A Big 4 firm vs. National Audit Office for ACA audit

National Audit Office

Hi everyone, I’m in a bit of a dilemma.

After a gruelling time trying to secure a graduate job, I finally succeeded and got two job offers for graduate roles in Audit - one from a Big 4 firm in London and the other from the National Audit Office, also based in London.

It sounds a bit silly but after trying so hard to get offers from the Big 4, I’m now feeling apprehensive about actually working there. Work-life balance is important to me. And without going into too much detail, stress wears me down physically. At the Big 4 Assessment Centre, the current trainees didnt hesistate to tell us that they often had to work past midnight in Financial Sector audit, but couldn’t offer much advice for the other audit business areas. I’m worried about the logistics of me getting home so late etc. as I live in outer London and the commute will be dreadful. I’ve also read on this forum about previous graduates hating their experiences. But I am an ambitious person and understand the value of being trained from and having a Big 4 firm on your CV. I don’t want to regret turning down such an opportunity.

On the other hand, the National Audit Office role seems pretty much to be a 9-5. It offers the ACA training contract. The study leave appears better. The graduates seem happier, but you don’t get the prestige of the Big 4. It also primarily involves public sector audit so will this limit what you can do after being qualified? Or will the sheer value of the ACA open doors regardless? The starting pay is similar for both roles. After qualifying with the Big 4 firm, it would be around £40k-£45k I gather; with the NAO it would be £47k.

My head is saying to go with Big 4, but deep down I think I may be happier at the NAO.

I’d appreciate ANY advice at all, thank you.


At the end of the day if you are good enough (As you are from your offers) your future career will take care of itself whichever option you choose

In terms of the NAO - you will get lots of skills from doing public sector audit - and as Big4 have public sector audit teams you will probably get opportunities to liaise with them - and later on you could easily transfer to Big4 public sector and start getting some experiences in private clients aswell and if you wanted switch over totally later on.

I think if you went with NAO and wanted more private sector/commercial work you might need an extra step whilst you build up your private sector experience but it won’t hinder you as the ACA is a great qualification

If you think you will be happier at NAO go for it - don’t think too much about money or ‘having big4’ on your cv atm


Couldn’t have said it better myself! Both are well established brands. I think the Big 4 experience is very good though (only from my own experience), because it is specifically commercial experience. Then again, if public sector is what you are interested in, then obviously NAO fits the bill.

Like GradJobHunter said, I’m pretty sure you can move between them as you develop your career. I should point out however that your analysis is quite right, you’ll probably work a fair bit harder at a Big 4!


Sorry to be a killjoy but to me Public sector=Beauracracy=inefficiency=I’d rather be in the cut and thrust of the independent private sector.
Just wait for some reaction to my extreme views…


Firstly congratulations on getting offers from two such great companies! I am halfway through the recruitment processes for both the NAO and a couple of the Big 4 companies and your post has made me wonder what I would do in your situation! If my opinion helps at all, I think I would go for the NAO due to the work-life balance etc and would also perhaps argue job security would be better at the NAO due to it being a government position. Roll on the arguments for that comment…!

Do you mind telling me when your offers are for? i.e. are they both for Autumn start dates? I can’t seem to find NAO start dates on their website and so wondered if it was sooner than the Big 4 jobs.


I think I’d have to agree with tutor.

I’d imagine, just through the nature of the work, getting an ACA with the NAO would limit you to strictly accountancy work. An ACA obtained with the big4 opens a lot of doors (some of which may not be entirely accountancy related), and I believe in the long run, it affords you an instant ‘seal of approval’. Sure, you would probably be able to make the jump into industry, perhaps within a finance function of a firm, but you have to remember that you’re going to competing with other candidates who have qualified with the big4.

Do things such as working abroad excite you? Having a big4 name on your CV is instantly recognisable worldwide.

