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Big Four accounting firms

The Big Four are the four biggest professional services networks in the world, consisting of Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). They offer audit, assurance services, taxation, management consulting, advisory, actuarial, corporate finance and legal services. A significant majority of audits for public companies as well as many private companies are conducted by the big four.

Until the late 20th century, the market was dominated by eight networks (known as the Big 8) but this gradually reduced due to mergers, and the 2002 collapse of Arthur Andersen, leaving four networks dominating the market in the early 21st century. In the UK in 2011, it was reported that the Big Four audit 99% of the companies in the FTSE 100, and 96% of the companies in the FTSE 250 Index, an index of the leading mid-cap listing companies.[1] Such industry concentration has caused concern and calls for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to consider breaking up the Big Four. In October 2018, the CMA announced it had launched a detailed study of the Big Four's dominance of the audit sector.


Firm Revenues Employees Revenue
per employee
Fiscal year Headquarters Source
Deloitte $46.2 bn 312,028 $148,077 2019 United Kingdom
PwC $42.45 bn 276,005 $153,794 2019 United Kingdom
EY $36.4 bn 284,000 $128,169 2019 United Kingdom
KPMG $28.96 bn 207,050 $139,870 2018 Netherlands [2]

This group was once known as the "Big Eight", and was reduced to the "Big Six" and then "Big Five" by a series of mergers. The Big Five became the Big Four after the fall of Arthur Andersen in 2002, following its involvement in the Enron scandal.

Legal structureEdit

None of the Big Four is a single firm; rather, they are professional services networks. Each is a network of firms, owned and managed independently, which have entered into agreements with other member firms in the network to share a common name, brand and quality standards. Each network has established an entity to co-ordinate the activities of the network. In one case (KPMG), the co-ordinating entity is Dutch, and in three cases (Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Ernst & Young (EY)) the co-ordinating entity is a UK limited company. Those entities do not themselves perform external professional services and do not own or control the member firms. They are similar to law firm networks found in the legal profession.

In many cases each member firm practices in a single country, and is structured to comply with the regulatory environment in that country. In 2007, KPMG announced a merger of four member firms (in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) to form a single firm.

Ernst & Young (EY) also includes separate legal entities which manage three of its four areas: the Americas, EMEIA (Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa), and Asia-Pacific (the Japan area does not have a separate area management entity). These firms coordinate services performed by local firms within their respective areas but do not perform services or hold ownership in the local entities.[3]

Mergers and the big auditorsEdit

Since 1989, mergers and one major scandal involving Arthur Andersen have reduced the number of major professional-services firms from eight to four.

Big EightEdit

The firms were called the Big Eight for most of the 20th century, reflecting the international dominance of the eight largest firms (presented here in alphabetical order):

Most of the Big Eight originated in an alliance formed between British and U.S. audit firms in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Price Waterhouse was a UK firm which opened a U.S. office in 1890 and subsequently established a separate U.S. partnership. The UK and U.S. Peat Marwick Mitchell firms adopted a common name in 1925. Other firms used separate names for domestic business, and did not adopt common names until much later: Touche Ross in 1960, Arthur Young, McLelland, Moores & Co in 1968, Coopers & Lybrand in 1973, Deloitte Haskins & Sells in 1978 and Ernst & Whinney in 1979.[6]

The firms' initial international expansion was driven by the needs of British and U.S.-based multinationals for worldwide service. They expanded by forming local partnerships or by forming alliances with local firms. Arthur Andersen had a different history: the firm originated in the United States, and expanded internationally by establishing its own offices in other markets, including the United Kingdom.

In the 1980s the Big 8, each now with global branding, adopted modern marketing and grew rapidly. They merged with many smaller firms. One of the largest of these mergers was in 1987, when Peat Marwick merged with the Klynveld Main Goerdeler (KMG) group to become KPMG Peat Marwick, later known simply as KPMG.

Big SixEdit

Competition among these firms intensified and the Big 8 became the Big Six in 1989 when Ernst & Whinney merged with Arthur Young to form Ernst & Young (EY) in June, and Deloitte, Haskins & Sells merged with Touche Ross to form Deloitte & Touche in August.

In the United Kingdom, the local firm of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells merged instead with Coopers & Lybrand. For some years after the merger, the merged firm was called Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte and the local firm of Touche Ross kept its original name. In the mid-1990s, however, both UK firms changed their names to match those of their respective international organizations. On the other hand, in Australia the local firm of Touche Ross merged instead with KPMG.[7][8] It is for these reasons that the Deloitte & Touche international organization was known as DRT International (later DTT International), to avoid use of names which would have been ambiguous (as well as contested) in certain markets.

