can be more than once a year. If you’re still in the process of trying to get an job a Big 4 job,  check out the KPMG, EY, PWC , and Deloitte Interview Question and answer guide to ensure you have the best chance of getting an offer.


What recruiters don’t tell you is that while most companies have a 12/30 year end and you will be really busy doing the year-end audit from say January to mid March, the “busy season” isn’t quite over yet. In fact, you could technically be working “busy season” year round. Many offices have clients who have March year ends, June year ends and really any time they want. This is frustrating because you can roll off a horrible engagement where you’re working 80+ hours for 4-5 weeks just to start the same process on another client. Variable compensation doesn’t really take this too much into consideration either – so if you’re slaving away all year long and posting average engagement reviews, you could get less than the person who is on 1 year round client and breezes through the summer getting above average reviews.



Tax staff has different periods of busy time based on tax filing deadlines. The biggest peaks are January-April and then again in the fall. The summers are usually pretty lax unless you’re on some sort of specialty tax consulting. The fact that it picks back up in time for football season can be disheartening as well.



One big difference between accounting and finance is that it is a general plan is that you will “front load” your career, putting in relatively tough hours in the beginning, pay your dues and get out to a more normal work schedule.

Public accounting audit and tax can both be lumped together with regard to hours because it really just depends on the office and the clients you get staffed on. I would say on average (using historic chargeability reports) that the average week in big 4 audit or tax is 55 hours. If you think of a bell curve, the 95 percentile high end of hours would be 95, with some working over 120 hours (some in my office have gone 100-110). I personally have charged ~90 hours for two consecutive weeks, meaning I put it about 100.

Audit Travel

Depending on the size of the office and the clients you have you may have very little to almost exclusive travel. If you’re on a F100 client and work there year round, you probably won’t leave the state except for national trainings. On the other hand you could get put on clients all over the US and sometimes not in the greatest places.  Hotel accommodations are usually pretty nice, as well as the standard per diem which makes it a little easier. Out of town stays usually last between 2 and 5 weeks with the possibility but not a guarantee that you can return home on the weekends. For hotel rewards point, you can’t use a Hilton/Marriott credit card to rack up points but instead you have to use the company card (I assume for all firms, correct me if I’m wrong).

Tax travel, if any, is usually much shorter than audit. That is again unless you’re in a specialty tax practice.


One of the most underrated benefits accounting has over finance is geographic flexibility. Accountants who make decent money can live pretty comfortably when they aren’t in a major metro like NYC. Since there are offices in every major city, you can (somewhat) easily transfer from office to office.  The cost of living benefit and the ability to move as you wish across the states without being fixated around a finance hub is attractive to many wannabe CPAs.

Work Environment

The work environment in public accounting is general pretty good. From the start you’re working with young, intelligent and ambitious people. You will almost always be in a team setting and the size of the group can really vary, but there will usually be about 2 seniors per manager and 2-4 associates per senior. It can be stressful at times because there are strict deadlines associated with audits (and tax). Unlike investment banking where deadlines can come out of nowhere (a deal opportunity presents itself) the deadlines are usually known and can be accounted for.  Instead of working around the clock to get revisions out before a meeting the next day, audit teams have deadlines weeks in advance and just have a lot to do get through it over that course of time. It can also be stressful when you become a senior and manager because you can be juggling multiple engagements, have demands coming from several places, and can’t get time to get your work done because associates are pounding you with questions. For this reason, many seniors and managers come in early and stay late to be able to get through their work while the questions aren’t coming in.

Life After Public Accounting

The majority of the public accountants exit to greener pastures with little to no travel, less stress and more normal hours (40-55). There may still be some spikes and some stressful periods if they’re involved with quarterly/year end closings or developments in the company.  Opportunities for advancement are still available in their careers especially with the public accounting experience which gives them a unique view of many functions within companies.



Investment Banking

Everything sounds great until you start considering the hours and lifestyle required for a career in investment banking. There is really no escaping the 90+ hour weeks and late nights/mornings in investment banking. Unfortunately, the hours don’t really subside too much over the long term. Sure if you’re a vice president probably you won’t be working until 2am like analysts and associates, but when you have a deal in the process you could easily be there until 10-11.

