Breaking in Investment Banking as a Big 4 Auditor - Can I do it?

I will preface this by saying yes I've read TONS of threads on this question. I am hoping for some more advice for my specific situation from the WSO community.

I'm currently a Big 4 auditor in a major market and want to make the switch into Investment Banking like many Big 4 people would love to. My plan is to start networking like crazy right now, develop some relationships, and see if I can get interviews for the coming recruiting season.

Background Info:
- Been in Big 4 for about a year
- 3/4 way done with the CPA
- 3.95 major GPA and 3.85 Overall GPA at state school (Northern Illinois University)
- Very small alumni network in investment banking

So my questions are:
1. Is cold calling/email/LinkedIn contacting going to be my best method of networking?
2. Will banks care I'm not 100% done with my CPA
3. How do I spin my audit experience to for investment banking
4. I also have experience working with a startup that received funding, how do I spin that experience for investment banking
5. Also, I would much much prefer to be in the D.C. Metro area, would it be significantly more difficult to get a offer there than say New York or Chicago? I will be going after boutique banks primarily.
6. Should I apply for intern positions?
7. Do I have a shot in hell at this?

My back up plan is to move into TAS at my firm or another firm which seems to be a go to route for many auditors, but I want to give going straight into IB a hell of a shot.

Thanks everyone in advance for your input!

Region: 
United States - Midwest
United States - Northeast

Comments (61)

Jul 28, 2014

Hate lists of questions like this generally but you seem like a good guy so I'll do my best to answer the questions:
1. Yes, cold calling/email/LinkedIn are by far the best method of networking, except perhaps speaking to people on WSO who are used to this method of breaking in. Develop relationships yesterday, and you have a good shot come recruiting season. Be aggressive about reaching out. Any timidity here won't work. Also, look for people who networked their way in or came from a non-target, either on LinkedIn or on here. I did, ValueBanker14 did, a lot of people did on this site they are more likely to be sympathetic.

2. No, banks don't care about the CPA.

3. I don't really know anything about audit but I do know that practical working experience is far better than just college. You have had real experiences etc.

4. Hard to know without know what they startup was or what your role was

5. NYC and Chicago have far more banks. Washington DC would be incredibly difficult because boutique firms have such small classes and strange recruitment cycles. I have found that the order of difficulty in terms of breaking in goes MM, lower BB, boutiques, Elite boutiques. Reverse order of difficulty. If you're married to DC this will be tough.

6. No, FT

7. Yes, but it might not come this cycle.

I've seen people make it but it took a lot of work and occasionally more than one firm change. Best of luck.

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Jul 28, 2014
MJK:

Hate lists of questions like this generally but you seem like a good guy so I'll do my best to answer the questions:

1. Yes, cold calling/email/LinkedIn are by far the best method of networking, except perhaps speaking to people on WSO who are used to this method of breaking in. Develop relationships yesterday, and you have a good shot come recruiting season. Be aggressive about reaching out. Any timidity here won't work. Also, look for people who networked their way in or came from a non-target, either on LinkedIn or on here. I did, ValueBanker14 did, a lot of people did on this site they are more likely to be sympathetic.

2. No, banks don't care about the CPA.

3. I don't really know anything about audit but I do know that practical working experience is far better than just college. You have had real experiences etc.

4. Hard to know without know what they startup was or what your role was

5. NYC and Chicago have far more banks. Washington DC would be incredibly difficult because boutique firms have such small classes and strange recruitment cycles. I have found that the order of difficulty in terms of breaking in goes MM, lower BB, boutiques, Elite boutiques. Reverse order of difficulty. If you're married to DC this will be tough.

6. No, FT

7. Yes, but it might not come this cycle.

I've seen people make it but it took a lot of work and occasionally more than one firm change. Best of luck.

Sorry about the list of questions!

Thanks a ton for this advice MJK! I'm definitely going to look for people that broke in through networking as you have said. I really want to be in D.C. but would certainly be willing to work where I have to in order to break in.

Thanks again

Jun 30, 2016

Good points, however I don't agree with your response to question 2 and 3. I have worked for a Big 4 in audit and when networking with bankers they regarded my experience very highly. As far as the CPA goes, every banker that I have spoken to thus far said that it is a highly respected designation and will certainly help your candidacy - that said, it is not a magic pill to get you in to Banking.

Jul 28, 2014

Interestingly enough, I'm also currently at a Big 4 firm (on the Advisory side however), and am in the same position. I'll definitely be following this thread with interest - thanks for starting it, and thanks MJK for the response!

