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Big Four Accounting Firms

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The Big Four accounting firms are not single firms, but actually accounting networks, each having an entity to coordinate network activities. The Big Four are the largest professional networks in accounting and are responsible for handling audits for a majority of private, as well as publicly traded companies.

The Big Four accounting firms are:

  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG
  • Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu
  • PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers)

The coordinating entity for the Big Four firm KPMG is a Swiss company, and for the other three Big Four accounting firms, the coordinating entity is UK based. The entities do not practice accounting but are similar to law firm networks.

KPMG, in 2007, merged four firms in Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the UK to form a single firm.

Ernst & Young includes separate legal entities consisting of EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India, Africa), Asia-Pacific and Americas. These firms do not hold ownership in local entities or perform services but coordinate the services of local firms within their areas.

Number of Employees

The Big Four firms’ employee count in 2011 was as follows:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers   –  169,000
  • Ernst & Young   –  152,000
  • KPMG  –  140,000
  • Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu   –  182,000

Total Employees  –   643,000


Big Four revenues for Fiscal year 2011:

  • Pricewaterhouse Coopers  –  $29.2 bn
  • Ernst & Young  –  $22.9 bn
  • KPMG  –  $22.7 bn
  • Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu  –  $28.8 bn

Total Revenue 103.6 bn


Big Four firms headquarters are located in:

  • Deloitte Touché Tohmatsu  –  United States
  • Ernst & Young  –  United Kingdom
  • Pricewaterhouse Coopers  –  United Kingdom
  • KPMG  –  Netherlands

Big 8

Originally, the Big 4 was the Big 8. The Big 8 originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when alliances formed between United States and British accounting firms.

The Big 8 consisted of:

  • Arthur Young and Co.
  • Arthur Anderson
  • Coopers & Lybrand
  • Deloitte Haskins and Sells
  • Peat Marwick Mitchell
  • Ernst & Whinney
  • Price Waterhouse
  • Touche Ross

Due to several mergers, and a scandal which involved Arthur Anderson, the Big 8 eventually became the Big Four.

Big 6

In 1989, the Big 8 became the Big 6 with the merger of Arthur Young and Ernst and Whinney, to become known as Ernst & Young.; and the Touché Ross merge with Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, to become known as Deloitte & Touché.

Big 5

In July, 1998 Coopers and Lybrand merged with Price Waterhouse, to become Pricewaterhouse Coopers, making the Big 6 become the Big 5.

Big 4

In the 2001 Enron Scandal, Arthur Andersen was the auditing company. They were at one point indicted for obstruction of justice due to the shredding of crucial documents. This led to the demise of Arthur Andersen. Arthur Andersen practices were sold to the Big Four firms Deloitte and Touché, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Ernst and Young. Eventually, the conviction against Arthur Andersen was overturned, but still the scandal marked the end of Arthur Andersen, and the Big 5 became the Big 4.

The Big Four is sometimes called the Final Four, meaning basically that other firms will never really be able to compete with the Big Four firms, with the thought being that they are not as credible as the Big Four firms.

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