If you were to put an average  hours per week over a year on a bell curve for each position in investment banking it would go something like: Keep in mind there will be extremes, but let

Analyst: 65-80-100

Associate: 60–75-90

Vice President: 55-65-80

The hours are usually the main reason bankers leave the sell-side for greener pastures on the buy side. Private equity hours are not nearly as bad, but are still not a walk in the park. The normal day to day hours are closer to 8am-7pm but if you’re on a live deal you could see flashbacks of the analyst days where you’re working non-stop.


If you start off in S&T you will have definitely have more normal hours than investment banking. Typical hours will be 7-6 (depending on east coast/west coast) with little weekend work. The hours themselves are packed full of intensity and you need to be sharp the entire time. Some forego going out to lunch and having a working lunch becomes the norm.

Hedge funds have probably the best lifestyle/compenation in finance.  The hours are usually 7-6, depending on the location, with no weekend work. If you’re on the west coast – you’re going to have to learn to be a morning person because you’ll be expected to be in the office well before the markets open in NY.


When an investment bank goes on a “road show” where they try and pitch companies and get prospective clients you could be travelling around for quite some time. As you move up in the bank, bringing in new clients becomes a larger responsibility thus requiring more travel as well.

Travel in private equity is usually less, but it can still be significant. Two main aspects of private equity are sourcing deals and managing portfolio companies. If you’re managing a portfolio company, you could on an extended travel and be out of town for months. If you’re sourcing deals you may be making weekend trips all over or just making calls from the office depending on the situation.

Those in hedge funds don’t usually have to travel unless you’re trying to bring in prospective investors.

Work Environment

The environment in IB/S&T/PE/HF, when compared to accounting, is more stressful. Mainly because there is a lot more money on the line. For example you make a mistake as an analyst in banking, your senior will find it chew you out. In public accounting, it is much more relaxed and the review process is built to catch these mistakes and are used as a teaching tool. Mistakes are expected but not to be duplicated, like any profession. The expectations are generally a lot higher in finance and there is less toleration for mistakes. There is also (to a degree) more flexibility when it comes to creativity, individual ideas, and analysis in finance. With accounting, there is a lot of does this number match this number.

If you’re in private equity and recommend buying a company, you could be the cause of a catastrophic loss or a big win. If you’re working at a hedge fund, one of your trades could go against you in a huge way or result in a very large gain.

The lifestyle in finance has more of a work hard play hard attitude with lots of extra money in people’s pockets all around. Working with people your age as well as people who are much older but still play hard makes it a rather fun environment.

Continue below for the final part of the series – the work.

Accounting vs Finance: Part 1 – Career Path

Accounting vs Finance: Part 2 – Compensation

Accounting vs Finance: Part 3 – Lifestyle (You are here)

Accounting vs Finance: Part 4 – The work


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions




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31 Commonly Used Big 4 Accounting Firm Interview Questions (Deloitte, PwC, EY, KPMG)

Kpmg interview questions, deloitte interview questions, kpmg interview questions, pwc interview questions

Big 4 Interview Questions

One of the best things you can do to prepare for an interview is to research the interview questions the Big 4 Accounting Firms (Deloitte, PwC, E&Y, & KPMG) most commonly use, and practice them ahead of time. Getting together a list and practicing the Interview questions is essential because it makes you more calm, look professional, and come off as a better candidate. For a complete guide on how to answer each of these Big 4 interview questions take a look at the Big 4 Blueprint – the complete guide to getting an interview with the big  4 or public accounting firm.

Write down your answers and practice answering them. Make sure you actually say your answers out loud as well.  Many times we think something sounds good, only to speak it out loud and completely lose confidence. Have a friend to help you practice by reading the interview questions and having you answer them. Doing this makes you less nervous for the real thing as well as get your your response more fluid.

There is a limit to how much you should practice your interview Q&A, however. It is important not to just read off what you memorized because it will show and you will sound like a robot. Instead, have the answer as a base for discussion and have an actual conversation, not a speech.

A lot of the interview questions will be behavioral and call on past experiences (ex: tell me about a time you had to overcome difficult team members). One of the best parts of answering the interview questions ahead of time is that it catalogs many of these types of experiences. If they give you a question that you hadn’t directly prepared for you may still have other relevant experiences to talk about.

It is also good to have something “scripted” to fall back on if you freeze up. Having something canned is much better than being awkward and sitting there thinking about (a good) example you can tell them.

The truth of the matter is the purpose of these interviews are more to see how you can answer the questions, how professional you are, how fluently you can communicate, and really whether you would be enjoyable to work with. If you have an interview spot, you probably have a high GPA and they already have already screened you for your book smarts.’ These interviews are designed to separate the personable people from the socially inept.

