Big 4 Audit vs Corporate Finance

bballer457's picture
Rank: Chimp | banana points 8

Interested in which of these two disciplines is more lucrative? Also wondering if there are any sales/client facing/client acquisition roles within Corporate Finance?

Upcoming Audit Intern for Big 4 firm and have an interest in corporate finance for a fortune 500 company. From what I hear, Big 4 pay starts high then levels out at the associate level. Partners can make big money though. Also, like that the role becomes revenue generating oriented at the partner level.

Not really sure about pay for corporate finance and any sales/client facing opportunities.

Thx for any insight.

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Comments (14)

Dec 17, 2018

If your concern is only pay then Big 4 is likely a better bet. A fast riser in F500 may beat someone in the Big 4, but for the most part Big 4 is going to pay more. The (nearly) guaranteed promotions and raises in Big 4 help a lot. Also, at some point if you decide to make the jump to F500 you can command a reasonable bump at that point.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

Dec 18, 2018

So a couple of thoughts here:

I generally agree that an average performer in big 4 is generally going to make more than an average finance performer. This is primarily because it is easy in corporate finance to get "stuck" at a level for a long time if you aren't actively managing your career.

That said, at my firm by the time you hit Director level you are making substantially more than senior managers at Big 4. Director is typically 15+ years of experience but i've seen people do it in 10.

My advice for the OP however, would be to do big 4. It's a great background at a junior level for corporate finance, so it won't hurt you there.

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Dec 17, 2018

If I was you I'd start out in audit, your career is more likely to progress quickly at a B4 firm. Also, keep in mind that it's easy to go from B4 -> Corp Fin. but incredibly difficult to make the opposite move.

The one exception I'd make is if the Corporate Finance role was an FLDP or internal audit role with a top IA group (GE, Dell, Comcast, etc.) since the progression would be the same but work/life balance will be significantly better.

The role of a partner is a revenue generating role and well-compensated, however, one thing to keep in mind is that the path to get there is VERY long and VERY rough. You're also going to top out at $1-2M annual comp unless you ultimately leave the B4 for a F100 CFO role and are willing to lose the pension and most valuable benefits. That said, there are more "average" partners than "average" 7-figure CFOs.

There are some finance folks who support sales but I wouldn't seek out those roles at this stage in your career. They generally have limited upward mobility and aren't great for building a well-rounded skillset. Those are the type of roles you go to when you tire of the B4 and just want work/life balance with limited responsibility. Once you have the basic operational skillset it is possible to get into ERP software sales with a corporate finance background or recruiting for finance roles - both jobs would be considered "sales" in nature with no ceiling to earnings if you can hustle.

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Dec 17, 2018

You make "topping out at $1-2M" look laughable...that is a rather good salary.

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Dec 17, 2018

You make "topping out at $1-2M" look laughable...that is a rather good salary.

I agree 100% but we're still on WSO where people are usually targeting roles with significantly higher earning potential. I'd take $1-2M/year to be a B4 partner in a heartbeat, but I also didn't strategize every decision since I was 16 years old to maximize the likelihood I could work at a hedge fund.

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Mar 15, 2019

Hey Directress,

I'm currently working in a Big 4 Audit role and have been searching through WSO (I'm new to the sub) about exit opportunities. I'm in a Top 5 Large market city with 2.5 years of audit experience, basically one year of senior experience without the title.

At what level of experience does ERP software sales positions become available? Do they seek out Corp Fin specifically or would an audit background with an eagerness to learn be something they are looking for?

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Dec 17, 2018

Big4 comp is going to be lower than F500 Corporate Finance. Your pay bumps in PA will be higher and promotions are way faster. Audit is beyond boring, but it's a solid starting point to jump to FP&A or an internal audit role. I'm not sure about sales or business development-esqe roles.

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Dec 18, 2018

I don't know why this guy got hit with MS. I know two people who are doing audit at B4. Starting pay was 52k. When you factor in hours worked, the salary is even less impressive.

That being said, i feel like there is always someone on every corporate executive board who started out at Big 4 out of college. I don't know if it's more from a fact that that they hire so many people every year or because the training is very valuable.

Dec 17, 2018

Unpopular opinion here, but I'd suggest looking into the Corp Fin role or at least posting more details about it here so posters can chime in. I started in audit and wish I had taken the FLDP position I got 4 years back. I would have been paid more and had much better hours than I did in audit. Audit is probably better if you can make it to manager after 5-6 years, but statistically, you'll probably wash out after 2-3, and are probably going to be a senior accountant/senior financial analyst in industry anyway if you only have that much experience.

Audit ended up working out for me because I moved into TAS and now get paid more and have better exit opps (i.e. true FP&A/financial analyst positions and an outside shot at corp dev), but I'd very much so consider the corp fin role if the growth trajectory is there. If it's a tiny company where you'll be waiting for more tenured people to move on/retire to get promoted or has a poor track record of promoting from within, do B4 audit.

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Jan 2, 2019

Did you move to TAS through an internal transfer or an application to an external firm. I am asking as I am probably in the same situation as you were back then. This will be my last year in audit if my last exam goes well and I can be qualified (I'm based in London so the scheme might be different from other countries).
I was looking at options that auditors could move on to, TAS in particular strikes me as the best option as it seems to pave a great path to moving to Corp Dev in the future and also wouldn't necessarily require a CFA.
My other desired options also include M&A, debt dealing, asset management, FA etc but was not very confident in moving given the lack of relevant experience..

Would love to hear about your thoughts though!

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Dec 17, 2018

I'm US based, so your mileage may vary. If you want to do corp dev, you should honestly probably gun for IB. TAS only works on a very specific part of the deal process, and you'll be less competitive for corp dev compared to seasoned IB guys who've closed multiple deals from start to finish. I've heard TAS is more highly regarded overseas, so maybe you can do CD directly from TAS, but it's by no means a natural switch.

To answer your question, however, I got in via another firm. Transferring internally is a game of politics and sometimes requires a lot of luck in terms of what team you're on, timing, etc. I'd see if you can work the internal transfer angle first and apply for IB in the meantime. If IB doesn't seem to be working out, then spread your net wider and include TAS openings at other firms.

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Most Helpful
Jan 3, 2019

The most important thing to do is separate the job from the pay. Think about what you want to do long term. Yes, B4 partners can make good money, but they had to put in numerous years of working understaffed jobs, crazy hours, and relatively bad bonuses.

I started in B4 audit, and my main issue was going in everyday disliking what I did. Audit is like anything else though, accounting or finance. Meaning, your job isn't strictly going through financial statements line by line. (kinda like IB, some days you literally spend 12+ hours putting together a powerpoint). Some days in audit you're testing balances, but not really learning anything about them. (My personal opinion, but I always think of B4 audits as a type of fraud. It's 22 year old kids, given little time to look at thinks they don't understand and provide "reasonable" assurance. I mean, Enron had auditors.) Anyway, think about what you will be doing at the job you pick, and don't base it on where you'll be in 15+ years based on salary.

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