Big FiveEdit

The Big 6 became the Big Five in July 1998 when Price Waterhouse merged with Coopers & Lybrand to form PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Big 5 firms were:[9]

  • Ernst & Young (EY)
  • Deloitte & Touche
  • Arthur Andersen
  • KPMG
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

Big FourEdit

  • Ernst & Young (EY)
  • Deloitte & Touche
  • KPMG
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

The Enron collapse and ensuing investigation prompted scrutiny of their financial reporting, which was audited by Arthur Andersen. Arthur Andersen was eventually indicted for obstruction of justice for shredding documents related to the audit in the 2001 Enron scandal. The resulting conviction, though later overturned, still effectively meant the end for Arthur Andersen. Most of its country practices around the world were sold to members of what is now the Big Four—notably Ernst & Young globally; Deloitte & Touche in the UK, Canada, Spain, and Brazil; and PricewaterhouseCoopers (now known as PwC) in China and Hong Kong.

In 2010 Deloitte, with its 1.8% growth, was able to beat PricewaterhouseCoopers with its 1.5% growth to gain first place and become the largest firm in the industry. In 2011, PwC re-gained the first place with 10% revenue growth. In 2013, these two firms claimed the top two spots with only $200 million or 0.5% revenue difference. However, Deloitte saw faster growth than PwC over the next few years (largely due to acquisitions) and reclaimed the title of largest of the Big Four in Fiscal Year 2016.[citation needed]

It was estimated that the Big Four had about 67 per cent share of the global accountancy market in 2012, while the rest was divided amongst so-called mid-tier players, including Grant Thornton and BDO.[10]

Branding listEdit

Showing year of formation through merger, or adoption of single brand name.

  • Arthur Andersen (1913–2002)
  • Ernst & Young (EY) (1989) (Ernst & Young until 2013)
    • Arthur Young (1985)
      • Arthur Young, McLelland, Moores & Co (1968)
      • Arthur Young Broads Paterson & Co (1923)
      • Stuart & Young (1894)
    • Ernst & Whinney (EY) (1979)
      • Ernst & Ernst (US) (1903)
      • Whinney, Smith & Whinney (UK) (1849)
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) (1998) (PricewaterhouseCoopers until 2010)
    • Coopers & Lybrand (1973)
      • Cooper Brothers (UK) (1854)
      • Lybrand, Ross Bros, Montgomery (US) (1898)
    • Price Waterhouse (US) (1849)
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (1989) (Deloitte & Touche until 1993)
    • Deloitte Haskins & Sells (1978)
      • Deloitte & Co. (UK) (1845)
      • Haskins & Sells (US) (1895)
    • Touche Ross (1975)
      • Touche Ross (1960) (Touche, Ross, Bailey & Smart until 1969)
        • Ross (Canada)
        • George A. Touche (UK)
        • Touche, Niven, Bailey & Smart (US) (1947)
          • Touche Niven (1900)
          • Bailey & Smart (1947)
      • Tohmatsu & Co. (Japan) (1968)
  • KPMG (1987) (KPMG Peat Marwick before 1995)
    • Peat Marwick (1925) (originally Peat Marwick Mitchell)
      • William Barclay Peat (UK) (1870)
      • Marwick Mitchell (US) (1897)
      • Edwin Gurthie (1875–1955)
      • Beevers & Adgie (1849–1967)
    • KMG (1979) (officially Klynveld Main Goerdeler)
      • Klynveld Kraayenhof (Netherlands) (1917)
      • McLintock Main Lafrentz (1964)
        • Thomson McLintock (UK) (1877)
          • Martin Farlow (1882–1968)
          • Grace Ryland (1967–1969)
            • Grace, Darbyshire, & Todd (1818)
            • CJ Ryland (1910)
        • Main Lafrentz (US) (c.1880)
      • Deutsche Treuhand-Gesellschaft (Germany) (1890)
    • Armitage & Norton (1869–1987)


Tax avoidanceEdit

According to Australian taxation expert George Rozvany, the Big Four are "the masterminds of multinational tax avoidance and the architects of tax schemes which cost governments and their taxpayers an estimated $US1 trillion a year". At the same time they are advising governments on tax reforms, they are advising their multinational clients how to avoid taxes.[11][12]

Policy issues concerning industry concentrationEdit

In the wake of industry concentration and individual firm failure, the issue of a credible alternative industry structure has been raised.[13] The limiting factor on the growth of additional firms is that although some of the firms in the next tier have become quite substantial, and have formed international networks, effectively all very large public companies insist on having a "Big Four" audit, so the smaller firms have no way to grow into the top end of the market.

