Career and Salary progression are two common things that prospective PwC UK audit employees will be interested in. An audit role at PwC will attract a lucrative opening salary and a clear path to more senior roles.
An entry-level auditor at PwC in the major city offices can expect to earn approximately £30k per year. Once qualified as a Chartered Accountant, an Auditor can expect to be earning more than £45k per year. After this point, the salary becomes more closely tied to performance.
Prior to joining a Big 4 audit firm in 2015, I remember being very curious about how my salary would grow over time and what role I could find myself in after 3, 5 or even 10 years. As I assume most prospective PwC audit graduates are feeling the same way, I have put together the below comprehensive guide which should answer all the common questions around both career and salary progression.
What is the normal career progression in PwC UK audit?
Typical career progression within Audit at PwC UK involves 3 years as an Associate until fully qualified, 2 years as a Senior Associate, 3 years as an Audit Manager, 3-5 years as a Senior Audit Manager and the rest of the audit career as a Director or Partner.
Whilst career progression will vary based on each employee’s performance and the availability of positions within a department, there is a pretty linear career route to follow within audit at PwC UK.
The two most common routes into an entry-level position at PwC are via a graduate scheme and the apprenticeship programme.
The most common route is for University graduates to join the firm via a graduate scheme. This will allow graduate starters to become fully qualified accountants over a three-year period whilst working on client engagements.
There is also the school leaver apprenticeship programme which allows those who don’t choose to go to University to join PwC from school or college and earn a professional accountancy qualification over a longer period of time.
Before qualification, PwC employees are known as “Associates” to start with and gradually become “Senior Associates” as they gain experience.
At the end of the qualification period, the employee would become a fully qualified Accountant and be promoted to the Senior Associate position.
Senior Associates are responsible for the day-to-day progression of audit engagements, allocating work to the junior auditors and managing Audit Manager and Audit Partner reviews.
All being well, a Senior Associate could expect to be promoted to Manager after 1.5 – 3 years depending on performance and positions available in the department.
Once an Auditor progresses to the Manager level – they manage the audit at a high level. By this I mean they are responsible for being the key liaison with the client, managing the team’s wider workload and progress and reviewing audit work. At this stage, career progression becomes less uniform and more down to an individual’s performance and impact on their clients.
A top-performing Manager can be promoted to Senior Manager in as little as a year but 2-3 years is more common.
A Senior Manager performs a very similar role to a Manager albeit with the most complex or significant clients within their portfolio. There is often an expectation that a Senior Manager will be more involved in the development of the department at this stage in their careers, whether that means assessing the department’s client-based or being involved in managing employee welfare.
Senior Manager is typically the job role where people hit a ceiling with limited scope for more Audit Directors and Partners in the department. For this reason, Senior Managers can be in their role from as little as one year before promotion to five years plus in some cases.
The final two roles in a PwC UK audit department are Audit Directors and Audit Partners. Whilst both fulfil similar roles on audit engagements (i.e. holding ultimate accountability and signing the audit opinions) they are compensated very differently and due to their ownership, Partners tend to have more of a role representing the firm.
The progression to an Audit Partner (and therefore a profit share participant) rather than an Audit Director tends to be due to the individual’s impact on clients and the wider department as well as a bit of office politics.
How long does it take to qualify as a Chartered Accountant in audit at PwC UK?
It takes three years for a graduate-scheme employee and four years for an apprentice to qualify as a Chartered Accountant at PwC UK assuming all exam and working day requirements are met. The practical process for applying for certification typically takes two months to finalise.
Graduates will typically be on a 36-month training contract and will be able to apply for certification once all requisite audit days are logged and all exam requirements are cleared. At the end of the 36 months, the training file will be signed off by the professional body and the employee will receive their certification.
How much can a first-year graduate trainee earn in audit at PwC UK?
A first-year PwC UK graduate trainee working in audit can expect to earn a salary of around £30,000 per annum. This would typically be accompanied by a year-end bonus of £1,000 dependent on wider firm performance.
This role will likely earn you more than 90% of other graduate positions in the wider market but is not as competitively paid as other industries like equity research or investment banking.
Audit trainees can often work long hours combined with the high stress of professional qualification exams. Whilst a starting salary of close to £30k may seem appealing, it’s not without its high workload.
Prior to qualification, the typical bonuses for audit trainees are nothing to write home about at around £1,000 per year. At this stage of the career, bonuses will tend to be standard across the year group. If the firm has had a particularly good or bad year, the bonus pot may shrink or grow accordingly.
For an Apprentice, the starting salary will be approximately £20,000 which is a strong opening salary for school-leaver-aged employees, especially when the paid-for professional qualification is considered.
How much can a second-year graduate earn in audit at PwC UK?
A second-year PwC UK graduate trainee working in audit can expect to earn a salary of around £34,000 per annum. This would typically be accompanied by a year-end bonus of £1,000 dependent on wider firm performance.
A £4,000 annual salary increase from £30,000 in the first year to around £34,000 in the second year represents a 13% increase. Most audit trainees will be far more useful members of the team by this stage and the annual pay starts to reflect this increased importance.
How much can a third-year graduate earn in audit at PwC?
A third-year PwC graduate trainee working in audit can expect to earn a salary of around £40,000 per annum representing a greater year-on-year increase than between years 1 and 2. This would typically be accompanied by a year-end bonus of £1,000 dependent on wider firm performance.
A £6,000 salary bump works out as an annual increase of around 18% which does reflect the far greater impact and responsibility that 3rd-year trainees (also known as senior associates) will have.
The bonus will stay consistent throughout the training contract at around £1,000 a year and won’t meaningfully change until promotion to the Senior Associate position.
How much can a newly qualified Accountant (Senior Associate) earn in audit at PwC?
