Big 4....How Much Does Location Matter

I go to a school that gets pretty good recruiting from the big 4 and the majority of people in my program that wanted to get into big 4 have offers. Some are going to NYC,CT,MA,NC to name a few. My question is what benefits are there in choosing one location over another in terms of both internal (office & firm) opportunities like changing lines of service and exit opps if you decide to leave something like audit after a couple years?

Comments (63)

Dec 17, 2013 - 8:39am

I agree for the most part, however the bad part about this suggestion is the cost of living increase you will receive will not get close to covering your expenses. I know when I was in public accounting the new hires in NY only made about $7k more than those in Wichita. Because of this, I would suggest a large city not named NY, Chicago, or San Fran. I think overall Big4 large offices give you more opportunity to look at other service lines and have better exit opportunities.

Dec 17, 2013 - 7:53am

There are huge differences between larger and smaller countries and larger and smaller cities. Always go for the larger city. Also, it pays to go to a city with a significant presence of "high finance" industries (IB, PE, etc). That way if you get into TS/TAS you have a good opportunity to network and will stand a decent chance of transitioning to something like IB. If you decide to leave audit after a couple of years, TS usually will be your most finance-oriented exit opp anywhere.

Dec 17, 2013 - 9:40am

Everyone on this thread is 100% correct, so it depends on what you want to do. If your #1 priority is future career paths within the firm or in financial services it is NY>Chi>SF>Everything else (US) when I was at one of the Big 4.

However, if you want to target certain niches you'd want to move to an area where that's the focus, so SF for Tech, Houston for energy, etc...

If you just want to make good money in a lower cost of living city and relax a little more something like Nashville could be ideal for you.

No matter where you go you can have a great career, but if you know what you want your focus to be in the future location can definitely help.

Most of my classmates did Chicago, Indy or Louisville with a few SF and NY - they've almost all moved on to good post Big 4 roles (even the people from Indy and Lville).

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy
Dec 17, 2013 - 11:40am

In my experience it is fairly difficult to change service lines within a Big 4 accounting firm. The technical skills you develop are for the most part non-transferrable between Tax and Audit. There is some overlap with the Tax M&A and TS lines, and to a lesser extent the consulting services.

Your strongest move would be to transition into corporate finance/Accounting out of TS or Audit and for that I'll +1 that the City makes a big difference. You will have a much better chance for great exit ops in a larger city. The only caveat is that some smaller cities have niche industries that provide good exit ops: Nashville for Healthcare, Raleigh for Tech/Pharma, Charlotte for retail banking, Wichita for Aviation, etc.

"Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." - Mickey Bergman - Heist (2001)
Dec 17, 2013 - 2:53pm

According to quite a few higher up partners at my big 4, all 4 firms are trying to make it easier to switch service lines in the future. They think it will allow the firms to keep better people instead of losing good people after a year or two because they hate their service line. Now granted, the firms never seem to move fast and just because they say it doesn't mean it will be implemented due to the amount of staffing needs each service line has, however the people that told me about it are usually very straightforward and don't drink the koolaid.

Dec 17, 2013 - 3:24pm

Changing actual service lines before you are qualified is VERY tough. If you manage it you will probably be required to pay back training costs and need to have great internal contacts and a strong business reason for doing so. Changing teams / departments within service lines is easier and definitely doable.

Dec 18, 2013 - 4:11am

I will be starting in a major city in one of the locations I mentioned. Since I am starting in audit I just wanted to evaluate my options for switching to something like gov risk & comp, DD, or the fin serv advisory practice. When should I try to start an internal transfer? is sooner better than later or should I put in a couple years and then let my motives be known? Also, kind of off topic but will their be options for international travel/assignments in fin services and are my chances better if I am at a larger office?

Thanks for all of the great replies.

Dec 27, 2013 - 2:41pm

Typically in order to transfer internally at a Big4, you need to have been in your position for at least a year. I just completed the transfer process not too long ago and have about 2.5 years under my belt, however, I've been having conversations with my PPDs for at least a year regarding finding work more aligned to my interests/skills. For me, the motive was being promoted to Senior and then making the transfer happen. The bigger the office you can be in, the better off you'll be. As people mentioned already, make sure that your office is big for what you want to transfer in to, rather than just overall size. I work in Chicago, where our Tax and Consulting groups are large, but our FAS group is much, much smaller. So, if you'll looking to get in to Fin. Ad. New York and Boston would be your best bets - at least from what I've seen with my Big4 (D).

In terms of int'l travel assignments, that will come as you progress. There typically aren't a lot of int'l travel opportunities right away and those usually come after manager. I've seen on a lot of EY job postings they indicate you need to be eligible for int'l travel to be considered for the position, but I don't think the opportunities are very significant. If int'l travel is a big factor for you, you can also do an int'l rotation (6,12,24,36 months) or even do an int'l transfer - but once again, you need to be at the firm for a set number of years before you can be eligible for that.