Also it depends- how ambitious are you? It’s a known fact that many of the FDs/CFOs of FTSE 100 trained with big4 (I don’t have any concrete facts, so if someone can provide some numbers to substantiate?). Do you want to get to this level? Or do you feel that you’ll only be in a postion to make a judgement on this once you actually start working? If it’s the latter, then the stats suggest that training with the NAO would close this door for you. On the other hand, you would be in a fantastic position to become FD of central government departments.

To sum it up, I think your trainee years would be much more relaxed at the NAO instead of at the big4, but in the long term, training at the big4 will reap more benefits.


  • You actually want to train in public sector audit
  • Global mobility isn’t important to you
  • Your passion lies within strictly accountancy (though NAO offers something different with their Value for money reports)

Thank you to everyone who’s replied for your input! I haven’t formally accepted yet but I think I have pretty much decided on Big 4. For most of the reasons that pancho has laid out above, I just couldn’t turn it down.

Like said in the above post, its the ‘seal of approval’ that I know would come with having an ACA qualification from the Big 4. I’m unsure of what I want to do after I qualify yet, so I feel that I have to go with the option that will open the most doors for me, which is undoubtedly Big 4.

Thanks again to everyone.


Big 4 definitely! There appears to be a lot of respect for how “tough” it is to get a job at the Big 4 than there is in most other ACA roles (IBs excluded) so it looks better to have the Big 4 on your CV than the NAO (no offence to anyone!).


If you don’t mind me asking, when did you have your group assessment at the NAO?

Perhaps we were at the same day?!?!

I dont think I can add too much to be honest all the points have been covered, lol!


WOW, can’t believe I found this on here.

I am currently in exactly the same situation! After months and months I finally get two within a couple of weeks. One with the NAO and the other for KPMG. I’ve looked over all the benefits and drawbacks of each and like grad 1087 I get the impression it would be much more relaxed at the NAO and I would quite happily work for them tomorrow.

BUT, will i regret turning down the big 4 offer in the future. Plus NAO are based only in London/Newc and I don’t wanna work in london forever so would want to move. Also its easier to move from big 4 to NAO or anywhere else than it is to go the other way…

Grad 1087 , what did you decide? I’m leaning KPMG at the moment due to career progression in the long run but also have the nagging doubt that the NAO are really good too.

Any more thoughts greatly appreciated!



Hi Reggie

I pretty much outlined my thoughts in an earlier post within this thread, however, I think a question you need to ask yourself, is do you want to be a ‘career accountant’, or do you want to take the skills you will learn and apply them to other roles? I’d imagine with public sector audit at NAO, you’ll be limited to being a ‘career accountant’, i.e. financial management, working in practice etc. If you train within audit at big4, then you can always transfer across service lines, and gain other experience within corp finance, tax, and perhaps even consulting, while always retaining the option of being a ‘career accountant’. I think the point I’m trying to make is, that the opportunities that training at the NAO will provide you, will be a subset of the opportunities made available through training audit with big4.

Of course, this is just my OWN impression that I get from researching on this, and for what it’s worth, I had offers from NAO, E&Y and KPMG - I chose KPMG!



Cheers Pancho!

Some good points, I am an ambitious person and over the last few days have been swaying towards KPMG and am on the verge of taking it. Just trying to clear a few things up with them…they are so vague with their ‘offer zone’ thing!

Great work on getting THREE offers! Where are you based with KPMG and what service line?



Thanks reggie, I’m going to be based in their London office, joining Audit.

Have you decided yet?

On a side note, in light of developments today, with the formation of the ‘Office of budget responsibility’, where does that leave the NAO? To my understanding, this new body will audit government spending, and though it isn’t a parliamentary body like the NAO, surely there is going to be some overlap? Does it mean that the NAO will become slightly marginalised?



Hi reggie, I started this thread a couple of months back and eventually went with big 4 (also KPMG!). It was a job offer I just couldn’t turn down, for reasons that have all pretty much been outlined already on this thread.

An additional issue to consider may now be the uncertainty surrounding the NAO under new government.

Good luck with your decision! My advice would be to go with a decision that you feel you won’t regret down the line.


