username1204872
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The main reason for writing this is because I am going through a brief, uncharacteristic period of down time at work. And instead of studying at my desk for my next set of ACA exams (given no work is coming through to me) I have chosen to write this. I am also an ambassador for my Big 4 firm and one of the most frequent questions I hear from candidates is what the busy season is like. And by typing furiously away it looks like I am working.

Intro


I am a financial services auditor working for a Big 4 firm in London. I am almost 1.5 years (or halfway) through my training contract. I have passed a little over half of my ACA exams, albeit marginally in some. I have worked on two 'year-ends', otherwise known as busy seasons. The reason I worked on two year-ends is because I have two main clients.

How long is the busy season?

Overall it's about 4-6 weeks long per client. For the first 2-3 weeks my average leaving time was around 8PM and didn't have to work weekends. So my first few weeks were roughly 50-55 hour weeks. They weren't particularly bad.

For the final 2-3 weeks I left at 10PM on average. Some nights you'd get off as early as 8 or 9. Other nights I left at 11.30pm. I once left at 2.30am. So for the final 2-3 weeks I was doing 70+ hour weeks.

The worst stretch was 12 days in a row at the client's office (including the weekend between). I even pulled 8 hours on the Sunday. That was pretty bad.


A typical day during busy season as an Associate

  • Wake up at 7.30am. In the correct order: shower, iron shirt/change, cereal/porridge for breakfast, coffee. Out by 8.15am.
  • Take the London Underground to get to the client's. Door to door it takes me around 40 minutes to get there. Arrive at 8.55am.
  • 8.55am to 9.15am - check and respond to any overnight/early morning e-mails.
  • 9.15am to 12.15pm - first session of intense audit work. This involves reconciling client data in the auditor's room, investigating differences and sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. Also little administrative tasks that the Senior Associates and Managers palm off to the Associates, such as printing. I might have a 5-10 minute coffee/toilet break every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 12.15pm to 12.55pm - Lunch. Roughly 3 out of 5 times per week at my desk. The standard firm policy is to have a one hour lunch break, but realistically during busy season you'll only take 20 to 30 minutes for lunch and typically at your desk. I like to enjoy my lunch a bit, so I stretch it to 40 minutes. The Seniors only get annoyed if you're taking the full hour.
  • 12.55pm to 1.05pm - Post lunch coffee/toilet break.
  • 1.05pm to 4pm - The cycle begins again. Reconciling client data, investigating differences, sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. In addition to those little administrative tasks. Little breaks every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 4pm to 4.30pm - Team catch up a.k.a 'stock take'. The entire audit team has a meeting to discuss how much progress we have made. How many investigation files we have knocked off (there are hundreds of these per client - each of these can take as little as an hour to complete, or as much as a whole week).
  • 4.30pm to 7.30pm - Resume auditing. One of the associates is designated as the person who orders dinner for the team.
  • 7.30pm to 8.00pm - Food arrives. We eat together in the client's canteen, away from the audit room and away from our client.
  • 8.00pm to 9.00pm - Resume auditing.
  • 9.00pm to 10.30pm - I actually finish the work I was set, or all I am doing now is waiting for the client to deliver stuff. But it's not far off the reporting deadline, so you're sort of required to let the team know that you have capacity. I take on another associate's work and help out until 10pm. Everyone else is still in the office so you can't leave before 10.
  • 10.30pm - I'm out. Shortly prior to 10pm I call a cab.
  • 10.55pm - Arrive home. I have roughly 1.5 hours to chill before I hit the sack (cook dinner, eat dinner, watch a bit of tv/play xbox/read a book). This gives me 7 hours of sleep.


Happy to respond to any PMs regarding Big 4 life!
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Kutie Karen
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#2
(Original post by Roronoa)
The main reason for writing this is because I am going through a brief, uncharacteristic period of down time at work. And instead of studying at my desk for my next set of ACA exams (given no work is coming through to me) I have chosen to write this. I am also an ambassador for my Big 4 firm and one of the most frequent questions I hear from candidates is what the busy season is like. And by typing furiously away it looks like I am working.

Intro


I am a financial services auditor working for a Big 4 firm in London. I am almost 1.5 years (or halfway) through my training contract. I have passed a little over half of my ACA exams, albeit marginally in some. I have worked on two 'year-ends', otherwise known as busy seasons. The reason I worked on two year-ends is because I have two main clients.

How long is the busy season?