Dec 18, 2013 - 11:44am

100% go for the financial hub of the country. In my experience in the UK, it was far easier to switch from London to a smaller city than the other way around. All the regional office staff wanted to come to London as that's where the promotion opps were.

On the subject of recouping training costs, bl00211 is right. Although in theory you are supposed to, it doesn't always get enforced. The flip side of this argument is that it is pretty much impossible to fire you before you qualify (unless you do something illegal for example). I had a girl who joined in the same year as me who would have months off at a time due to drug problems etc and she's still there.

Dec 18, 2013 - 12:19pm

I'll put my 2 cents worth in on this topic in the context of being a consultant in our financial services group. If you want to do anything in financial services join the NY office. It is clearly the "mother ship". Find your respective industry's hub and start at that location, you can transfer elsewhere later in life and be the local expert/ lead on that topic one day. Industries are all different, you cannot apply the same approach and knowledge to a gov. agency in DC that you would to bank in NY. You can learn work on projects at a bank in NY then move to the west coast and work on Wells Fargo.

As for travel, it will typically come in two types:
1. Large (often crappy) projects where there is a surge need at a client which will require a lot of staff and seniors
2. When you are a manager+ and actually have deep content knowledge where it makes sense to export your knowledge to support a client elsewhere e.g., you learn something working on the IBanks in NYC like regulatory capital requirements, then when regional banks need help with a similar topic they send you and you support the local account teams as the project lead overseeing the local resources (monday - thursday travel) or as a subject matter expert (2-4 days a month travel)

Clients are not always willing to incur a travel cost for a 22 year old unless they are really in a bind. They are okay with paying for the "New York Expert"...Just don't show up your first day at a client in texas wearing an armani wso/">suit and ferragamo...

Hope this helps

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:15am

Mr. Manager:


From my personal experience, it's significantly harder to get a summer internship in a major city like NYC or Chicago.

Agree if you're from a regional target or non-target that isn't in those cities. But if you're in those cities it will be easy, and if you're at a national target it's also easy.

I would just like to say that I went to a large, but very young and not very "respected" school in the south east (not SEC) and have an offer for a Big 4 firm in Chicago/NYC in audit. It wasn't "easy" per se, but it wasn't exactly harder than it appeared for others going local. I made it known to the recruiters very early in the process (in my junior year of a 5 year program) that I wanted to go to this city because I wanted a big market and for other reasons similar (wanting some fuckin culture).

I will say that only one firm seemed willing to help me with this, while the others kinda said we'd cross that bridge when we get to it. I had exceptional grades and good work experience, but I believe having the recruiting/networking "game" down was the most important factor, especially once I got my interview in the city I wanted to go (first had to interview locally).

I would encourage anyone pursuing the Big 4 route to push for a city that you want to be in, even if its not close by. Worst case, they tell you its not possible. I have really not much of a solid idea of what I want to do post-Big 4 (may even go to a smaller firm for tax to gain experience to start my own firm), but I figure being in a major, global city will only be of help to me.

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:16am

Recruiting in Big 4 for a Location You're Not From (Originally Posted: 06/26/2013)

Hi All,

I live in a fairly small state looking to move to a bigger market with more opportunity and I want to specialize in financial services. I am looking to move to NYC or SF. How difficult is it to get it and what advice would you have?

I have done several summer leadership programs with the Big 4 and looking for internships next.


Dec 18, 2013 - 10:29pm

My mentality was to start at the largest market and office I wanted to be in. That way you will have more opportunities for anything from transferring service lines, industry groups, recruiters and headhunters, smaller firms if you wanted. Not to mention less out-of-town travel. Industry preference should also play a factor I think.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right." -Warren Buffett
Dec 19, 2013 - 3:18am

That was pretty much my thought process as well. I chose a major city because of the location for good networking opps and the access to financial services firms.

Somewhat off topic, but is their anyway I can find out more about the day to day or the process of doing audits of banks.From what I hear audits of banks are fairly unique compared to something like manufacturing. I dont plan on going crazy on the material, but I wanted to get some background while I have a bit of free time off of school. Thanks all.

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:20am

I live and go to school in FL and got a Big 4 offer for Chicago. Key is to tell them from the absolute first time they ask that your preference is NYC or SF, and pick one and say "I'd really like to go to X, but if thats not possible, I'd also like Y, because (insert reasons X and Y are your preferences)." Wanting to be in a big market and doing FS is a perfectly fine reason, I basically just said "I want to be in a bigger market with access to that kind of huge client interaction, and would prefer Chicago over NYC because its a little calmer but still a big market/big city."