Documents published in June 2010 show that some UK companies' banking covenants required them to use one of the Big Four. This approach from the lender prevents firms in the next tier from competing for audit work for such companies. The British Bankers' Association said that such clauses are rare.[14] Current discussions in the UK consider outlawing such clauses.

In 2011,The UK House of Lords completed an inquiry into the financial crisis, and called for an Office of Fair Trading investigation into the dominance of the Big Four.[15] It is reported that the Big Four audit all but one of the companies that constitute the FTSE 100, and 240 of the companies in the FTSE 250, an index of the leading mid-cap listing companies.[1]

In Ireland, the Director of Corporate Enforcement, in February 2011 said, auditors "report surprisingly few types of company law offences to us", with the so-called "big four" auditing firms reporting the least often to his office, at just 5% of all reports.[16]

The January 2018 collapse of the UK construction and services company Carillion raised further questions about the Big Four, all of which had advised the company before its liquidation. On 13 February 2018, the Big Four were described by MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Frank Field as "feasting on what was soon to become a carcass" after collecting fees of £72m for Carillion work during the years leading up to its collapse.[17] The final report of a Parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of Carillion, published on 16 May 2018,[18] accused the Big Four accounting firms of as a "cosy club", with KPMG singled out for its "complicity" in signing off Carillion’s "increasingly fantastical figures" and internal auditor Deloitte accused of failing to identify, or ignoring, "terminal failings". The report recommended the Government refer the statutory audit market to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), urging consideration of breaking up the Big Four.[18] In September 2018, Business Secretary Greg Clark announced he had asked the CMA to conduct an inquiry into competition in the audit sector,[19] and on 9 October 2018, the CMA announced it had launched a detailed study.[20]

MPs have asked for the separation of the "Big Four" into multiple units after the collapse of Carillion and BHS as it would help in providing the professional skepticism required to furnish high quality audits.[21]

Cartel fearsEdit

In Australia, the heads of the big four firms have met regularly for dinner, a parliamentary committee was told in 2018. The revelation was among issues which led to an inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into possible collusion in the selling of audit and services. However, Ernst & Young told the inquiry that the dinners, which were held once or twice a year, were to discuss industry trends and issues of corporate culture such as inclusion and diversity.[22]

Corporate collusionEdit

A 2019 analysis by PCAOB in the United States observed that the big four accounting firms bungled almost 31% of their audits since 2009. In another project study on government oversight, it was seen that while the auditors colluded to present audit reports that pleased their clients, the times when they didn't they lost business. Despite this large-scale collusion in audits, the PCAOB in its 16-year history has only made 18 enforcement cases against the "big four". Although these auditors have failed audits in 31% of cases (808 cases in total), they have only faced action by PCAOB in 6.6% of the cases. KPMG has never been fined despite having the worst audit failure rate of 36.6%.[23]

Global member firmsEdit

Region Deloitte PwC Ernst & Young KPMG
Australia Deloitte Australia[24] PricewaterhouseCoopers Ernst & Young KPMG
Argentina Deloitte & Co. S.A.[25] Pricewaterhouse & Co. S.R.L.[26] Ernst & Young KPMG
Bangladesh NUFHAS PwC[27] A.Qasem & Co., Chartered Accountants Rahman Rahman Huq & Co., Chartered Accountants
Brazil Deloitte PwC[28] EY KPMG
Bulgaria Deloitte PwC[29] EY KMPG
Cambodia Deloitte PricewaterhouseCoopers (Cambodia) Ltd.[30] Ernst and Young KMPG
Canada Deloitte PwC[31] EY KPMG
China Deloitte Hua Yong PricewaterhouseCoopers Zhong Tian[32] Ernst & Young Hua Ming KPMG Hua Zhen
Colombia Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Croatia Deloitte PwC Hrvatska EY KPMG
Cyprus Deloitte PricewaterhouseCoopers[33] Ernst & Young KPMG
Egypt Saleh, Barsoum & Abdel Aziz Mansour & Co.[34] Allied for Accounting and Auditing (Emad Ragheb) Hazem Hassan
El Salvador DTT El Salvador, S.A. de C.V. PricewaterhouseCoopers El Salvador[35] Ernst & Young El Salvador, S.A. de C.V. KPMG, S.A.
Finland Deloitte & Touche Oy PricewaterhouseCoopers Oy[36] Ernst & Young Oy KPMG Oy Ab
France Deloitte[37] PricewaterhouseCoopers France et Pays Francophones d’Afrique[38] EY TRANSACTION SERVICES KPMG
Ghana Deloitte PwC[39] EY KPMG
Hong Kong Deloitte PricewaterhouseCoopers[40] Ernst & Young KPMG
India Deloitte PricewaterhouseCoopers[41] EY KPMG
Indonesia KAP Imelda & Rekan KAP Tanudiredja, Wibisana, Rintis & Rekan[42] KAP Purwantono, Sungkoro & Surja KAP Sidharta Widjaja & Rekan
Ireland Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Israel Deloitte Brightman Almagor Zohar Kesselman & Kesselman, PwC Israel[43] Kost, Forer, Gabbay & Kasierer (Ernst & Young Israel) KPMG Somekh Chaikin
Italy Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu PricewaterhouseCoopers Reconta Ernst & Young SpA, Ernst & Young Financial Business Advisors SpA, KPMG S.p.A., KPMG Advisory S.p.A., KPMG Fides S.p.A.
Japan Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
Kansa Houjin Tohmatsu
PricewaterhouseCoopers Aarata
Aarata Kansa Houjin

