Most Australians don’t know or care about Big Four consultants

21 December 2023 5 min. read
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A new survey has found that half of Australian voters believe the government should reduce its consulting spend on the Big Four. More intriguingly, more than a third don’t know who they are.

Despite until recently being the largest accounting and consulting firm in the country – and the approximately 3,500 articles covering the company this year by the AFR alone – more than a third of Australians when asked in a recent survey what they thought of PwC said they’d never heard of them.

Almost another third said they effectively couldn’t care less – a “neutral” opinion roughly on par with that held for the rest of the individual Big Four firms.

Most Australians don’t know or care about Big Four consultants

That’s according to a recent survey conducted among more than 1,600 residents on behalf of government-business ethics platform Openly (which was recently launched by public affairs and reputation consultant Nicholas Booth). The poll also found that 76 percent of the public believes PwC has been unethical in its dealings with the government, even though 34 percent were unfamiliar with the firm at least prior to their phone ringing as they sat down for dinner.

Discounting other, more pressing concerns such as the current cost-of-living crisis and not entirely unrelated Christmas shopping list, this seems like an astonishing figure for a company generating in excess of $50 billion in global revenues and helping to shape and deliver government policy the world over. Many of the figures for the sloppy analysis below were taken from the most recent ABS census, which PwC helped deliver digitally to 7.6 million Australian households.

Adelaide is often said to have one degree of separation

PwC last year had an Australian headcount around the 10,500 mark, double that of ten years ago, albeit since dented by the 1,400 or so partners and staff who departed alongside its public sector business to Scyne Advisory, (along with those recently canned).

With the consulting sector having a notoriously high attrition rate, let’s say at a generous average of 15 percent, some back-of-the-napkin sums suggest 20,000-odd people have worked at PwC over the past ten years.

Most Australians don’t know or care about Big Four consultants

The long hours aside, those 20,000 people presumably had some sort of existence outside of the firm, a network of family and friends who cared at least a little bit about their professional lives, even if they worked in the field of accounting.

Jokes aside, accountants provide an important function in society. PwC has in the past served as the auditor for as much as 40 percent of the ASX 200, with just the top 10 percent of the index employing more than a million workers.

Yet, by extrapolation, some 7 million Aussies claim to be unfamiliar with PwC (click on the highlight if you’d like to learn more). An even greater number – 43 percent of the nation’s 20-odd million adults – weren’t across who or what an Ernst & Young was and didn’t know anything about KPMG, despite handing over at least a few taxpayer dollars each to settle the latter’s $2.2 billion federal government bill since 2012. Here, Deloitte can probably boast of the best recognition-to-regard ratio.

Still, more people approve of Barnaby Joyce than Deloitte

As a breakdown, of the 58 percent of respondents who had some familiarity with the Green Dot, 7 percent held the firm in a positive light, the same as scandal-pestered KPMG despite largely dodging the worst of the bad-news senate inquisition inspired by PwC, which also still scored a 7 percent thumbs-up rating.

The love for the trio was only eclipsed by that for the more mysterious EY, which ticked up to 8 percent positive among those who know the firm because they know.

While EY just launched a major AI-focused global marketing campaign, which may or may not get a handful more neutrals on side (a 2021 KPMG survey in five developed economies found that Australians were generally the most freaked out about the robot revolution), of likely more concern for the local Big Four branches is the headline 50 percent of voters who believe the government should reduce its spend on their services: a sentiment very much aligned with that of the current government.