How easy is to move from audit into M&A within Big 4 and then into IB?

I am starting a role in audit at one of the Big 4 (London office) in September, in the audit team where I'll hopefully gain the ACA after 3 years. My ultimate/eventual aim is to move into the M&A arm of an Investment bank. I've heard that an internal move in a big 4 firm into CF/M&A first is the best way to do this.

Firstly, is the best route into M&A in a bank the one mentioned above or is there a more direct route?

How easy is it to make the move internally/other Big 4 from audit into an M&A associate role?

Subsequently how easy would it then be to move from M&A in Big 4 to M&A in IB? How different really are the roles?

Any constructive answers would be much appreciated!

Comments (11)

Jul 1, 2015

Yes - that route is probably the best.

Moving from audit to transaction services is probably easier than moving into CF, but CF is also doable. As you will have heard there is an element of luck in this....there needs to be an opening and an appetite to take someone internally rather than through other channels. CF at big 4 is starting to move in a slightly different direction with people taking CFA rather than ACA so the level at which you move in might be a little difficult to get right.

The move from big 4 to bank wont be too difficult. Lots of M&A job specs at banks list big 4 experience as appropriate. I think the difference is in the type of clients really. Big 4 don't tend to have lead advisory mandates on big public company transactions, megafund PE transactions etc. They tend to do middle market/lower middle market stuff. Hence banking is more high profile.

I trained in audit, moved about 6 months before qualifying into transaction services and am now in PE. My original intention at uni was always to transfer to TS and then into M&A at a bank but I quickly realised after starting work that I didn't want to be an adviser forever and M&A can be quite vacuous! So I moved onto the buyside.

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Jul 2, 2015

Thank you so much for such a detailed response! I'm extremely grateful for the insight.

A couple more questions if you don't mind ...

I was looking at transaction services and deals yesterday and it did look/sound equally, if not more appealing than CF. In addition having researched the CFA, it seems like something I should avoid due to a considerable amount of work and stress for not too much benefit in terms of career. Maybe this is another reason to go down the TS route.

That clears things up about making the move internally - will it be a case of being patient and possibly waiting 6-12 months for one of these openings to come up internally? Is there anything I can do whilst in audit over the next three years to improve my chances of securing something? Upon successfully making that move is it enough to stay in the position for 2/3 years and then move into a bank or buy-side or is another move (possibly to another big 4 firm) up to senior/manager required first?

That's very interesting about your background. How long did you stay in TS for before moving to PE? What are the main differences between M&A in a bank and buy-side firm (forgive my naivety!)? I have heard that PE pays slightly better but imagine that's through bonuses?

Apologies for the grilling! It's difficult to find tailored advice out there so is invaluable to get some help from someone who's been there and done it.

Jul 20, 2015

Apologies I have been on holiday!

Yes that was my view - CFA is a great qualification to have but a lot of extra grunt to get it if you have already gone down ACA route and with seemingly little additional benefit (obviously internationally recognised etc etc but plenty of opportunities without it). That's why the TS route works well.

It will be a case of putting your name out there, meeting people, searching internal job postings etc until the right thing comes up. Depending on what firm you are at it will probably start as a secondment and then turn permanent so that will involve negotiation with audit. But basically you just need to try all the avenues from applying on internal job boards to meeting partners/directors to discuss whether there are any opportunities. The best thing to do in audit in the meantime is to get good feedback and ratings (however your firm works on this front) so that you look 'good'.

Once you have moved over it's entirely up to you how long to stay. I stayed 18 months. There are lots of different options, some people get the basic deals 'training' for a year or two and then go to a bank, others might move to M/SM and then go to a boutique, others have eyes set on partner. Also, some move from TS to a bank and then eventually PE whereas some go from TS straight to PE, although this is probably a bit less frequent. All I would say is that TS is a different discipline to IB. Although similar, in one you are diligencing businesses (TS), in another you are actually selling or buying them for your client (IB) so they more established you get in TS the more difficult it will be to move over. Kind of like anything - you don't stay in the training ground for too long if you have your eyes set on something else.

The main difference between m&a and buy side is the actual product of your labours. As above, in m&a you are basically buying and selling businesses for your client, whereas on the buy side you are investing in or selling businesses. To me the m&a thing sounded great but after some time in an advisory capacity in TS and having seen how all the various advisers (law firms, banks, big 4 etc) work, I decided that I would prefer to be with the people actually making the decision whether to buy or not, rather than with the host of advisors. The actual work at a junior level is often similar (evaluating business models, financial analysis etc) but there is a different end game with buy side which is 'should we do this?'. In IB it's always producing this analysis to put in a shiny document and give to someone rather than to make the ultimate decision. The other downside of this is that you end up changing formatting of a chart at 2am so the document looks good before you send it to the buy side firm the next day. The other benefit of the buy side is that you of course also own businesses and therefore there is all the interesting work that goes with evaluating their performance as you own them, operational improvements, meeting the people who work there and manage it etc. In general this is where the perception of the buy side as at the top of the finance food chain comes from...although of course there are lots of misconceptions and I am sure lots of PE houses are very different from mine. Particularly the bigger, high profile houses where the junior level work is probably a lot more similar to IB. I am not sure but I have heard most junior bankers take a pay cut (c.10/20%) to move into PE. They do this because it's where they want to be. Also it's still decent pay in the scheme of things. Long term prospects depend on performance and how much carry you get in the fund. Ultimately you are earning according to how well your investments are performing rather than charging a fee for services (as in IB) so it's a different kettle of fish really.

Hope that helps!

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Jul 2, 2015

I'm also in Big 4 audit looking to make the move to TS. Some things you can do:

-Brush up on finance / technicals
-Know your TS group..recent deals, the different groups (some big 4 have multiple, some don't)
-Reach out to people in the TS group. When an opening comes, they will think of the kid who they know wants it rather than go through resumes of audit seniors

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Jul 3, 2015

Thanks for the advice buddy! Much appreciated. What stage are you at in audit?

Jul 2, 2015

Yeah I'm glad to hear you did your research. It is true, if you work in Big 4 then you dont have the nuts to take on the CFA program

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Jul 3, 2015

What discussion would be complete without some obnoxious, insecure prat sticking their nose in. Feel sorry for you buddy .. having to seek validation against an audit trainee on a forum hahaha

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Jul 15, 2016

I've been reading a lot of the TS threads and haven't come across the answer to my question. I'm a recent grad from a highly ranked macc program in which I took all MBA finance electives. I'll be starting in Big 4 TS FDD out of school. I'm interested in IBD / PE in the long term. Does starting in TS out of school offer a leg up on pursuing those career paths as opposed to the traditional audit -> TS path

Jul 15, 2016

I've seen you post this in 5+ threads.

Yes...but really only if you plan on being an analyst as an associate would (likely) require b school.

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Jul 15, 2016

Im a new to WSO, wasnt sure the best way to get the word out. I appreciate the feedback

Jul 17, 2016

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