Overall it's about 4-6 weeks long per client. For the first 2-3 weeks my average leaving time was around 8PM and didn't have to work weekends. So my first few weeks were roughly 50-55 hour weeks. They weren't particularly bad.

For the final 2-3 weeks I left at 10PM on average. Some nights you'd get off as early as 8 or 9. Other nights I left at 11.30pm. I once left at 2.30am. So for the final 2-3 weeks I was doing 70+ hour weeks.

The worst stretch was 12 days in a row at the client's office (including the weekend between). I even pulled 8 hours on the Sunday. That was pretty bad.


A typical day during busy season as an Associate

  • Wake up at 7.30am. In the correct order: shower, iron shirt/change, cereal/porridge for breakfast, coffee. Out by 8.15am.
  • Take the London Underground to get to the client's. Door to door it takes me around 40 minutes to get there. Arrive at 8.55am.
  • 8.55am to 9.15am - check and respond to any overnight/early morning e-mails.
  • 9.15am to 12.15pm - first session of intense audit work. This involves reconciling client data in the auditor's room, investigating differences and sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. Also little administrative tasks that the Senior Associates and Managers palm off to the Associates, such as printing. I might have a 5-10 minute coffee/toilet break every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 12.15pm to 12.55pm - Lunch. Roughly 3 out of 5 times per week at my desk. The standard firm policy is to have a one hour lunch break, but realistically during busy season you'll only take 20 to 30 minutes for lunch and typically at your desk. I like to enjoy my lunch a bit, so I stretch it to 40 minutes. The Seniors only get annoyed if you're taking the full hour.
  • 12.55pm to 1.05pm - Post lunch coffee/toilet break.
  • 1.05pm to 4pm - The cycle begins again. Reconciling client data, investigating differences, sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. In addition to those little administrative tasks. Little breaks every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 4pm to 4.30pm - Team catch up a.k.a 'stock take'. The entire audit team has a meeting to discuss how much progress we have made. How many investigation files we have knocked off (there are hundreds of these per client - each of these can take as little as an hour to complete, or as much as a whole week).
  • 4.30pm to 7.30pm - Resume auditing. One of the associates is designated as the person who orders dinner for the team.
  • 7.30pm to 8.00pm - Food arrives. We eat together in the client's canteen, away from the audit room and away from our client.
  • 8.00pm to 9.00pm - Resume auditing.
  • 9.00pm to 10.30pm - I actually finish the work I was set, or all I am doing now is waiting for the client to deliver stuff. But it's not far off the reporting deadline, so you're sort of required to let the team know that you have capacity. I take on another associate's work and help out until 10pm. Everyone else is still in the office so you can't leave before 10.
  • 10.30pm - I'm out. Shortly prior to 10pm I call a cab.
  • 10.55pm - Arrive home. I have roughly 1.5 hours to chill before I hit the sack (cook dinner, eat dinner, watch a bit of tv/play xbox/read a book). This gives me 7 hours of sleep.


Happy to respond to any PMs regarding Big 4 life!
I see your commute is only 40mins. Some commutes take 2 hours plus each way. What happens then?
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Chapeau Rouge
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#3
(Original post by Kutie Karen)
I see your commute is only 40mins. Some commutes take 2 hours plus each way. What happens then?
My busy season client is 1 hour 15 each way. I leave at 9 at the latest and save myself some boring admin work for the train home, nothing confidential. If it's really far away, standard thing is to get a hotel.
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Morrisseya
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Thanks

What degree did you do at what uni?
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gr8wizard10
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(Original post by Morrisseya)
Thanks

What degree did you do at what uni?
Always a good question. Big 4 take any good candidate profile who meets min criteria, to be fair.
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lightningdoritos
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(Original post by Roronoa)
The main reason for writing this is because I am going through a brief, uncharacteristic period of down time at work. And instead of studying at my desk for my next set of ACA exams (given no work is coming through to me) I have chosen to write this. I am also an ambassador for my Big 4 firm and one of the most frequent questions I hear from candidates is what the busy season is like. And by typing furiously away it looks like I am working.

Intro


I am a financial services auditor working for a Big 4 firm in London. I am almost 1.5 years (or halfway) through my training contract. I have passed a little over half of my ACA exams, albeit marginally in some. I have worked on two 'year-ends', otherwise known as busy seasons. The reason I worked on two year-ends is because I have two main clients.

How long is the busy season?

Overall it's about 4-6 weeks long per client. For the first 2-3 weeks my average leaving time was around 8PM and didn't have to work weekends. So my first few weeks were roughly 50-55 hour weeks. They weren't particularly bad.

