Moving from big 4 audit to Corporate finance?

Hi, so I know this isn't really the place for people with no experience in the industry and I'm sure this question has been asked thousands of times so I'll keep it short.

Basically I'm 18 at the moment and I have 2 offers from target unis in UK and an offer for PWC flying start program (basically a degree from a decent uni with integrated work placements and a grad offer at the end). Though the uni isn't top 6, I'm tempted to go for it purely because I'd like to work alongside study and apply what I learn somewhat. 

However, my end goal is corporate finance/M&A. I know PWC have a corporate finance department but I've heard it's very difficult to move from audit into this, as everyone wants to do it-Does anyone know how true this is? My worry is I'll be stuck in audit and may struggle to move into CF purely because I lack a degree from a top 6 uni and also no experience in the industry, as my internships would be purely in audit.

However, with this program I qualify as an ACA 2 years earlier (when I'm 23) than normal grads, surely I'd find it easier to move around departments earlier on?

Would appreciate it if anyone could shed light on this as I'm worried I'll make the wrong decision. Thank you.

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Comments (9)

Apr 13, 2021 - 3:20pm

I know two people that did the programme you will be joing (although at a different Big 4 in London). 

Both of them ended up leaving after the 6 years, one went to MM PE and the other to a very solid boutique IB. They both left with the ACA and no student debt.

During the programme you initially start in audit and whilist it's tough to move to "Deals", especially to M&A Advisory given there are only max 100-200 people who are in this department, it's always doable. Plenty of people who actually want to do IB/PE at Big 4 even if not in M&A/TS end up where they need to be with enough persistence.

No one can make the choice for you but things to consider:

- Student debt: I imagine PwC pay for your fees and you get a salary/ grant whilst at uni, this is a very attractive proposition, not graduating with any debt is kind of a big deal.

- "Prestige" of uni: how much of a difference are we talking here. Is it Oxbridge/LSE vs University of Birmingham or is the gap much smaller. 

Apr 13, 2021 - 3:24pm

In all honesty it's not a big gap. It's Durham/Warwick vs Newcastle. Though Warwick is considered a 'target' it's certainly on the weaker side and not on par with Oxbridge or London unis.

And that's reassuring to know they managed to make the transition as I'll be in a similar position to them. I'm happy to work in audit for 6 years, I just don't want to spend my whole career there.

  • Associate 2 in Consulting
Apr 13, 2021 - 3:49pm

Happy to work in audit for 6 years?

You say that now, but when you're in your 5th year going through busy season of working 80 hours a week for clients who wished you rather weren't talking to them because you make their lives more difficult, you may change your tune.

Honestly I would push as hard as possible to go directly into CF/IB if that's what you ultimately want to do. No sense in wasting 3-6 years to do it. You can always fall back into an audit offer with ACA if you need to.

Speaking from experience here. You're lucky you've found out about IB when you're 18. You have plenty of time to beg for spring weeks and summer internships.

Apr 13, 2021 - 7:02pm

But 3 out of 6 (or 5?) of those years be spent in university? But poster here has a valid point here, if IB is truly what you want and if you can go to Warwick over Newcastle, you should be in prime position to target IBs given your age to do insight days and then spring weeks to get in. You're not guaranteed to be able to second out of audit during that programme. 

Apr 14, 2021 - 9:52am

4 of those years would be spent at university, then I'd qualify 1 year out of university, by then I'm assuming I could try and transfer?

My ultimate goal is MM PE, of course I'd shoot for IB as a route into this but it's not the be all and end all for me like it is for some. It's hard to make judgement, but surely I could apply for big 4 CF grad schemes out of uni and I'd have some sort of advantage due to a fair bit of prior work experience? Newcastle isn't a top uni and it would definitely restrict me from IB but I don't know about the big 4.

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  • Associate 2 in Consulting
Apr 15, 2021 - 3:41am

You almost certainly will not be able to transfer from audit to CF until you've finished your ACA. That's 3 years you'll be in audit at a minimum. Then you have to hope that your firm and department is easy on the politics; some really will not take kindly to you trying to switch (even though most auditors want to do it).

You are 100% better off pushing for IB or Big 4 CF (FFD/M&A). Even firms just below Big 4 do tonnes of work with PE houses and you'll be in a much better spot there. I would take Top 10 M&A over Big 4 audit every day if I was in your position.

Apr 15, 2021 - 10:16am

Interestingly enough I had an offer for an apprenticeship in corporate finance/M&A at a top 10 accounting firm that I ended up rejecting because of location and also because I was pressed to gain 'big 4 experience' by some guys in the industry, then move to a top 10 firm later in my career.

Because of the nature of the program I'm on I'd qualify as an ACA with 1 year full time in audit (the other year work experience would be spread over 3 year degree). Do you think I'd have difficulty making the move to top 10 CF directly from big 4 audit? The CF team was a team of 8 in the office I had an offer for so I can imagine that's tough to break in too?

I forgot to mention there is the opportunity to apply for internships in corporate finance alongside the big 4 work experience as the placements are from November to February, not in the summer. Though going to Newcastle uni might restrict me from this compared to target unis.

Thank you

  • Associate 2 in Consulting
Apr 15, 2021 - 6:36pm

I'm struggling to understand how you can do all necessary 15 exams and 450 days PWE spread across the degree and 1 year of FTE, but if that's genuinely the case and it's not too bad.

It'll still be a struggle to pivot from audit to CF. It's definitely doable but I don't think you can really appreciate just how unreasonably hard it is until you try it. You'll look at grad roles for CF and wonder why you didn't just apply to them straight away instead.

I think you should go with whatever's most likely to give you relevant CF experience on your CV. Once you have a good chunk of that, you pass a big hurdle that would otherwise block you from entry-level M&A roles. Without more specific information, I can't tell you which option is the most likely one.

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