Jul 28, 2014

My firm (in houston - where things are a bit looser in terms of mobility than NYC) just hired two people from big 4 transaction advisory roles to do energy IBD... It can be done I would just network with everyone you can find to figure out who is hiring laterally.

Jul 29, 2014

This. Talk to headhunters as well, most of the people I know who have lateraled have used them. Don't just talk to JUST analysts and don't talk to only one analyst at every bank because they may or may not bring you up when it comes time to lateral. I would love to tell my bank everyone I have talked to is the bees knees but when it comes down to it I can only refer a few. Also if you talk to a bunch it will make each more likely to list you because it shows interest.

It drives me absolutely crazy when I see a thread like "I talked to an analyst and didn't get an interview!!!!!!!" on here. If I got an interview somewhere, I talked to at least 2 (but usually 3-7) people there. And there are many banks where I just didn't get through the process. For example, I had multiple people at EB banks root for me and push for me but my lack of qualifications meant I couldn't get in. I'll be frank, if you want to break in this cycle I would recommend having multiple calls scheduled with bankers every week day and at least one call every weekend. PM me for more details about my process.

I also agree about the houston comment. I would say, generally speaking, Houston/Chicago are more lax than NYC about the traditional path.

Jul 29, 2014

DC based positions are mostly for the aerospace and defense coverage groups. I believe Evercore, Houlihan, and Jefferies have offices there. Be careful though. Small offices like DC, which isn't a financial hub, tend to get cut and then roled up into the bigger hubs. Lazard recently closed up its A&D shop in DC back in the summer of 2013 and I heard they laid everyone off (maybe transferred them to NYC, not too sure). Regardless, DC is a great city, but not the best for IB.

Not sure if you've considered doing the MBA, but if you get a couple more years work experience you could get in to an MBA program and then pretty easily transition to somewhere on the street.

Sadly, no one in banking cares about the CPA or the CFA either. But if you're almost done with the CPA you might as well finish.
Good luck

Jul 29, 2014

Big 4 all have pretty strong transaction advisory practices, have you looked into transferring internally?

Jul 29, 2014

I have looked at TAS at my current firm however it's no where near as easy to transfer as they make it sound during recruiting. It's really out of your hands there and I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to break in.

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Jul 29, 2014

Thanks for the input mba2014, I've thought about a MBA but really want to try and make the move pre-MBA because I know it's not a magic bullet.

MJK - Sent you a PM

Jul 30, 2014

I hate some of the advice you get on here from people who haven't gone through this process and talk out of their ass.

Background: I am currently in Big4 audit and a licensed CPA in a mid/large market. About a year ago I started doing the same thing you are with a few differences: I have a much lower GPA (3.3) out of a top liberal arts schools with very connected alums. Oddly enough, it ended up it wasn't the alumni who directly contributed to my success, but offered a bit of advice along the way. I ended up receiving and offer from a boutique bank, and called a middlemarket bank after my final round in office to let them know I was no longer interested, although they indicated that I would have landed the position. After a bit of self-examination and soul-searching, I decided to decline the offer and move to a VERY small market to live with my wife as she finishes law school. There isn't any finance down there, so I am staying in audit, getting some other credentials and will eventually make the transition to finance (either directly or after an MBA).

1. LinkedIn and cold calling is a perfectly acceptable way to network. Reach out to some professors and alumni first (if there are any), but you would be surprised how willing people are to help a complete stranger if you are persistent and not a complete asshat.

2. No - not a big deal. That said, a few boutiques i interviewed at really liked that I had completed the exams (finished up my 150 online later) because accounting is a solid foundation when determining value of a company

3. Spinning your experience is very important--I got lucky and did some valuation work, and had picked up some modeling classes on the side (Training the Street). Honestly though, I spent more than half the time talking about soft skills. Any monkey can memorize models and learn excel... soft skills are still important. you won't be hired if they don;t like you. I would mention that you can tear apart a 10k and get to relevant data quickly... maybe talk about some examples (ex: may increase amortization in future years for a projected write down on a business segment that you would learn about in a footnote --something to that effect).

4. Like someone previously said, it will depend on what your role was. you should be able to take SOMETHING from just about every experience you have had and be able to apply it to banking

5, No - DC has some decent openings (I think even Baird is hiring right now). You will probably want some aerospace/defense client experience in your big4 though. That said, there are really small shops that do some other things... ie. a place called Evergreen Advisors is currently hiring (though they are based a bit outside DC).