A newly-qualified Senior Associate in audit at PwC will earn in the region of £50,000 per year which is around a 25% year-on-year increase. Senior Associates will also be entitled to a larger share of the annual bonus pot and can expect around £2k per year depending on wider firm performance.
After qualifying, PwC auditors face the choice between continuing to work within the audit department and working as a Senior Associate or leaving to work in the industry. Qualified accountants from PwC can typically expect to earn more outside of the audit firm but the career progression opportunities may not be as predictable or structured as at PwC.
A high-performing Senior Associate may be able to be promoted to Manager within as little as 1.5 years which incentivises many to stay on within the audit department.
Once Senior Associates reach their second year of being a Senior Associate their salaries will likely increase to close to £52,000 – £55,000 depending on individual performance and location.
How do post-qualification audit salaries at PwC compare to the other Big 4 firms?
Compared with the other Big 4 audit firms, PwC UK pays a similar level of salary across the board. At the more junior levels, PwC is rumoured to pay slightly less than both KPMG and EY who have recently reviewed and increased their junior level salaries.
Whilst all four members of the Big 4 pay similar salaries to their employees, PwC does appear to pay marginally less than the others in the more junior positions (Audit Associates and Senior Associates).
At Manager and Senior Manager level and above, PwC pays broadly in line with the other members of the Big 4, albeit with individual differences arising through external hiring, incentivising talented staff and performance. PwC pays their partners higher average salaries than KPMG as of 2020.
For my guides on career and salary progression at the other big four firms, check out the links below:
KPMG UK Audit – Career and Salary Progression
Deloitte UK Audit – Career and Salary Progression
EY UK Audit – Career and Salary Progression
How much can an Audit Manager earn at PwC?
A PwC Audit Manager will earn in the region of £55k in the first year of the role which can increase to £60k+ after a year in the role. Managers will also be entitled to a larger share of the annual bonus pot and can expect around £3-5k per year depending on wider firm performance.
Once PwC UK audit employees reach the Audit Manager level, the salaries are slightly less rigid and more aligned to the individual’s performance. So whilst a brand new Audit Manager can expect to earn around £55k in the first year, this will vary.
For example, a new Audit Manager hired into the firm may attract a higher starting salary as a joining incentive.
How long will it take to become an Audit Manager at PwC?
At PwC UK, it will take around 5 years to progress from a graduate new-starter to an Audit Manager. This will involve a 3-year training contract and then 2 years as a Senior Associate. For those starting as an Apprentice, it will take 7-8 years to reach Audit Manager.
How much can an Audit Senior Manager earn at PwC?
A PwC Audit Senior Manager will earn in the region of £65-70k in the first year of the role which can increase to £80k+ as they develop and depending on performance. A Senior Audit Manager’s additional compensation including cash bonuses can vary significantly with a lower limit of £5k per year.
An Audit Senior Manager is a senior role within the Audit Departments, outranked only by Directors and Partners. Senior Managers will typically manage the most complex or largest engagements and have a wider role within the department whether that be being in charge of employee welfare or driving department-wide quality initiatives.
As the role is less predictable and regimented than more junior roles, the salary and bonus expectations tend to have more variability and be more difficult to predict with any accuracy. A first-year Senior Manager could reasonably expect to earn total compensation (basic pay plus bonuses and benefits) of at least £75k per year.
How long will it take to become an Audit Senior Manager at PwC?
At PwC UK, it will take around 8 years to progress from a graduate new-starter to Audit Senior Manager. This will involve a 3-year training contract, 2 years as a Senior Associate and 3 years as a Manager. For those starting as an Apprentice, it will take 10 years to become a Senior Manager.
How much can an Audit Director earn at PwC?
A PwC UK Audit Director will earn around £100k in the first year of the role, depending on performance and longevity. Audit Directors’ bonuses can vary significantly but generally speaking Audit Directors will not be part of the profit share as an Audit Partner would be.
How much can an Audit Partner earn at PwC?
The majority of PwC UK Audit Partners’ compensation comes in the form of a profit-sharing arrangement rather than a salary. This fluctuates based on the performance of the wider firm but as per The Guardian, PwC paid its Partner an average of £685,000 last year.
It’s important to note that this is an average and is skewed by particularly high earners. To earn a truly outstanding salary, it’s necessary to progress to the Audit Partner level which is a hugely difficult task.
How long will it take to become an Audit Partner at PwC?
At PwC UK, it will take around 15 years to progress from a new starter to an Audit Partner but this is highly variable based on individual performance and can be both shorter in some cases and much longer in others. Many PwC audit employees never make it to Partner and top out as Audit Directors.
Unlike other roles in the Audit department, becoming an Audit Partner isn’t simply a case of putting billable hours in. To become a Partner in a Big 4 firm, an individual will likely have to contribute to the firm in an exceptional way, whether that’s through new business, improving the quality of audits throughout the department or by reputation throughout their career.
Is it hard to find a secondment when working in PwC UK audit?
Whilst working for PwC UK in audit, it can be difficult to arrange a secondment to another part of the Business. Whilst it is fairly common and something the firm appears to be getting better at, audit departments don’t want to lose their key resources, making seconding difficult.
My advice to those looking to transfer away from Audit to another department after qualification is to make this known as early as possible. It will be necessary to cultivate a relationship with someone in the department you are looking to join to have someone to advocate for you on the other side.
As always, please remember I am an Accountant, but not your Accountant. In this post (and all of my others) I share information and oftentimes give anecdotes about what has worked well for me. However, I do not know your personal financial situation and so do not offer individual financial advice. If you are unsure of a particular financial subject, please hire a qualified financial advisor to guide you.
This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my ‘About‘ page for more information. To verify my ACA credentials – please search for my name at the ICAEW member finder. Please comment below or contact me here to get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts.