Top 3 vs Big 4 Consulting Firms

The top 3 vs the big 4 consulting firms is an interesting comparison. The top 3 management consulting firms are McKinsey, Bain, and BCG, known as MBB firms. The are not necessarily the largest firms, but the firms with the most prestige and can command high fees to their clients. The big 4 refer to the top 4 accounting firms. These firms can have strategy arms that compete with MBB firms, but the bulk of their business is related to accounting. So let’s do a little comparison between the top 3 and big 4 consulting firms and learn what some of the difference are. If you’re looking at which firms to apply to, this should give you some great data to consider.

Top 3 vs Big 4 Consulting Firms

Top 3 vs Big 4 Consulting Firms Video Transcription:

You ever wondered what the differences are between consulting firms? Today I’m gonna talk a little bit about the differences between the, top three firms, and the big four consulting firms. Let me start with the top three firms. The top three firms generally are respected as McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. Three great firms that have really grown out of McKinsey, and then offshoots of McKinsey or firms that have sold against McKinsey. The premier focus of these firms is that they focus on strategy. They focus on C level purchasing’s, to work with CEOs of larger corporations. And they’ve built pretty large global practices, but still in comparison to big four firms, the top three firms are very small. So that’s one of the major differences between them.

Differences In Size

Top three firms are smaller than the big four firms, on average about a tenth of the size or even smaller. That creates a very different cultural dynamic. It also means that they hire fewer people a year. Generally they have slightly more focused hiring efforts, they work with fewer partner schools to do their hiring. And they also have more limited practices, so their brand in some ways is stronger because you have a more identifiable background for people, more identifiable path inside the firm, and more identifiable future- places that you go outside of the top three firms.

Then there are the big four firms, which includes: Deloitte, S&O, as well as the Deloitte Monitor practice. It includes PwC, which has a strategy practice on its own and then it also includes Strategy&. You have KPMG, and then you also have EY Parthenon. And EY Parthenon is really the the premier strategy group inside EY now. And the different firms handle very different integrations with some of the external firms differently. Deloitte bought Monitor. PwC bought Strategy&. EY bought Parthenon. EY has integrated them the most Deloitte had the largest practice to start with, so they have swallowed them instead of integrating them. And then PwC Strategy& are still kind of trying to navigate whether they’re operating as the same firm or a different firm. So not all big four firms even in their strategy practices are created equal.

Differences In Work

Something else though that’s really important to understand other than the size difference between the top three and the big four firms, which relates to secondarily a culture difference, is that the work types are different. Top three firms generally have historically focused more on strategy work, whereas big four firms have historically focused more on implementation work. Now those lines are starting to bleed, a lot of the big four firms are working on some strategy to get the implementation work. While the top three firms are working on strategy rolling into implementation work, and building out some more of those capabilities. So we’re gonna see some shifts a little bit in that as time goes on in the future. But right now that delineation is still pretty normal. Generally is a worker at a top three firm, you’re gonna have more project rotations, versus if you’re working in a big four firm.

Differences In Pay & Hours

And overall in general, both of the firms have great HR practices, some benefits, good pay. At the MBB firms, the top three firms, you are going to be paid a delta more, slightly more, than you would at the Deloitte’s of the world. And generally you actually work fewer hours in addition at the top three firms. Now that’s interesting to a lot of people. It’s not necessarily evident. And the reason is that the firms at the top three levels scope their projects pretty narrowly, and they don’t bill by the hour. Whereas a firm like Deloitte, does bill by the hour, they come out of their audit and their tax practice which are very hour billable heavy.

At the consulting level on the top three firms, they bill by the project. So if at Bain you’re able to complete your work in 30 hours you don’t have any incentive to work for 50 or 60. Usually you’re working more than 30 hours, but just as an example there isn’t any benefit to the firm for you to work for more hours. Whereas in the big four firms, working more hours and billing more hours is actually advantageous. And that really fundamentally creates a huge culture divide between the firm’s. Whether you’re trying to be super expeditious with your work, or whether you trying to be super liberal with the amount of hours that you’re billing.


Overall there are lots of nuances and lots of differences, we couldn’t cover them all, but we hope that you’ve enjoyed this video about some of the differences between top three and big four firms. If you have experience working in any of these firms or questions about working for them. Please reach out to us. comment on this video, subscribe to our Channel, or come visit us on social or at


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Filed Under: Consulting Firms