The Big Four Accounting Firms: An In-Depth Analysis

The Big Four accounting firms, also known as the “big four” or the “big four audit firms”, refer to the four largest professional services networks in the accounting industry. Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG are those firms which are considered the elite of the industry and are recognised for their expertise and reputation in providing high-quality audit, tax, and advisory services to clients around the world.

A Brief History of the Big Four

The history of the big 4 accounting firms can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the first professional accounting firms were established. Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG all have roots dating back to this time period and have since grown to become the largest and most successful accounting firms in the world.

Deloitte, the oldest of the big four, was founded in 1845 by William Welch Deloitte in London, England. PwC, originally known as Price Waterhouse, was founded in 1849 by Samuel Lowell Price and William Hopkins Holyland in London. EY, originally known as Ernst & Young, was founded in 1989 by Arthur Young and Alwin C. Ernst in Chicago, United States. KPMG was founded in 1987 by James Marwick and William Barclay Peat in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Services Offered by the Big Four

The big 4 accounting firms offer a wide range of services to their clients, including audit, tax, and advisory services.

Audit services include financial statement audits, internal audits, and compliance audits. These services are designed to provide assurance that a company’s financial statements are accurate and comply with the applicable accounting standards and regulations.

Tax services include tax planning, compliance, and controversy services. These services help companies minimise their tax liability and comply with tax laws and regulations.

As far as Advisory services are concerned, they include management consulting, risk management, and transaction advisory services. These services help companies improve their operations, manage risks, and make strategic decisions.

The Competitive Landscape of the Big Four

Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG also face competition from accounting firms who are not among the big four. They may be small, medium or large accounting firms possessing their own set of advantages that can make them a more suitable option for specific clients and situations.

On that note, let’s take a look at how these firms can be as amenable as the big four. 

  1. One of the main advantages of these firms is that they can offer a more specialised service. Many firms specialise in certain industries or niche areas which can provide a deeper level of expertise and understanding for clients in those sectors.
  2. Another advantage is that they may have more flexible billing options. Some firms may offer flat-rate pricing or alternative fee structures, which can be more cost effective for clients who have limited budgets or prefer more predictable expenses.
  3. In addition, these firms may have more localised knowledge and experience. They may be based in specific regions and have a better understanding of the local market conditions and regulations which can be beneficial for clients operating in those areas.
  4. Furthermore, other accounting firms could have a more approachable and personalised service. They may be able to provide more hands-on support and guidance for clients, particularly for small businesses and startups that require more individualised attention.

In summary, while the big four accounting firms are known for their expertise and reputation, other small, medium and large accounting firms can also offer advantages such as personalised service, cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and niche expertise. It is important for clients to consider their own specific needs and circumstances when choosing an accounting firm, and to weigh in the pros and cons of an accounting firm before making a decision.