The Big Four Experience

Jun 9th 2011
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I was having a discussion with a colleague concerning the Excel skills in industry versus public accounting.  We agreed that, generally speaking and based on surveys of class participants in our respective Excel CPE classes, industry users are more advanced than public accounting users.  Within public accounting, regional firm users are more advanced than local and big four users.  Why is that?

We had one computer for about 150 professional staff when I started out in "big eight" public accounting oh so long ago.  Back then we were the cutting edge in spreadsheet use.  We were consulting with our clients on how to use Visicalc to increase productivity and reduce errors.  So how did the big four apparently slid to the bottom of the scale?

Theory number one holds that the big four does all there training from within.  They take someone who has perceived advanced skills, and use that person to teach everyone else what they know.  The problem is that the in-house trainer may not know some of the advanced features in Excel that would be useful to the group.  The trainer may only know slightly more than everyone else.   My own experience with selling Excel to a big four firm is that they feel that  it would be nice to know more about Excel, but it's not imperative to the job.  Rather it is better to focus CPE resources on IFRS or the latest tax code changes.

Theory number two says that associates in the big four are focused in on their in-house proprietary audit software which doesn't allow incorporating new ideas into the audit process like pivot tables or form control objects.  Stick to the audit program because there is no room in the budget to experiment with Excel.

Now that I'm done ragging on the Excel skill level in the big four remember I said at the beginning of the post "generally speaking" and I know there are excellent Excel users in the big four.  I just haven't met them yet.


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