6. No - don't apply as an intern. No one will actually really consider you for it. That said, don't expect your accounting work to count for shit in banking either... again, take what you can from the experience (because despite everything you see on these boards, it is a great foundation) and know that you are starting with kids a year younger. It sounds like that won't be a problem for you anyway, though.

7. Absolutely. It's a lot easier than people let on assuming you are aggressive in your search, and patient with the process. At the end of the day its a numbers game; take the shotgun approach and network/coldcall like hell and I am sure you will be fine.

Good luck. let me know if you want some help. Don't take everything you hear on this board as gospel... the transition can absolutely be done.

Edit: Not implying this thread contains particularly bad advice, more a general commentary on the boards as a whole.

Jun 30, 2016

I have seen one person do it via Big 4 audit. Focus on regional boutiques and pitching how the CPA/Audit experience is actually relevant to IB. I know another guy who is a CPA and an associate at a regional boutique. Has said that his accounting experience has really helped with some aspects of the job, especially when looking at smaller companies whose financials can be messy. He is basically the go-to guy at this firm for accounting questions.

Jun 30, 2016

congratulations on the Chartered Accountant qualification

Jun 30, 2016

1 - You will have to start at either Analyst 1 or 2

2 - I wouldn't recommend this, the longer you spend outside of IBD / AM, the harder it is to break in

3 - Definitely go for internships if they give relevant experience, have a chance of full time offers and you don't have any full time opportunities

4 - TAS is ok, but this shouldn't be your main goal for now, aim high!

5 - Unless you go to a top business school (LBS is the only real target in the UK, also INSEAD in Europe) then this isn't worth the time or money.

6 - Again, wouldn't recommend it unless you literally have nothing else.

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Jun 30, 2016

Move to London. Big4 is a lot more respected in the UK than in US but it's still tough. ER and Treasury are completely different, moving into a Treasury role will be pretty straightforward, ER will be harder.

Jun 30, 2016

Thanks for your response!

Just out of curiosity, I understand the base salary of treasury is similar to IBD at all levels, however at VP and MD level, what sort of bonus can a good treasurer earn at a BB? Similarly would he be making more at an equally high level role at an f100?

Also, what level would a treasury enter the bank after he has attained his ACA, and what is a good idea of an all in comp for that level :)?

PS- I think I would find ER AND treasury really interesting, although I realise they are very different, hence considering the hours/ earning potential :)

Jun 30, 2016

C'mon guy.

Jun 30, 2016

how do i come to usa and live rich

Jun 30, 2016

how do I get a high paying job without doing anything hard

Jun 30, 2016

Have you watched Wolf of Wall Street? Gotta start small, think penny stocks.

Jun 30, 2016

I am not sure about IB but for PE my friend did Big 4 audit for 3 years, transferred to their TAS division and spent 2 years before finally ending in PE.

Jun 30, 2016

in europe this is very possible. some shops even look specifically for ex-auditors. during one of my internships at a BB continental European office some 20% of the team had some kind of background at a Big4.most of them came from transaction services though. i dunno how that works out in NYC. anyone else know anything?

Jun 30, 2016

It's rare, banks in the US tend to consider Big 4 employees for middle/back office jobs in accounting and product control roles. An MBA would help, but doesn't guarantee a move to FO. I would recommend trying to get into a transactional group and/or a group that deals with financial modeling if you're committed to trying to move to a bank.

Jun 30, 2016

As mezzmonkey said, it happens in Europe. If you don't want to make that far of a trip, it is also common in Canada as well. Similarly, it's better if you came from a Big 4's corp fin team or transaction services, but it can be done directly.

Jun 30, 2016

Try first to move to your big 4 transactional services / corp finance department, it will be easier from there...

Jun 30, 2016

ok great, thanks for all your feedback.

Jun 30, 2016

How is your age 25 but you worked for Deloitte for 6 years ? Also to be fair you will need to network your ass off and have you considered an MBA in the US ? I am not sure if your Graduate in B.A is the same (sounds like it) but if you can qualify for the MBA in say finance in the US or INSEAD/other European equivalents then that would give you time to rebrand and make the jump to IB -> PE or just straight to PE. I know people who made the jump from Big 4 to PE but it was usually less than 3-4 years not 6.

Were any of your clients in PE and why that path over something else? Just curious as to your reasoning given your experience and what you think makes you qualified/good fit for a PE firm and why you would like it.

