Dream job or harsh reality?

This may come as a surprise, but many of you work for an organisation that is the envy of your peers. Four of the Big Five firms – and Andersen Consulting – are listed in the millennium edition of The 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK.

However the landscape has changed almost beyond recognition over the last 12 months since publication of the book. With the SEC sniffing around over perceived breaches of audit independence rules, most of the Big Five have been persuaded to seek new directions for their consulting arms.

The reluctance of the members of the English ICA to sanction the introduction of more elective papers in to the institute’s syllabus has persuaded many firms to route their students through the Scots ICA’s qualification. So has this dented these firms’ dedication to training and development?

And does the progressive reputation of your employer match the reality?

Or are these envied people and personnel policies overrated? Judge for yourself as we run through the factors that make the firms among the best places to work – based on their entries in The 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK, and the developments of the last few months that might shake those reputations.

E-mail us at with your views.


One of the key ways in which Andersen Consulting – to be called Accenture from January after the resolution of its bitter divorce battle with Arthur Andersen – strives to maintain its edge over its rivals is through its training policy.

The company has a world-famous training centre in Chicago, to which virtually all recruits are sent on an induction course, and these are supported by other training centres in London and Eindhoven. At higher levels, training courses are structured and all professional staff have a specially devised training plan throughout their time at the company.

Not surprisingly, AC is prepared to pay well in order to recruit and retain staff. Nonetheless, the company finds it is not only financial benefits that make the firm attractive to employees. The firm has a generous maternity programme, childcare support and offers flexible voluntary working arrangements.

The firm will continue to pay graduate analysts, joining the firm from this September, a sign-on bonus of #6,000 in an attempt to continue to attract the finest recruits.

On progressing to their second year they will receive a further bonus of £4,000. These new payments are a response to the rising offers being made to attract the top graduates into the leading management consultancy firms.

The firm is looking to recruit around 650 new graduates in the UK over the next 12 months. The firm currently employs over 5,000 people in its offices in London, Manchester and Newcastle.


Training is a central element of the Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu approach.

Prospective MBA-degree graduates rank the practice of Deloittes second among professional services firms in ‘quality of life’, according to MBA Recruiting: Maintaining a Competitive Edge.

Deloittes expects to continue hiring some 18,000 people a year. And it has perhaps been the least affected by the external pressures on the profession.

Deloittes continues to train the majority of its trainees with the English ICA.

Of all Big Five accountancy firms, Deloittes was the most vociferous opponent of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s initial proposals to force firms to sell off their consultancy arms to avoid perceived conflicts of interest.

The firm consistently refused to bow to any SEC pressure to oblige it to hive off its consultancy arm maintaining that it would cause total failure to compete with other industries, particularly companies working in the technology sector. It was an argument won – at least in part by the profession.

Training has been ongoing for everyone. Specialist workshops have led to a plethora of options including secondments, distance learning and MBAs. The firm has also used annual appraisals which include 360-degree feedback. In the past every individual has set his or her own development agenda based on the appraisal and feedback.


Ernst & Young announced earlier this year it would put all of its graduate recruits through the Scots ICA’s training programme from this autumn.

At the time the firm said it particularly liked the fact that greater emphasis would be placed on workplace assessment and that the technical content would be examined in a business context.

This was seen as a major blow to the English ICA which has changed its own training syllabus. The firm offers a wide range of career options, but this will have been limited by the sale of its consultancy arm to Cap Gemini last June.

Until the sale there had been 11 different schemes for graduate entry into Ernst & Young including one for the consultancy, when E&Y spent around $20m a year in training.

Nowadays the firm says ‘recruits can look forward to enriching your knowledge and experience. It is natural and right that our people should want to build their own market value as well as add value to their external or internal clients.’

E&Y provides opportunities to specialise in an industry sector or in particular markets, and offers experience through international assignments and client secondments.


New KPMG recruits are given a strong grounding in the firms culture together with an understanding of IT arrangements. The firm receives 8,000 applications annually for approximately 650 places on its graduate programme and it is keen that its trainees see a significant part of the business for the duration of their contract and cross functional assignments are arranged.

An online recruitment system introduced in September 2000 has cut administration in half and quadrupled the speed of the recruitment process. Graduates are encouraged to make an informed choice when choosing which institute’s exam path to follow. Both the Scots and English institute routes are available.

KPMG’s career development unit provides independent career brokers to help manage and develop careers. The firm doesn’t focus solely on its fee earners: the Oceans of Opportunity site on the firm’s intranet gives support staff access to internal vacancies available across the UK. There is now increased emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own development during training and beyond their career with KPMG. The firm however sees this as a key part of management.

KPMG is alert to the market when setting salaries. Graduates come in at highly competitive starting rates. There is a wide portfolio of salary bands. Some of the pay package is variable, performance related element.

This is awarded on performance against objectives and personal and team performance. Tailored bonus schemes can provide an additional annual five to six per cent on base salary. Benefits are flexible and substantial.


PricewaterhouseCoopers says recruitment and training opportunities remain unchanged since the merged firm was formed three years ago. But this autumn over a third of the their annual intake were switched from English to Scots ICA schemes.

The firm has said that the only thing holding them back from training more students at the Scots institute is its lack of training centres south of the border. PwC has a very open recruitment policy. Most of its trainees come through a graduate entry scheme where personal characteristics and quality of performance matter more than the specific subject of the degree.

Experienced hires are drawn from a broad commercial background although most will have studied in higher education it is what they have achieved and what individual talents they can bring which is important to the firm.

The majority of the annual graduate intake goes onto professional training for accountancy. All new entrants are engaged on an induction programme.

Longer-term success in PwC, according to The 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK, derives in part form a capacity to work in a variety of different cultures. Inevitably with an organisation which builds service teams from a selection of geographical markets, travel is an inherent factor of the job.

The training development ethos is one of self-development. The firm trains for the skills that people actually require rather than the ones they might need. The firm has said it wants to create a ‘coaching culture’.

Flexible benefits are also a feature.

The firm is in the midst of a major shake-up, with the disposal of its consulting arm still on course despite the pull-out of Hewlett-Packard from its £18bn takeover, and training and recruitment will at least come under scrutiny.

– The 100 Best Companies To Work For In The UK was launched in February 1987 when it was the first book of its kind in the UK. More than 25,000 companies were researched to draw up the first 100 best.

A new edition, managed by Kay Reynolds, will appear in the Spring simultaneously in print and on the web at Additional

reporting by Accountancy Age staff.

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