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Big Four: "We work front office hours for a back office salary"

I'm part of the banking consulting team at a Big Four firm in London. Seven years after graduating, I'm a manager. My salary is now £75k ($103k).

I'm frankly waiting for the right opportunity to get out. We've all been watching the increases in junior banker salaries here, and it's clear that our own salaries have slipped further and further behind. Our graduates (1-2 years) are paid c.£28k- £32k; our senior consultants, (2-5 years) are paid £38k - £45k; our managers (5-8 years) are paid £60k-75k. Only senior managers with eight years + experience start to scrape salaries of £100k and bonuses are minimal.

This is frustrating when some banks are offering £70k salaries plus bonuses to graduates in their first year out of university. It's also little surprise that we've lost a lot of team members to banks this year. We've been told we'll receive a salary rise, but there's been no sign of it yet. 

Working for the Big Four used to make sense, but the appeal is dwindling. The hours are an issue: we're working front office banking hours for back office banking pay. Personally, I never get away with anything less than 11-14 hour days. In theory, you can work less - but if you do, you won't get promoted. For example, alongside your day-to-day project you need to give support to proposals and contribute to firm-wide campaigns, all of which typically add at least two extra hours to your day. If you avoid this, your case for promotion will be weakened. 

The trade-off has always been that the work here can be interesting work, that you have the ability to really develop soft skills that pave the way for more senior roles, and that you can work your way towards the "partnership."

This isn't the case anymore. The "Big 4" org structures have matured, and the road to partnership is now a lot more process-driven. For example, if you want to get promoted to senior manager here you usually have to work on a long business case. Even if you are promoted, you will simply scrape the lower range of what a junior associate would make in a bank  - and associates in banks are pretty much promoted every year without fail. 

It's all contributing to a pervasive sense of unhappiness. The case for the Big Four is a lot less compelling than it used to be. I don't intend to stick around, and most of my colleagues feel the same. I know of people who went into a front office banking role when I went into the Big Four and they're now on £200k, plus nearly the same again in a bonus. Working for the Big Four is all very well, but at what point does “exposure and an interesting career” pay the mortgage? 

Ronan Smith is a pseudonym

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Photo by Maria Orlova from Pexels

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AUTHORRonan Smith Insider Comment
  • Di
    Discus
    20 August 2021

    I'm a senior manager with 20 years experience post graduation, in a big four on sub 90k base. I feel his pain. Which is why I'm leaving.

  • Me
    Melinda Brown
    20 August 2021

    As a big 4 staff, i can attest to the fact that this is 100% accurate. I'm always tired, never appreciated. Just the other day, a partner said " you people need to know what work is needed to earn your salary " because a team member went on a pre-approved vacation. Once i get the chance, I'm out of here.

  • CK
    CK Chong Choong Kian
    20 August 2021

    Everyone starts from nothing and big 4 is one of the best in giving juniors a platform to start from zero. Appreaciate them as they are giving Job opportunities too.

  • Sc
    Schleissen14
    19 August 2021

    I can understand working in the financial services and how front end bankers are getting paid ridiculously could be seen as disheartening, but this article came across a little whiny - especially the last sentence regarding paying the mortgage. Presumably, one's mortgage is not rising in price due to increases in banker pay, so what was the point of that last sentence? You had the job, paying the same amount, just as before. The issue is not an increase in the author's expenses (mortgage) , but rather a sense of entitlement. Not saying that the author isn't entitled to such a raise, just pointing out that the last sentence made no sense.

  • sa
    samburu
    19 August 2021

    Big 4 is crap. The only thing they offer is chance to make partner which less than 1% do and if monet is not your biggest motivator even a partner role will be tonally unappealing because their hours are unbelievably long. Zero work life balance, Zero benefits

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