PricewaterhouseCoopers Kyoto

Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC
ShinNihon Yugen-sekinin Kansa Houjin
KPMG AZSA LLC (formerly KPMG AZSA & Co.)
Azsa Kansa Houjin
Jordan Deloitte Touche (M.E) PwC Ernst & Young KPMG
Kazakhstan Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Kenya Deloitte & Touche (E.A) PwC Ernst & Young KPMG
Kyrgyzstan Deloitte - EY KPMG
Lebanon Deloitte Touche (M.E) PwC Ernst & Young KPMG PCC
Malaysia Deloitte PLT PricewaterhouseCoopers Ernst & Young KPMG PLT
Malawi Deloitte PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC) Ernst & Young Not available
Malta Deloitte PwC EY Malta KPMG
Mauritius Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Mexico Galaz, Yamazaki, Ruiz Urquiza, S.C. PricewaterhouseCoopers México Mancera S.C. KPMG Cárdenas Dosal, S.C.
Mongolia Deloitte Onch PwC Ernst & Young Mongolia KPMG
Morocco Deloitte Touche (M.E) PwC Ernst & Young KPMG
New Zealand Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Nigeria Akintola Williams Deloitte PwC Nigeria Ernst & Young KPMG
Pakistan Deloitte Yousuf Adil A. F. Ferguson & Co. EY Ford Rhodes KPMG Taseer Hadi & Co.
Palestinian Territories Deloitte Touche (M.E) PwC Ernst & Young none
Philippines Navarro Amper & Co (formerly Manabat Delgado Amper & Co.) Isla Lipana & Co. SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co. R.G. Manabat & Co. (formerly Manabat Sanagustin & Co.)
Poland Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Romania Deloitte Audit S.R.L., Deloitte Tax S.R.L., Deloitte Consultanta S.R.L., Deloitte Evaluare S.R.L. Deloitte Fiscal Representative S.R.L. and Reff & Associates SCA (jointly referred to as "Deloitte Romania")[44] PricewaterhouseCoopers Audit SRL, PricewaterhouseCoopers Tax Advisors & Accountants SRL, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consultants SRL, PricewaterhouseCoopers Business Recovery Services IPURL, PricewaterhouseCoopers Servicii SRL[45] Ernst & Young SRL[46] Ernst & Young Support Services SRL KPMG Romania S.R.L.[47]
Saudi Arabia Deloitte and Touche & Co. - Chartered Accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP Ernst & Young Saudi Arabia KPMG Al Fozan & Partners
Serbia Deloitte d.o.o. Beograd[48] PricewaterhouseCoopers d.o.o. Beograd[49] Ernst & Young d.o.o. Beograd[50] KPMG d.o.o Beograd[51]
Slovak Republic Deloitte Audit s.r.o. PricewaterhouseCoopers Slovensko, s.r.o. Ernst & Young Slovakia, spol. s r.o. KPMG Slovensko spol. s r.o.
South Africa Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
South Korea Anjin LLC Samil LLC Hanyoung LLC Samjong LLC
Sri Lanka SJMS Associates (independent correspondent firm) PwC Ernst & Young KPMG
Sweden Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Öhrlings PricewaterhouseCoopers Ernst & Young KPMG
Syria Deloitte (M.E) - Nassir Tamimi Chartered Accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers Abdul Kader Hussarieh and partners Mejanni & Co. Chartered Accountants and Consultants LLC
Thailand Deloitte & Touche Tohmatsu PricewaterhouseCoopers Ernst & Young KPMG
Taiwan Deloitte PricewaterhouseCoopers Taiwan Ernst & Young KPMG
Turkey DRT Bagimsiz Denetim ve S.M.M. A.S. Basaran Nas Bagimsiz Denetim ve SMMM A.S. Güney Bağımsız Denetim ve S.M.M. A.Ş., Kuzey Y.M.M. Denetim A.Ş., Ernst Young Kurumsal Finansman Danışmanlık A.Ş., BEY S.M.M. A.Ş. Akis Bagimsiz Denetim ve S.M.M. A.S.
Uzbekistan Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu ASC PricewaterhouseCoopers Ernst & Young LLC KPMG Audit LLC
Venezuela Lara Marambio & Asociados - Deloitte Pacheco, Apostólico & Asociados - PricewaterhouseCoopers EY Rodriguez Velasquez & Asociados - KPMG
Uganda Deloitte PwC EY KPMG
Zimbabwe Deloitte PwC EY KPMG