Common Big 4 Accounting Firm Interview Questions (KPMG, Deloitte, E&Y, PwC)

1) Walk me through your resume*

2) Tell me a little about yourself or background*

3) Why KPMG/Deloitte/PwC/E&Y?*

4) Why audit/tax/advisory?*

5) Where do you see your yourself in 5 to 10 years

6) Tell me about a time when you had to be a leader

7) Tell me about a time when you were had to overcome an obstacle to get something done

8) Tell me about a goal you had and how you achieved it

9) Tell me about a time when someone asked you to do something unethical

10) How well do you work do in a team setting

11) Give me an example of a time when you were in a moral dilemma and how you handled it

12) Give me an example of a time when you were working in a team, and a team member wasn’t meeting their responsibilities (and how you handled it)

13) Tell me about a time when you disagreed with someone in your group

14) Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure with strict deadlines

15) Tell me about a time when you failed or made a mistake and how you handled it

16) What is your biggest weakness/strength

17) What do you like to do for fun

18) What is your greatest achievement (or What are you most proud of)

19) Give me an example of a time when you disagreed with a superior

20) Do you prefer you like to travel?

21) Tell me about a time when you improved a process (or came up with a creative solution)

22) Tell me about a time when you had to prioritize your responsibilities

23) What do you like best about a career in public accounting

24) Are you interviewing with other firms

25) Tell me about a time when you had to handle a difficult or angry customer/client

26) What is the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make at in school/work? How did you arrive at your decision?

27) If your friends could pick 3 words to descibe you, what would they be

28) What city would you prefer to live in?

29) What is your take on (insert current event such the Fed’s Stimulus program, overall economic health ect.)

30) What would you change about your school’s academic program

31) What sets you apart from the rest of the candidates

*These questions are highly likely to be asked


For a complete guide on how to answer each of these Big 4 interview questions click here or the below to download the Big 4 Blueprint.


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions

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Accounting vs Finance: Part 2 – Compensation


The accounting compensation is going to be greatly overshadowed by the finance pay.  It just isn’t that sexy. Accountants don’t get rich through employment (with the exception of CFO/Director level executives) but it is definitely enough to put them in the upper middle class. If you’re interviewing soon with the big 4 or a public accounting firm, look at the Big 4 interview guide to make sure you are prepared on interview day.

Starting with the exit from PA, the general rule is you should expect about a 15% increase in pay when you leave. Looking at the accountants above who stayed in PA for 3-5 years (60-75k) they should see offers ranging from 70-85K.  Those who stuck it out to 6-9 years at manager (85-110k) will likely get offers ranging 100-140k.

For a detailed compensation report for Big 4 audit and tax from 1st year to senior manager download this free ebook.

Those brave souls who stick it out in PA for the long haul can make it to partner, which normally ranges from $300k to several million depending on the size of the firm and years in the partnership.  Additionally advisory service partners make multi-millions in many cases.


The pay can be pretty insane because it is largely dependent on ones bonus. For example a first year investment banking analyst straight out of college can get an offer for $60k with a 100% bonus of $60k. The pay goes up at very high rate as well, and no matter where you are in finance whether on the sell-side or buy-side, you’ll be ahead of your peers who went to almost any other field.

Investment Banking Compensation

Analyst – First Year: $80k – $140k

Associate – First Year: $150K – $300K

Vice Presidents: $400K – $2M

Managing Directors: $500K – $5M+

Private Equity Compensation

In private equity it is a little trickier to gauge the compensation because it is largely dependent on the performance of the companies it buys. It also may not be 100% cash bonus but you may get “carry” which may not be realized for some time.

Pre MBA Associate – First Year: $120k-$200k

Post MBA Associate – First Year: $250-$1M

Vice President: $500k-$3M+

Hedge Fund Compensation

Hedge funds compensation is also difficult to determine because it is tied to the performance of the fund, as well as your performance as a trader. The hierarchy is also flat and there aren’t many layers of seniority, but it goes something like this.

Research Analyst: $150-$500k

Portfolio Manager: $500k-$10M

Fund Manager: $500k-2.2B*

*If you’re David Tepper of Appaloosa Management, you can take home $2.2B.

Outside of the buy and sell side, financiers may wish to go to work for a corporation, but will almost always take a pay cut. Positions in corporate finance, corporate development, and investor relations range from $100k-400k until VP/Director positions.


