The Big Four: Remaining 'Big' for much longer?


Top graduate recruiters are cutting jobs, impacting current students and juniors

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Image by Joaquin Carfagna

By Meadow Lewis

EY, PWC, KPMG, and Deloitte. If you’re a university student aiming to secure a graduate placement, it is highly likely that you have heard of the Big Four, which offer incredibly sought after opportunities. Currently employing more than 80,000 people in the UK alone, they have recently announced significant job cuts and limitations on bonuses, primarily impacting juniors and students.

In September this year, Deloitte warned employees of its plan to cut 800 jobs, using decelerating growth and the current economic climate as its justification. This figure means that Deloitte will be reducing its 27,000 workforce by 3 percent. It is stipulated that 20 percent of these jobs will be junior consultants, as 150 first and second year consulting roles have been selected. Overall, just under 19 percent of all cuts will be juniors. Deloitte’s enterprise technology and performance wing will be hit the hardest, bearing the brunt of more than 60 percent of reductions. Meanwhile, graduate roles focusing on supply chains and IT will be slashed, impacting 18 first year graduates and 85 second year graduates out of 292 in total. For graduates working in human capital management, the news remains bleak. 45 out of 172 will lose their place, with this figure accounting for over 50 percent of the department’s layoffs.

Looking at the rest of the Big Four, cuts made by EY will be entirely focused on its financial services, reducing staff by 5 percent. With the current number of staff resting at 2,300 people, this means that 115 jobs will be lost. Yet EY has begun planning ways to counteract this, and has outlined its plan to create 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland over the next five years. In October, KPMG announced that it will be firing 110 people in its UK deals business, after it already declared that 125 redundancies would be made in its consulting department. Those working at PwC appear to be the least impacted, with staff being told to prepare for smaller pay rises and bonuses.

One of the first questions which presents itself is, how did it get to this? Many analysts have concluded that over-hiring during the pandemic has been a key catalyst to the downfall of the Big Four’s job security. Additionally, the firms have seen a reduction in its staff turnover statistics, which are linkable to the increase in interest rates and an increase in economic caution. It is likely that current employees at the Big Four see little opportunity elsewhere, enticing people to remain in their bubbles of familiarity until the UK’s prospects appear more promising. Furthering expansion of staff retention means the increase in interest rates causes a reduction in merger and acquisition activity, leading to a decrease in the demand for company integration.

Another key issue has been disruptions to supply chain management. Fiona Czerniawska, the chief executive of Source Global Research, has likened the current climate to the ramifications of the dotcom boom between 1995-2000. In this period investors threw money at internet start-ups in the hopes of making a profit, which eventually resulted in a mild recession. The tactics adopted to handle this were to eradicate excess labour to mirror demand which had not kept up with the extent of start up hiring and investment. We can now see history repeating itself with the Big Four and their acquisition numbers during the pandemic.

Whilst graduates who started working this year (September 2023) will be immune to the cuts, what about the students who are currently hoping to work for the Big Four? There will now be fewer graduate schemes and placement vacancies, meaning less opportunity and thus more competition, leading to a more intense recruitment process. Current students can expect recruiters to be more critical when it comes to considering assessment results, interviews, and general performance.

In general, the job cuts reveal a specific trend, as the UK’s demand in certain areas such as consult-ing is notably behind the rest of the world. Alternately, demand remains elsewhere, specifically in The Middle East. With it not being complete doom and gloom on a global scale, this means that opportunity remains in place for those who can af-ford to work elsewhere. The impact of this is that those who cannot afford to move elsewhere for work will have to live with the limitations on accessing such opportunity, and thus the cuts can be seen as reinforcing the class disparities in the UK.

I’m sure many of us have had enough of living in a constant state of despair at current affairs, so I wish to end this report with some more positive news. Consulting Point recently released data which demonstrates that whilst the UK’s consultancy demand is behind compared to the rest of the globe, internally we are still experiencing growth. Digital consulting demands are growing at 31 percent, whilst energy consulting is growing at 35 percent. This growth is attributable to the growing field of low-carbon technology. Therefore, hope remains for the UK and the stabilisation of its opportunities.