For the final 2-3 weeks I left at 10PM on average. Some nights you'd get off as early as 8 or 9. Other nights I left at 11.30pm. I once left at 2.30am. So for the final 2-3 weeks I was doing 70+ hour weeks.

The worst stretch was 12 days in a row at the client's office (including the weekend between). I even pulled 8 hours on the Sunday. That was pretty bad.


A typical day during busy season as an Associate

  • Wake up at 7.30am. In the correct order: shower, iron shirt/change, cereal/porridge for breakfast, coffee. Out by 8.15am.
  • Take the London Underground to get to the client's. Door to door it takes me around 40 minutes to get there. Arrive at 8.55am.
  • 8.55am to 9.15am - check and respond to any overnight/early morning e-mails.
  • 9.15am to 12.15pm - first session of intense audit work. This involves reconciling client data in the auditor's room, investigating differences and sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. Also little administrative tasks that the Senior Associates and Managers palm off to the Associates, such as printing. I might have a 5-10 minute coffee/toilet break every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 12.15pm to 12.55pm - Lunch. Roughly 3 out of 5 times per week at my desk. The standard firm policy is to have a one hour lunch break, but realistically during busy season you'll only take 20 to 30 minutes for lunch and typically at your desk. I like to enjoy my lunch a bit, so I stretch it to 40 minutes. The Seniors only get annoyed if you're taking the full hour.
  • 12.55pm to 1.05pm - Post lunch coffee/toilet break.
  • 1.05pm to 4pm - The cycle begins again. Reconciling client data, investigating differences, sitting down with the client to understand what they have done. In addition to those little administrative tasks. Little breaks every 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • 4pm to 4.30pm - Team catch up a.k.a 'stock take'. The entire audit team has a meeting to discuss how much progress we have made. How many investigation files we have knocked off (there are hundreds of these per client - each of these can take as little as an hour to complete, or as much as a whole week).
  • 4.30pm to 7.30pm - Resume auditing. One of the associates is designated as the person who orders dinner for the team.
  • 7.30pm to 8.00pm - Food arrives. We eat together in the client's canteen, away from the audit room and away from our client.
  • 8.00pm to 9.00pm - Resume auditing.
  • 9.00pm to 10.30pm - I actually finish the work I was set, or all I am doing now is waiting for the client to deliver stuff. But it's not far off the reporting deadline, so you're sort of required to let the team know that you have capacity. I take on another associate's work and help out until 10pm. Everyone else is still in the office so you can't leave before 10.
  • 10.30pm - I'm out. Shortly prior to 10pm I call a cab.
  • 10.55pm - Arrive home. I have roughly 1.5 hours to chill before I hit the sack (cook dinner, eat dinner, watch a bit of tv/play xbox/read a book). This gives me 7 hours of sleep.


Happy to respond to any PMs regarding Big 4 life!
Do you think all of this work is worth it? (salary, other benefits gained)
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userna-me*
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1. How are you personally coping with it? Mentally I mean. Are you happy with life?
2. Do you think the hours would be any different (less) if someone was at a big 4 doing Business Recovery/Corporate finance?
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username1204872
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#8
(Original post by userna-me*)
1. How are you personally coping with it? Mentally I mean. Are you happy with life?
2. Do you think the hours would be any different (less) if someone was at a big 4 doing Business Recovery/Corporate finance?
1. It's tough. The salary isn't great for the amount of work we do. But the prospect of getting the ACA, being more than halfway through exam-wise, the prospect of that salary jump when you qualify and the flexibility that the ACA gives keep me going. The culture here is also generally good, albeit not so good during busy season when the environment is very stressful but as long as you keep your head down and do your work well it all turns out fine.

2. I believe I do worse hours than BRS/CF. But it's very much client dependent too. Not only am I in FS audit - I am also on clients that require long hours.
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Kutie Karen
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(Original post by Chapeau Rouge)
My busy season client is 1 hour 15 each way. I leave at 9 at the latest and save myself some boring admin work for the train home, nothing confidential. If it's really far away, standard thing is to get a hotel.

What if they refuse to give an hotel? I don't think doing a daily commute of 2 hours plus each way is reasonable . It is far too stressful .
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username1204872
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#10
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#10
(Original post by Kutie Karen)
What if they refuse to give an hotel? I don't think doing a daily commute of 2 hours plus each way is reasonable . It is far too stressful .
For a 2 hour commute they almost certainly would, during busy season. A colleague of mine is based in Kent and it would took him about an hour by cab at night to get home from Central London. Even then the managers discussed whether to get him a hotel.

