Busy season as a Big 4 auditorWatch
Finance and Accountancy Careers Content Blocks
It's a salaried job, meaning you have a fixed annual salary that you get regardless of whether you work 35 or 70h a week. There is no concept of overtime within the Big Four. Also not in banking, consultancy and large parts of the white collar job world overall.
Auditors are busy around the end of the financial year. So are accountants. They have had about 300 years warning though, that the financial year ends on 31st March.
31 December and 31 March are common, but far from the only dates used.
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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.
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!
It was an interesting read but he's London FS, it's part of the territory. I'm in the regions (3 years in) and I've not stayed past 8:30pm, and that's a rarity, 7:30pm is more ''i'm staying late'', 6:30pm is probably regular leaving time. Not to discredit him but it's not as difficult as people make out. It might depend on which Big 4 Firm he worked for as well.
What sort of training do the big 4 provide to new recruits? Really hope there is opportunity to work with more cutting-edge technology.
Also, am really scared about working hours during busy season as there's one weekend day a week I cannot work under any circumstances due to family reasons. Is it realistic to expect that the firm will accommodate this, especially seeing as much of the work in assurance takes place at client sites etc?
Obviously there is Covid 19 to factor into this as well