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Big Four or Grant Thornton for future prospects?? Need advice from those in practice and industry.

Big Four or Grant Thornton for future prospects...


I'm currently a third year economics student who has offered graduate positions in Audit at 2 Big Four firms and Grant Thornton.

I am currently drawn to Grant Thornton, due to broader range of experience, better training towards ACA, possible future growth increasing scope to rise through the ranks quicker. Also, the fact they work with a large number of AIM clients increasing scope to work as an FD in these as they grow. However, I'm drawn to the Big Four solely due to their reputation as a Big Four firm and FTSE 100 clients. 

If I was to opt for Grant Thornton, will it inhibit my future career prospects and exit opportunities? For example, If I want to join a FTSE 100 as a FD or maybe move across to a Banks finance department or maybe front office. 

I've tried to ask careers advisors at my university but they do not know that much about the profession. If anyone in practice or industry can let me know their thoughts or experience of the issue, it would be much appreciated. I will be getting my ACA from all 3 firms also. 

Also, in regards to Grant Thornton, with all the current talk of audit reform, what do you think are its future growth prospects compared to the big four?

Thanks a lot!


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23rd Feb 2011 10:59


The first thing to say is that Grant Thornton is a very reputable firm and I don't think you could possibly suggest that training there would "inhibit" your career prospects.  Your career prospects will be affected primarily by you as a person, and how good you are.

You haven't said if you will be working in London or at a region office.  Some of the things you mention in your question suggest to me that you are talking about London.  I have experience of both Big 4 and Top 10 firms but only in regional offices; also I have experience of industry.  I would say that working at a Top 10 accounting firm is slightly easier going (better working hours and probably friendlier environment) but that career progression, training and breadth and experience of clients is better at a Big 4 (although I take the point that the breadth and experience of clients might be narrower in a London office).

I would personally say that while you're young (presumably), I would grab the Big 4 opportunity because it does count for something with future employers - you might have to work your ass[***] off a bit harder, but it's worth it and you can exit out of the Big 4 with a stronger CV at the end of it.  But then I never had to contend with a London office geared towards specific industries, as they are currently.  I think that Big 4 firms do have a certain inclination to push you to become a specialist in a certain area, which can be unhelpful later in your career.  

The overall judgement is something that only you can make.

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23rd Feb 2011 11:25

I'd opt for Big 4 too

I spent 5 years with PwC and have to say that it was an excellent training ground. It still opens doors now, as they have the kudos of being one of the Big 4 that a slightly smaller firm such as Grant Thornton doesn't have. If you have the choice, I would take it.

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23rd Feb 2011 11:49

I'd vote for Grant Thornton

I worked for KPMG for 5 years and my son is currently on a graduate training scheme with Grant Thornton. My personal view is that you are more likely to gain experience of meeting clients face to face with GT. Sometimes in a large office with the big four you are not given the opportunity to do a wide variety of work but this will obvoiusly depend upon your location.  You will learn more with smaller clients as they seem to have more tax issues but that is just my opinion and other people will have different thoughts.

I think GT are more lenient towards exam qualifications. Some firms policy is to dismiss grauduates who fail their exams at either the first or second attempt. You should check this point out unless you are extermely clever and confident in passing all your exams! During my time with KPMG I saw a lot of good young people let go by KPMG because they failed their exams. I don't know what the big four policy on exam failure is these days.

It also depends upon your own personality -you may be happier in a large office with lots of competitors or in a smaller offer where you may be the only graduate.

GT is a large practice and their 'name' will be recognised as much as KPMG or PWC.

Malcolm McFarlin

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23rd Feb 2011 12:25

@ exam faliure

You should definitely not let potential exam faliure put you off the Big 4.  It is extremely unlikely that you wouldn't pass the exams twice in a row, unless you're really not trying.  Conversely to the above poster, I have only seen poor staff let go by Big 4 through this route.

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23rd Feb 2011 12:56

Depends on your career goals

If you want to work at a FTSE company or in banking or financial services I would say 100% Big 4.

However, I trained with a mid tier firm, and I think that is much better preparation for being a partner in an independent practice, if that is where you see yourself going.