Continue below for the next part in the series – the lifestyle

Accounting vs Finance: Part 1 – Career Path

Accounting vs Finance: Part 2 – Compensation (You are here)

Accounting vs Finance: Part 3 – Lifestyle

Accounting vs Finance: Part 4 – The work


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions



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Accounting vs Finance: Part 1 – Career Path

Crossroads smallIn this 4 part series I’ll be covering in depth the differences between a typical career in accounting starting in (Big 4) public accounting, and a typical career in finance starting in investment banking. First up in the series is a long term look at the career paths of each

Accounting – Career Path

The most common and desired entry level position for an accounting student is in (Big 4) public accounting audit or tax. Public accounting gives great exposure to a wide variety of areas in a business, good training, and management experience early on. You will learn how business work and dig into the nuts and bolts of the businesses you audit. Most of those who enter the field don’t plan on staying but 3-6 years and use it as a springboard for their careers

The progression in Big 4 public accounting is based on an “up or out” model where there is a lot of turnover and some layoffs. About 1/3 of the people within each position never make it to the next promotion because they either quit and left for a better job or were laid off. The hierarchy goes as follows:

Associate: 0-2 years
Seniors Associate:3-5 years
Manager:6-10 years
Senior Manager:11 years to Partner

The goal once you’re in is to stick it out as long as you can, as the opportunities available are greater the longer you stay. It can be grueling at times but the experience really adds a lot of value to your resume over the long term. Even a 2 or 3 year period gives you an ex-Big 4 title, however valuable that may be.

The general rule is that those in public accounting advance at about 1.5-2x the rate of those in private industry. So for example, someone staying for 6 years in public accounting and has been a manager for 1 year should be able to fill a management position that may normally take 8-10 years for someone moving through the ranks of the company. The reason for the demand for those with public accounting experience is the broad exposure, assumed hard work ethic, and management training/experience.  Also think about the fact that someone sitting at a position at a company will have to wait for their boss to get a promotion or leave before they can get promoted.

Some of the most common exits from public accounting are into a corporation’s functions such as:

Internal Audit: This function handles the internal controls that are in place at a company, including designing, implementing, and testing them. It is responsible for ensuring the financial reporting system is free of fraud or errors. Sounds boring and it is.

Treasury: This function handles the capital and manages liquidity of a business. Duties could include cash forecasting, working capital management, and maintaining credit lines/debt. It could possibly include more strategic areas like capital risk management or fund raising through IPO, bond issuance, or M&A.

Corporate Finance: This function manages the capital structure (source of funding) and allocation of cash. Investment analysis, capital budgeting, valuation, and project management are some of the responsibilities. If the company is involved in M&A, this function will lead the analysis and management of the deal. While ex-public accountants often fill some of these roles, it is more likely someone with valuation/due diligence or investment banking experience will rise through the ranks.

Financial Planning & Analysis: FP&A can mean a lot of things and can be very interesting career path, but many times positions disguised as FP&A are just glorified cost accounting. At best the role involves developing metrics for forecasting cost/revenue drivers and strategic project management planning. At worst it does budget vs. actual calculations and helps close out the monthly financial statements. This role often puts together financial reports for the C-suite and can be a great stepping stone to VP finance and CFO.

Tax: This function puts all of the profits overseas. I’m not really sure what else.

MBA/IB/Valuation/Consulting: For the ambitious accountant, it is quite possible (especially from a Big 4) to make a jump into finance or consulting. Some will go the MBA route and others will network their way straight in. Within the Big 4 firms there are services lines that do valuation, due diligence for M&A deals, and even internal middle market investment banks (called Corporate Finance). These are not as easy to come by as just jumping ship to work for client you’ve audited, but they are still possible.

Of course there are some who stay in PA until Senior Manger, and they either stay until partner or fill similar positions as those at manager level, with a few filling director and CFO roles at small/mid size companies.

Looking longer term, those with public accounting experience serve in management/direct positions within accounting/finance roles in corporations later in their career. It’s also no surprise that most CFOs large corporations have a background in public accounting. Those with public experience are perfectly positioned to become a CFO because they have the best understanding of what drives a business.

The tax professionals (which are underrepresented in this post because I don’t know what would make someone do tax) often rise through the ranks in a corporation’s tax department or break off and start their own CPA firm.