Jun 30, 2016

@hockey1316

I joined Deloitte straight out off High School back in 2006 when I was only 19 years old. Deloitte sponsored both my bachelor and master, but since I worked full time I had to follow classes in the evening and in the weekend. So the last 6 years I've been very busy with work and school at the same time but that's why I'm only 25.

A MBA sounds like a solution that could work but it's also a very expensive investment. (I don't like debt:/) But you're basicly saying that it's impossible for me to land a FT offer as an analyst in IB without a MBA right?

The reason I'm looking to go into PE is because I want to get exposed to the operations of companies and understand the different aspects rather than just the financial ones. Working as an auditor I spend most off my time looking at "yesterdays numbers" and what happened in the past but within PE I think it's more relevant to look at the future and explore which opportunities that could contribute to a acquisitions growth.

Jun 30, 2016

MBA, masters in finance, or CFA would be helpful (in that order), but as with any job, the most important thing is hitting the pavement hard as fork and learning that type of work on your own

Jun 30, 2016

I am not saying its impossible and your story/reasoning makes sense. If you want to do IB for 2 years then head to PE its possible but you will have to network. Look up PE firms in your area and see where their associates come from and replicate that process. Or better yet reach out to the PE firms and set up an informational interview and just talk to them ask their story, what they do and why and they will undoubtedly as your story. Build a conversation and when the time is right ask about opportunities in the future for them. Most PE firms have an operations/accounting guy you might be able to work with them transition to the associate role.

Just put yourself out there and if you want it then go get it...nothing more to say.

Jun 30, 2016

So you are German I take it? You have an interesting story and I'm jealous you had undergrad and grad sponsored. Considering that, you should really not be too concerned about funding an MBA on your own if IB/PE is where you want to go.

It also sounds like focusing on London firms and prob a European MBA are your best odds. Get ya network on playa.

Jun 30, 2016
droking7:

So you are German I take it? You have an interesting story and I'm jealous you had undergrad and grad sponsored. Considering that, you should really not be too concerned about funding an MBA on your own if IB/PE is where you want to go.

It also sounds like focusing on London firms and prob a European MBA are your best odds. Get ya network on playa.

No... I'm from Copenhagen, Denmark. But it's close to Germany :)

But I think I'll start looking for a suitable European MBA and perhaps a job as summer intern in London.

Jun 30, 2016

Take a chance and get out there. The guy at EY who is hawking his resume and networking probobly will take the job you want.

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Jun 30, 2016

Look at the Toilet and Douche thread.

It's certainly possible. The CFA is mostly useful for people looking to get into portfolio management or research, not so much for banking/corporate finance.

The bull market is strong, so I would just try to network and sell yourself as soon as you can, as the above poster said.

Jun 30, 2016

An MBA will be very helpful

Jun 30, 2016

If you can't get into banking, you should check into transferring into KPMG corporate finance.

Jun 30, 2016

I guess there is always the risk of the audit offer being rescinded, but the thing is- if one of the Big 4 wants you, ALL of the Big 4 want you for the most part.

Jun 30, 2016

Actually, from the posts on this forum, TAS/CF typically have their own processes for recruiting. Even people who worked in the big 4 for 3-4 years and want to transfer to CF/TAS still need to go through interview rounds (provided they are top performers in Audit AND has good networks with Partners).

So, you can try calling to switch. But you probably can't can get into CF/TAS that way. Haven't heard offers rescinded.

Also, you have IBD M&A with BB. Y THE FUCK WOULD YOU TAKE AUDITING AFTER?

With M&A at BB on your resume, you can get into TAS/CF for FT anyways, even if you don't get FT offer.

Y you want to do audit is beyond me. Even if you wanna do CF/TAS (y don't you apply CF/TAS directly then?)

Just my 0.02

Wish I had a internship at BB for M&A)

Jun 30, 2016

You should call them now and they will most likely interview you. Good luck.

Jun 30, 2016

IMHO, you probably shouldn't stay in audit too long, because after you become a senior associate you start to get more and more pigeonholed and it will be harder to make the transition without going the MBA route.

Jun 30, 2016

Thanks for your comment - why is that the case? I was under the impression that getting a couple of years experience as a senior associate would provide a good opportunity to get some tacit experience working more directly with executive management; something that would otherwise be a steeper learning curve for associates in ER or IB

Jun 30, 2016

As a former big 4 (non-audit) employee and current IB analyst, I agree with CorpFinHopeful -- get out as soon as you can. I know several people from big 4 audit backgrounds who are in IB, and they all made the switch after about a year or two.

Also, I'd advise you to look into boutique banks, as there are some that really value accounting backgrounds.