October 15, 2015


After a Big four partner boasted on linkedin that worldwide his company earned over US 35 billion in profit I reacted by stating that all that money (in fact it is much more of course) came out of the pockets of this firm's clients. The partner reacted professionally by expressing his hope that his "Big four" would continue to exceed their clients expectations. I do not think they do but hey, nothing wrong with that answer. An associate from another Big four company replied by asking if my firm's income does not come out of its clients pockets. Of course it does but we for one do not boast with respect to the amount. Both individuals seemed to have felt attacked by a mere observation. Interesting, because my intention was not to attack anyone. I do feel however that Big four has served its purpose. 

Our offices every year welcomes high net worth individuals from Big four. Most of the time I have the feeling that it is not the high fees that chase them away from Big four; they are high net worth individuals after all. It seems it is more the feeling being transmitted by big four that these individuals are not that important to them. Big four has bigger clients than high net worth individuals like listed companies. What also seems to chase away these persons is that Big four is riddled with scandal. Another observation from a new client was that he was somewhat appalled by the pricey cars he saw on Big four's parking lot. Of course he understands that these are being purchased with money out his -and other clients- pockets.
Internationally Big four also seems to loose ground. Our little firm has a perfect international network thanks to among other LinkedIn and personal contacts. We will however never sell a firm abroad to you just because we have to. Big four can of course never advice a client in the US to avail itself of services of a firm in an other country not carrying the same Big four brand. Smaller firms can and will because a bad referral reflects badly on themselves. Quality and personal attention makes that clients stay attached to boutique firms. Constant personnel changes in Big four forcing clients to constantly having to explain where they came from (financially and otherwise) is also not helpful. Contributing also is that clients understand that they pay for a lot of overhead that does not benefit them.
From a personal standpoint; I find it scary that when you want to go big you can only choose from four companies. I know, sometimes you have no choice but there should be more of them. On the other hand I feel however that Big four will slowly disappear. The possibilities that internet has to offer with among other free flow of knowledge will contribute to that.
I have worked in big four and what I disliked most in that environment is that actual knowledge was totally unappreciated. If you are higher ranking then per definition you are right and the lower ranking person is wrong. Let alone when a partner has an opinion to express. You need to have a democratic organization were it not alone for the quality to remain. If internally you can not cope with input from your professional staff you are doomed. And also, the millennials will not work for you if you do not provide arguments based on reason and not on rank.
So Big four, beware, the world is changing rapidly. Do you have the agility to cope? Our offices are located across from the street where a Big four firm has  its offices. A partner not so long ago jokingly asked my how it was to work in their shadow. My answer; shadows depend on the location of the sun. There was truth to his remark but that only goes for mornings. After lunch the sun favors our offices.

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