Investment Banking – Career Path

One of the most sought after entry level positions for a finance student is investment banking. Specifically this will focus on the Investment Banking Division (IBD) which is the M&A department of the bank. Investment banking has a much more defined career path building specialized skills in financial modeling and valuation. Standing out in the crowd and getting the job is very difficult, the hours are tough, there could be significant travel, but the compensation is incredible.

Most investment banks have a 2 year analyst position after which the new hire is expected to move on to another firm or business school. Analysts spend time preparing pitch books which will be presented to potential clients and updating financial models. The 2 year period is associated with very long hours including potential all nighters. The analyst program is a rite of passage in banking and completion of the program propels ones resume to the top of the stacks of other banks, “buy side” firms, and MBA admissions (along with a fat bonus). There are a few main areas of focus in finance including investment banking, sales and trading, private equity, and hedge funds.

Investment banking (IBD): Investment bankers act as advisors for companies who want to raise capital through debt or IPO; or buy, sell, or merge their company (M&A). You will typically be preparing to present a deal, presenting a deal, or finding people to present a deal to. There is a lot of modeling, (although much of it is updating current models), and attention to detail is critical. You’ll learn how to value companies using a variety of valuation methods that will serve will in a career in finance. You’ll also learn how to work on 4 hours of sleep.

Sales & Trading (S&T): These are the traders that you see shouting on a trading floor. They’re constantly on the phones talking to clients and making quick decisions. You’ll need an aptitude for the markets and a natural sales ability but the lifestyle is hard to beat in the finance world.

Private Equity: Similar to IBD but instead of acting as an advisor you’re putting your own money (or bonus) at stake and buying entire companies. They buy companies they think can be better, fix them up and make them profitable and then sell them to public markets or other buyers. This also encompasses venture capital and angel investors, though typical “private equity” firm buy more developed companies.

Hedge Fund: Similar to S&T but they make trades on the market using a lot of leverage to reap in profits. They invest money for institutions and individuals and take a management fee as well as a percentage of the profits (but none of any loss).

Buy Side vs. Sell Side

Investment banking and sales and trading are on the “sell side” because they are acting only as an advisor and not putting their own capital at risk. You can remember that sell side sells services while the buy side buys assets.

Private equity firms and hedge funds are known as on the “buy side” because they actually buy companies, whether they buy the whole company or just some of its stock.

Doing a stint as an analyst in investment banking (IBD) sets you up best stay in IBD or work in private equity. There are other options like working at a company in their corporate development, investor relations department, and their corporate finance department.

In finance, the buy side is usually preferred over the sell side because the hours are lower and compensation is usually higher. A career path many bankers have for their career is 2 years as an analyst, 2 years as a “pre MBA” private equity associate, MBA, then either back to the investment bank or private equity.  For a great overview of the Investment banking > private equity career path see: PE overview

Another option is to switching from M&A to sales and trading within an investment bank, or joining a hedge fund. Others have done banking and then used an MBA to make a switch into consulting as well.

I think it is worth noting that these areas of finance are extremely competitive and usually require a combination of an Ivy League degree, incredible networking, and a killer resume. Within finance you will find success is of course dependent on individual merit, but a big focus is on pedigree. Where did you go to school, who did you work for after that ect.  With thousands of applicants and few spots they can hand select the smartest and hardest working individuals from the top schools and firms. If you have dreams and aspirations of one day working at a top private equity firm while you went to a state school and joined a no name boutique investment bank out of school, you have an uphill battle. You’ll be competing against the Harvard and Wharton grads with Goldman Sachs on their resume. Many aspiring finance majors who don’t go to “target” schools and don’t have their networking down don’t even break into banking and are left with wealth management or accounting jobs. Hard work trumps all and there will always stories of people landing the most competitive jobs from the lowest background through networking.

Career Path Summary:

Accounting careers lead can to varied positions in corporations and are generally pretty stable. The options available are broad and with a start in public accounting one can explore to careers in both accounting and financial roles. There are a good deal of c-suite employees who followed this path as well.

Finance careers can lead to somewhat narrower but incredibly successful positions making huge sums of money. The skill set is valuable and the experience gained is viewed as top notch. Barriers to entry and fierce competition can pump the brakes for some but when it’s good, it’s great.

Continue below for the next part in the series – Compensation

Accounting vs Finance: Part 1 – Career Path (You are here)

Accounting vs Finance: Part 2 – Compensation

Accounting vs Finance: Part 3 – Lifestyle

Accounting vs Finance: Part 4 – The work

Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions


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