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23rd Feb 2011 15:24


I chose a regional office of (what is now) the big 4 due to exposure to smaller clients. Some were just myself and a junior out on audit which is great when you are in the third year - some of my contacts in london were still one of 18 other auditors on 3 months jobs and spend a year just doing fixed assets and cash and didnt in my opinion get as rounded training as those on smaller audits.

However from a CV point of view having a big 4 on your CV will ALWAYS get you a job interview, not so sure GT carries quite as much weight, so its a tricky one.


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By pp2
23rd Feb 2011 15:26

Grant Thornton

I currently work at Grant Thornton in the audit department.  I worked at Grant Thornton a number of years ago before joining the Big 4.  I subsequently left the Big 4 and rejoined Grant Thornton.  My reasons for rejoining Grant Thornton were:

a greater variety of clients and work. clients who really value your support.

My portfolio is extremely varied and for any new trainee provides the opportunity to get a wide variety of experience.

The clients I work with on a day to day basis really value the support they get on technical and commercial issues.  Many of the finance teams we deal with lack the in-house resource to deal with some of the complex issues they face and they turn to us to give them support on these matters.  Many larger listed businesses I have dealt with have this resource in house.   This need for support gives a great opportunity to step away from the mundane and work on more interesting assignments. 

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By Smithcp
23rd Feb 2011 15:45

As a trainee.....Grant Thornton

I joined Grant Thornton 18 months ago as a Tax Trainee! I was asking myself exactly the same questions during the application period and I was unsure of which path to take.

However, through a mix of personal recommendations and a general impression of the firm from the interview, I chose Grant Thornton. I felt they had a more 'down to Earth' orientated culture, provided better support and gave me an increased opportunity to obtain responsibility and work on a wide variety of clients.

I have not regretted my decision once and have had a great 18 months! The training is hard but you get plenty of support and loads of responsibility with practical work to help put the theory into action.

The lure of the Big Four's reputation was massive but base your decision on where you can see yourself working and nothing else! Also, the above comment is so true, where you do your training is not that relevant, your future career prospects are endless and depend on you as a person! Some people seem to suit the Big Four, others seems to prefer firms such as Grant Thornton - you just need to figure out which firm suits you and where you will 'fit' best!

Hope it helped!

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By Luke
23rd Feb 2011 17:35

I'd go for the Big 4

I had 7.5yrs with Deloitte in London (or Touche Ross/Deloitte & Touche as it was then).  After that I worked locally in industry for 6 years before setting up as a sole practitioner in 2006.

My experience at Deloitte was fantastic, great fun, fairly pressured but good rewards.  It certainly made me stand out when applying for the local job, and even now it impresses potential clients that I spent several years at a top firm.

As a sole practitioner now, my experience in Deloitte is almost irrelevant in dealing with the issues I deal with day to day now though.  At a big firm, and I would probably imagine the same applies to GT as it is fairly large, you deal with your area and when something out of the ordinary comes along you pass it to another department who specialise in whatever the issue is.  As a sole practitioner you have to deal with all aspects a client wants doing and the knowledge required is a lot wider.

As regards exams, the official policy was that one fail or referral at each stage was ok, but to fail/refer a second time meant you were out.  That said they gave fantastic support to resit where necessary (thankfully I only resat one exam which I'd missed by 2%), and for those they really valued who kept failing they would often find another suitable role for.

I would definitely go for the Big 4, it will be fairly easy to move down to a mid tier firm but harder to go the other way.  The kudos of a big 4 firm will stay with you forever, and will help you get top flight jobs and even though it's fairly irrelevant to what I actually do these days it still impresses people.

Of course Grant Thornton is a very respectable firm, and if you didn't have the option of a Big 4 firm I'd go for it, but you have got the option, go for the kudos!

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19th Aug 2017 08:38

Hi there,
I'm currently stuck with a similar choice but for tax. I'd be interested to know what you decided to do and where it has taken you since then. And what you would recommend to the 'next generation' as it were. I'd be working in London.

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19th Aug 2017 12:53

Big 4.
It's like being able to say you played at Lord's or had a role at ManU. Doesn't matter what you actually did there, it (unreasonably) carries an enormous weight.
So qualify with Big4, then leave the next day.
I left 11 days after qualifying with a big firm!

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