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Are Big 4 Firms Getting Stingy?

The benefits to working for a Big 4 firm can be embarrassing sometimes. It's just not things like weeks of PTO that you'll never use or pet insurance, but also the day-to-day perks that come along with carrying the water for a behemoth professional services firm. Fancy phones, corporate cards with generous rewards, discounts on pretty much everything, tons of SWAG etc. etc. It's fun for awhile, but the luster fades pretty quickly and then you start taking these things for granted, as humans are wont to do.

For example, when I started at KPMG many moons ago, I remember the firm matched our 401(k) contributions dollar for dollar. It was a great perk! Very generous. And then a few years later when it appeared that the economy was headed for a fiery crash landing, the firm cut the match to 25 cents1 for every dollar contributed and people were mad. Really mad. The thing is, a 25% match is still pretty good! Nevertheless, it was a sign that the firm was reining in some of its spending. Funny thing, not long after the firm cut the match, they really started getting cost-conscious and me and a few hundred of my closest colleagues were let go. Ahh, those were good times. 

I only mention it now because we've received a few interesting anonymous tips over the last week or so. For starters, a couple of messages about penny pinching at EY. Here's one we received last week:

EY is pulling platinum AMEX privileges for people who travel more than 100 nights a year, they are also upping the minimum to 120 nights for any benefits.

And another from earlier today:

EY just lowered their telecommunications/mobile plan reimbursement to $60 per month for all levels citing that they have "researched this" and it seems reasonable.

Now this might be nothing, but it's worth remembering that EY had a disappointing year. I mean, it was fine, all their business lines grew (except for assurance), but Mark Weinberger cited  "The continuing global economic slowdown," according to the Wall Street Journal as a culprit in the slower growth. Even PwC felt the pain in its business this year. Bob Moritz told the Journal that "economic uncertainty and efforts by the firm’s clients to hold down their expenses" were a factor. It's not much of a stretch to wonder if that means PwC will be cutting expenses, too.

The other rumor we've heard is that KPMG, whose fiscal year wrapped on September 30th, had a very disappointing year. The firm usually doesn't report its revenue results until December, so we'll refrain on commenting until we hear something more definitive, but layoff rumors are floating around. Again, nothing definitive at this point.

More broadly, we'd be interested to hear if the rumors of EY go beyond just AMEX privileges and mobile reimbursements. Are Big 4 firms cutting costs elsewhere? Are your teams being told to keep the expenses in check? Discuss in the comments and email us if you have more information.

1 That's to the best of my recollection, folks. If someone from the late 2000s remembers it better, corret me over email.