Ultimately it's determined by whichever is the cheaper option for the team. The cab home, or the hotel.
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Kutie Karen
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(Original post by Roronoa)
For a 2 hour commute they almost certainly would, during busy season. A colleague of mine is based in Kent and it would took him about an hour by cab at night to get home from Central London. Even then the managers discussed whether to get him a hotel.

Ultimately it's determined by whichever is the cheaper option for the team. The cab home, or the hotel.

You guys must be lucky. I know one of the big 4 that thinks a daily commute of 2 hours plus each way is the "norm". That isn't even the busy season either. They don't have the budget for hotels so what is one to do? Managers aren't sympathetic and just want to meet their targets.
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M1011
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#12
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Arrive at 9am, leave at 10pm? You call that a busy season?

Slacker
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M1011
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(Original post by Kutie Karen)
You guys must be lucky. I know one of the big 4 that thinks a daily commute of 2 hours plus each way is the "norm". That isn't even the busy season either. They don't have the budget for hotels so what is one to do? Managers aren't sympathetic and just want to meet their targets.
Firms always have a policy which you can call in to play if they're being unreasonable. Two hours each way would certainly have entitled you to a hotel at Deloitte. That said, if you can arrive late / leave early to sit on the train and read a book...

The budget thing is nonsense thrown around by managers by the way. Big 4 are rolling in money - "we don't have budget" is code for "we've set a certain % return we would like to ideally make on your extortionate charge out rates that far exceed what you earn. Please would you mind working longer hours without adding to your timesheet and lowering your expenses so that we can give the impression we're more efficient than we are."
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Classical Liberal
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(Original post by M1011)
The budget thing is nonsense thrown around by managers by the way. Big 4 are rolling in money - "we don't have budget" is code for "we've set a certain % return we would like to ideally make on your extortionate charge out rates that far exceed what you earn. Please would you mind working longer hours without adding to your timesheet and lowering your expenses so that we can give the impression we're more efficient than we are."
Who's interest is that in exactly?
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Tbx
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(Original post by Roronoa)
.
Do you wish you chose a different line? Is tax easier than audit at big 4?
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username1204872
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#16
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#16
(Original post by M1011)
Arrive at 9am, leave at 10pm? You call that a busy season?

Slacker
This time I'll have to study for Business Planning Taxation/Tax Compliance most nights I get home. Joy!
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username1204872
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#17
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(Original post by Tbx)
Do you wish you chose a different line? Is tax easier than audit at big 4?
Tax generally do much better hours. No I don't wish that because I think audit is more versatile - say if I want to move into corporate finance/consulting internally or go into IB later on.
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M1011
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(Original post by Classical Liberal)
Who's interest is that in exactly?
Partners / Managers

Bear in mind that audits are almost always on a fixed fee arrangement. Working extra hours on an engagement doesn't change the revenue, but it does change the associated cost put against that project. So in essence, a project is more 'profitable' on paper and looks better for the management of the project if everyone puts less hours on the code. It's just budgeting nonsense, makes no different to the real cost (us + overheads) or the real revenue (fixed fee).
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Kutie Karen
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(Original post by M1011)
Firms always have a policy which you can call in to play if they're being unreasonable. Two hours each way would certainly have entitled you to a hotel at Deloitte. That said, if you can arrive late / leave early to sit on the train and read a book...

The budget thing is nonsense thrown around by managers by the way. Big 4 are rolling in money - "we don't have budget" is code for "we've set a certain % return we would like to ideally make on your extortionate charge out rates that far exceed what you earn. Please would you mind working longer hours without adding to your timesheet and lowering your expenses so that we can give the impression we're more efficient than we are."

I agree with you absolutely. However, as far as I know there is no travel policy and don't really know what can be done re the excessive commute and lack of support. Any suggestions?
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Classical Liberal
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(Original post by M1011)
Partners / Managers

Bear in mind that audits are almost always on a fixed fee arrangement. Working extra hours on an engagement doesn't change the revenue, but it does change the associated cost put against that project. So in essence, a project is more 'profitable' on paper and looks better for the management of the project if everyone puts less hours on the code. It's just budgeting nonsense, makes no different to the real cost (us + overheads) or the real revenue (fixed fee).
I can't see why the partners would care? As far as they are concerned, they've got their fixed fee, and they've paid their overheads. Also, surely the partners wouldn't want the time sheets to be fudged, they would want the actual figures so they can work out what is actually going on in terms of hours worked at a client.
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