They are going to be afraid that you will want to move back after a year, and they will have wasted money on you, so you need to ease their worries. Having friends or family in the area would help, but that isnt the case for a lot of us moving to a new city/state. Otherwise, to ease their worries be unwavering in what you want and have a good reason as discussed. A bad thing to say would be "I've never been to NYC but it seems nice, SF would probably be ok too." You have to make it seem like one of them is the only thing you've ever wanted, but if that didnt work, the other would be ok because it has the same things youre looking for.

Can't comment if it will be easier or harder for internships rather than SLP. My experience was this:

1. Networked with local office professionals until they knew me, well before I was even eligible for an SLP
2. When asked at career fair, told them I wanted to do Chicago for reasons X, Y, Z
3. Interviewed on campus
4. Invited to Chicago SLP
5. Received internship offer day after SLP conclusion via phonecall

The only reason I feel it may be easier during the SLP stage instead of after is that they draw a lot of interns from the SLPs. But if you follow what I did it should be ok.

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:21am

I did the exactly what it is your trying to do. Came from a fairly no name school in NC, but was able to get my internship and subsequent fulltime offer in Chicago. What Art said is absolutely true. Make it known from the very beginning that you want to go to xyz city, and stick by it. Any hint of uncertainty is likely to ruin your chances. Talk to EVERYONE you can in the firm. I randomly brought up wanting to go to Chicago with one of the seniors in my local office, and she in turn put me into contact with another senior in the Chicago office. Next thing I know, i'm flying up to Chicago for my interview. It's very possible, just make sure you play your cards right.

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:22am

Thanks guys, everyone has given awesome input. I have already done SLP in my local market but really had a larger city like NYC in mind and only wanted to reveal my cards until I was 100% sure I could commit long-term.

I will begin to express interest in NYC and let all the firms I was recruiting with know. I really don't have any ties anymore to the state I grew up as my family/friends are moving away. Plus where I am from I am a extreme minority in the sense I do not conform to the prevalent religion here and am a minority, it's so bad that often I am the one of the only few minorities at an event.

I have placed all my cards on NYC, but only problem is I have never been there! But would love to pursue a career in financial services and am hard working so we will see!

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:23am


I have placed all my cards on NYC, but only problem is I have never been there!

Well one, definitely don't let them know this. Two, just know that NYC isn't this beautiful place of sunshine and rainbows like everyone thinks, and living there will be EXPENSIVE. Don't get me wrong, its an AWESOME city, but I would rather have just as many things to do/opportunities at a cheaper price tag at the minor cost of not being able to say "I live in NYC." A lot of my friends are moving there with the thought in their heads that they will be able to afford a luxury one bedroom in a high rise. I don't wish them anything bad, but I can't wait to say "I told you so."

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:26am


Oh yeah, it'll be expensive as crap. Did the research, planning on living the boroughs, the city itself would too expensive for me. It seems like the boroughs have great places to live w/ pretty good commute times.

You do know that the Big 4 have pretty long hours also? I've interned at a big 4 and we averaged around 60 hours a week during busy season, and I've heard NYC is ALOT worst

Dec 31, 2013 - 1:29am


I have placed all my cards on NYC, but only problem is I have never been there! But would love to pursue a career in financial services and am hard working so we will see!

You really should visit before you up and move. Not saying it can't be done, but NYC is a crazy, crazy bitch.

How small a state are you from?

Dec 19, 2013 - 5:54am

"I second this - you'd have to pay something between 9k and 10k (GBP) in the UK if you leave before you qualify as an ACA - this is what a guy in charge of professional education at a Big 4 told me. In addition, at a larger city you get more interesting clients and probably will learn more. " (Pro-Bro - reply and quote doesn't work again)
"Not quite that high but still a considerable amount." @"Asatar"

Sorry, just to clarify this - these numbers apply if you've passed all/vast majority of exams. The guy gave me these numbers as firms are moving towards front-loading all exams for new joiners - you essentially spend 80% of your 1st year in 'college' (e.g. BPP) studying for the ACA exams and are expected to complete all except maybe 2 exams. From what I understand, this approach will be more and more common at Big 4 (in the UK).

Dec 19, 2013 - 7:40am

For those who want to be finance, I'd recommend at all cost to avoid big4 audit and just aim for F500 roles or any other relevant, transferable experience because it will be very difficult to transition later on. From what I have heard in NYC there is a wall between acct and finance, making it harder to move from an audit background to a pure finance role as opposed to other cities, perhaps someone in NYC can verify. When I received offers from Big 4, I spoke with an alumnus partner at length and he implied it would be difficult to make the jump. If you want to be in anither department if big4, dont start in audit...just network before taking the job and let them know what you want and they can put you in touch with others.

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