There is not necessarily any uncertainty surrounding the NAO under new government. Every government anywhere, any time will always need an independent financial auditing body. If anything, with the renewed urgency to cut the deficit, the NAO’s status will improve.

Although it may seem that the new Office of Budget Responsibility is competing with the NAO, this is not the case. The OBR’s primary function will be producing budgetary forecasts and targets and making recommendations for changes in fiscal policy on a macroeconomic basis, a function that is currently fulfilled by the Chancellor. Essentially, the OBR is taking powers away from the Chancellor, not the NAO.

It is a similar scenario as the decision to make the Bank of England, and therefore decisions over monetary policy, independent. Though the ultimate decisions regarding fiscal policy will remain with the Chancellor, those decisions will now be based on forecasts made by the OBR, not the Chancellor himself.

It will also apparently be conducting the emergency audit that was announced yesterday in preparation for the new budget next month. However, this is not within the remit of the NAO and not a full financial audit of the public sector. After all, the OBR is only three guys.

The only place there seems to be an overlap between the NAO and the OBR is in a relatively minor function. The NAO has been responsible for assessing the reasonableness of budget forecasts since 2000, which seems now to be a major function of the OBR. However, these assessments were based on figures produced by the Treasury, not an independent OBR, so the NAO may still be required to make these assessments, though based on OBR figures, not the Treasury’s.

Basically, from what I can gather, the OBR will be responsible for what happens before public spending and macroeconomic issues and the NAO will, as always, be responsible for what happens after public spending on an entity by entity and issue by issue basis, i.e. financial audits and VFM reports.

Of course, this is all just my opinion. I would be interested in what everyone else thinks about this issue.


Back on topic, luckily my decision is not so hard. I only have an offer from the NAO to consider. I know I will be happier there overall and I rather see myself working in the public sector once qualified too. However, apart from all the arguments made above, training with the Big 4 will make you for life. You will never have to worry about money or finding a job ever again. The decision is really not a hard one.


Cheers guys,

I ended up taking the KPMG job for pretty much the reasons you have outlined, an extra one been it is easier to move around the country in a big four firm than with the NAO (i’m a Northerer at heart) and don’t wanna be stuck in London forever (or Newcastle!)

As for the OBR I don’t think it will have much (if any) effect on the NAO as Fluffy says its only three people and the audit office is 900ish! The change in government may mean the Audit office staff have to work much harder than the previous 13 years as spending will change in departments which it has been static for years (thus easier to Audit) and the overall government budget will be differently distributed in an attempt to reduce national debt.

Good luck with the NAO fluffy, the impression I got is that they will treat you very well and it is a job for a longer period rather than a stepping stone. I would have happily taken up their offer but as is evident, its so hard to turn a big 4 down. I’m sure you’re three years training may be a lot less stressful than mine though!


To be honest, I think you should just work where you feel the most comfortable. One of the current trainees at my NAO assessment day said he gets headhunted all time time from the big 4 and investment banks so it’s not as if you’re stuck at the NAO for life. One of my friends is a trainee auditor for a big four firm (KMPG) and they absolutely hate the job, they just want the ACA qualification and they plan to move on. Moreover, they get paid slightly less than NAO graduates (even upon qualification). Personally had I applied and got an offer from a big four firm the only reason I would take it over the NAO is the prestige factor. Other than that, the work hours, relative pay, pensions and just how damn nice everyone is makes the NAO seem like a much more relaxed place to work in terms of work life balance. I wish you all the best in whatever you choose and hope you make the right decision! X


I chose KPMG, the prestige factor was just too hard to turn down i’m afraid, the starting salary is better with KPMG but is slightly worse after qualification although the free lunches every day at KPMG help to offset things :slight_smile: also the freedom to move around within offices sealed the deal, with NAO you are stuck in London (unless you like newcastle!) but I quite fancy moving around a bit! The people at the NAO did seem very nice though and i’m sure you’ll have a great time there!