Should you apply to the Big Four or investment banks? Or both?

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If you're applying for a graduate job in an investment bank, you might want a back-up plan. By banks' own admissions, they accept hardly anyone (think 2% at Goldman Sachs, 3% at Citi). The Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PWC) aren't that much better. However, they do at least accept a few more people (depending upon how you cut the figures). So, even if you want to work for an investment bank, should you apply to the Big Four just in case?

New figures from High Fliers research, which monitors the UK graduate recruitment market, suggest you probably should. This is why:

1. Accounting firms hire twice as many UK graduates as investment banks 

High fliers hiring

Source: High Fliers Research

2. Long term, accounting firms have been a growth sector for graduate recruitment. Investment banks have not

Accounting firms growth

Source: High Fliers Research

3. In the UK graduate market, accounting firms are much easier to get into

High Fliers statistics apply to graduate recruitment in the UK only. The company provides sector-based statistics for graduate applicants per graduate job each July. In July 2016 it said there were 38.2 applications per banking vacancy, compared to 18.2 applications per professional services and accounting vacancy. This puts the success rate of applications in the two industries at 2.6% and 5.5% respectively.

4. Accounting firms are now finding it harder to attract graduate applicants than investment banks 

Most banks have now closed their 2017 graduate recruitment processes, although some Big Four graduate jobs are still open. The latest High Fliers figures suggest applications to investment banks are up 3% on last year, while applications to accounting firms are down 5%. Accounting firms are falling out of favour.

5. But....the Big Four are substantially cutting their graduate intakes for 2017 while investment banks are only cutting them a bit

The bad news is that accounting firms are trimming their graduate hiring wings. Graduate recruitment and professional services sector is down 8.4% this year compared to last. In banking it's only down 3.2%.

High fliers cuts

Source: High Fliers Research

6. And...starting salaries in accounting firms are quite a bit lower than in banks

Banks also pay a lot more than accounting and professional services firms. The figures below are median pay figures for jobs across all areas of investment banks and even on this basis, banks are 57% more generous. Figures including salaries and bonuses from London recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners suggest the differential may be wider still: some banks pay their front office graduate hires £75k in year one.

High fliers 2017 pay

Source: High Fliers Research

Fundamentally, if you're a university student trying to find a graduate job neither big investment banks nor Big Four accounting firms are a sure-thing. Students who want to cover their backs may therefore want to apply to both sectors. But don't confess this during interviews: neither banks nor accounting firms like to hire people who've applied to both areas.


Photo credit: /ponder by hobvias sudoneighm is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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