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Mario Christodoulou (2011-03-30). "U.K. Auditors Criticized on Bank Crisis". Wall Street Journal.
  2. ^ "2018 KPMG Global Review". Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Legal Disclaimer". Ernst & Young. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  5. ^ News, From Bloomberg (1997-09-19). "Coopers, Price Waterhouse Plan to Merge". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
  6. ^ "What's in a name: Firms' simplified family trees on the web".
  7. ^,1002,cid%253D12279,00.html
  8. ^ Alison Leigh Cowan (1989-12-05). "Deloitte, Touche Merger Done". New York Times.
  9. ^ "Big 5 Accounting Firms * (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, Pricewaterhouse...)".
  10. ^ Fleming, Sam (12 Feb 2014). "Accountants PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY face taming moves". The Financial Times. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  11. ^ "'Tax avoidance' masters revealed". The NEWDAILY. 2016-07-11.
  12. ^ "'Big Four' audit firms never examined over illegal tax plans". The Independent. 2016-01-18. Regulators fail to act as they are dominated by the companies they are supposed to police, say critics
  13. ^ "Too Big to Fail: Moral Hazard in Auditing and the Need to Restructure the Industry Before it Unravels". SSRN 928482.
  14. ^ "Big-Four-only clauses are rare: BBA". Archived from the original on 2010-06-21.
  15. ^ "Auditors criticised for role in financial crisis". Financial Times.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Davies, Rob (13 February 2018). "Carillion: accountants accused of 'feasting' on company". Guardian. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  18. ^ a b Davies, Rob (16 May 2018). "'Recklessness, hubris and greed' – Carillion slammed by MPs". Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  19. ^ Busby, Mattha (29 September 2018). "Audit sector faces inquiry as minister points to deficiencies". Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  20. ^ "CMA launches immediate review of audit sector". Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Break up Big Four auditors: MPs call for overhaul following scandals". MSN/Daily Mail. 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
  22. ^ Tadros, Edmund; McIlroy, Tom (15 February 2019). "Big four left guessing over dinner guests". The Australian Financial Review. p. 10.
  23. ^ Haldevang, Max de. "Big Four accounting firms bungle a third of US audits but are rarely fined". Quartz. Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  24. ^ "About Deloitte Australia". Deloitte Australia. 20 February 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  25. ^ "Deloitte Argentina".
  26. ^ "PwC Argentina".
  27. ^ "PwC Bangladesh".
  28. ^ "Brazil Office Address".
  29. ^ "Bulgaria PwC Offices Locations".
  30. ^ "Cambodia PwC Offices Addresses".
  31. ^ "Canada PwC Offices Addresses".
  32. ^ "China PwC Offices Addresses".
  33. ^ "PWC Cyprus".
  34. ^ "Egypt PwC Offices Addresses".
  35. ^ "El Salvador PwC Offices Addresses".
  36. ^ "Finland PwC Offices Addresses".
  37. ^ "Deloitte France".
  38. ^ "PricewaterhouseCoopers France et Pays Francophones d'Afrique".
  39. ^ "Ghana PwC Offices Addresses".
  40. ^ "Hong Kong PwC Offices Addresses".
  41. ^ "India PwC Offices Addresses".
  42. ^ "Indonesia PwC Offices Addresses".
  43. ^ "Israel PwC Offices Addresses".
  44. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-08. Retrieved 2014-08-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  45. ^ PricewaterhouseCoopers. "About site provider". PwC.
  46. ^ "Members :: CCE-R". Archived from the original on 2014-08-10.
  47. ^ "Home - KPMG - RO".
  48. ^ "Serbia Business Registry Agency - Deloitte results".
  49. ^ "Serbia Business Registry Agency - PwC results".
  50. ^ "Serbia Business Registry Agency - EY results".
  51. ^ "Serbia Business Registry Agency - KPMG results".

External linksEdit