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  • Christopher Willis

What is the difference between the Big 3 and the Big 4?

Consultancy is a very popular career destination for UK undergraduates. However, there are many different types of consulting and there are some firms that offer consulting services alongside a lot of other services. When considering a career in this industry, the differences between the Big 3 and the Big 4 are often overlooked and the purpose of this article is to address these differences and help students choose the route that is right for them!

So, who are the Big 3 and the Big 4?

The Big 3, also known as MBB, refers to McKinsey, BCG, and Bain; these are three of the largest and most prestigious management consultancies in the world. These firms work with global leaders to solve complex problems across all areas of business including strategy, marketing, operations, M&A, and much more.

The Big 4 on the other hand, refers to the 4 largest professional service firms in the world. It comprises Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC. They each offer audit, assurance, consulting, due diligence, taxation, actuarial, and legal services to their clients.

The overlap between these services is quite small and the day-to-day experiences on the job only highlight the differences further.

How does the work differ?

Firstly, the approach towards their respective projects and engagements is quite different. There is of course variation amongst all firms but typically the Big 4 apply specific, predetermined tools to problems within defined parameters of the client company. As an employee, your approach is somewhat limited by the firm and the client. Comparatively, the Big 3 employ a free-form problem solving process. There are favoured approaches within firms, but you are largely given more flexibility and left to come up with your own solutions. This independence comes with additional responsibility, which although is ideal for some, can provide significant stress for others.

With the organisational structure being flatter within the Big 3, you will also be more likely to work alongside industry leaders, which can be very exciting. Alternatively, work at the Big 4 is directed more at middle management and the exposure to CEOs and industry heavyweights is less frequent.

The hours and salaries

Working for an MBB firm is accompanied with a larger salary. Graduate schemes at the Big 4 attract salaries in the region of £27,000 to £30,000 before qualifying, while the Big 3 (and other management consultancies) offer base salaries in the region of £45,000. Beyond that, bonuses, company events and other perks tend to be somewhat flashier than at the Big 4.

This favourable remuneration can largely be explained by the differences in work-life balance. The hourly rates are quite similar but employees of the Big 3 work significantly longer hours than their Big 4 counterparts and are therefore paid more. Longer hours tend to take its toll on one’s social and personal life. The optimal work-life balance varies from person to person, but it is important to consider what works best for you when choosing your career.


All these firms are excellent places to start your career. They provide fantastic training, opportunities for personal development, and a solid foundation to succeed either in the professional sphere or any future ventures of your own. Despite the clusters, each firm is different, and the differences are not always so clear just from a quick glance at the company website. It is best to research firms individually, attend networking events, and gain as much insight as you can. That way, you can choose the firm that is right for you.


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