So, you’re considering joining the Big 4, but you’re worried about how many hours you will be expected to do? It can be a little difficult to get an accurate answer on the hours you should expect to be given when you begin your work, so I will try and cover most circumstances here.
I spent the first three years of my career working in Audit at a Big 4 firm, and I had a pretty broad coverage over different audit types, and therefore experienced a vast array of hours. I think I am in a pretty good position to advise people on what they should expect, and how they could make their time at The Big 4 a bit less hour heavy.
The key here is that the hours you will do while working at your firm will depend heavily upon the jobs you are put on.
Generally speaking, the bank audits will have the most amount of hours, and working past midnight can be a pretty regular occurence at the peak of busy season.
Comparatively, I ended up on the audit of some Hedge Funds and smaller Family Office funds during my busy season, and the hours on them is far better than the banks. I would probably average around 50 hours on the general fund audits.
Therefore, unless you have a specific interest in the banking sector, or perhaps want to make a switch into banking once you qualify, I would try and avoid them like the plague. They’re generally not very interesting, and you don’t get a very broad look at the business as a whole – you’ll likely specialise in auditing one specific area of the bank.
There are Small Perks to Long Hours
The benefits are few and far between, I’ll be honest. However, at least in my office, if you had to work beyond 8pm, you could expense your dinner. This meant that we would often get takeaway delivered to the office. And hey, who can complain about free pizza?!
Admittedly, I would rather have been relaxing at home, but you really have to take the small positives to get through busy season sometimes.
The other more important benefit is that the jobs with the longest hours can sometimes teach you the most about audit. At the end of the day, the more you do something, the better at it you will get.
This is a huge one, and something you should factor in when you plan which Big 4 office you apply to.
The larger offices will generally expect longer hours. Simple.
I remember having training in the London office every 12 months or so, and they would always talk about doing 90 hour weeks on a relatively regular basis. I, on the other hand, had yet to exceed 55 hours that busy season in my smaller Big 4 office.
I think some people assume that a bigger office will give you better opportunities. This isn’t always the case.
If you wish to become an audit partner, then I admit, your best bet is to join a large office. Larger office means more partners, and therefore you’re less likely to be sitting around and waiting for someone to retire to become partner.
However, if like me, you plan to get the three years of experience, qualify as a Chartered Accountant and then get out – don’t make your life difficult. Nobody is looking at your CV thinking “Well…if he worked at PwC London I would hire him, but seeing as he worked at PwC Brighton, we’ll pass on him”. This isn’t like University. Big 4 is Big 4, end of story.
It isn’t That Bad – A Means to an End
Whether you’re looking to stay in Audit for life, or get out of there as soon as possible, the long hours you work aren’t actually that bad if you maintain a positive attitude towards them.
Always keep that end goal in sight and remember that you need to wade through some crap experiences in order to experience the great ones.
One of the biggest complaints when working at Big 4 isn’t actually the hours, but the pay. This is actually combined with the hours in a way, as many Auditors complain that they’re not correctly paid based on the time they can spend at work. Unfortunately you often learn significantly less working in audit within the big four than you would in, for example, a consulting role. In 2018, the average salary for an auditor working in private practice in the UK came to £58k.
Now, let me tell you, £58k is bloody high for an auditor, and this is heavily inflated by those at the top who are receiving large pay packets.
As a newly fully qualified accountant, after three years, I was about to step into a £40k per year salary before I took my job at a Hedge Fund. You’re generally not likely to step above £100k a year until you reach associate partner level and have been at the firm for about 20 years.
Obviously this is office and firm dependant, but there generally isn’t a huge different in pay between the Big Four – however, that won’t stop your colleagues comparing themselves to their friends who work at another firm in the same town who “are paid £2k a year more than us!” – often the differences make very little impact after tax anyway.
The reality of busy season is that the hours CAN be very high, to the point that you’re sometimes competing with Investment Bankers for the trophy for long hours – but despite this, the pay doesn’t often reflect it.
If you’re feeling down about the amount of hours you’re currently working, then please keep your chin up and keep the end goal in sight. It will be worth it in the end, I promise.