Consulting Pay: What MBAs Earned In 2021

Marion Steward

How much do you make?

That used to be an easy question to answer. A generation ago, you earned a lump sum, which was (hopefully) supplemented by an end-of-year bonus. And the lucky ones could cash in their remaining PTO too. These days, true pay is hard to calculate. There are instruments ranging from 401K and profit-sharing to expense accounts and tuition reimbursements. For many business graduates, you have signing bonuses and performance bonuses, too.

Let’s not forget the COVID dividend: If you’re working from home, you’re paying less for gas, parking, and restaurants. For some, intangibles like time can be as valuable as cash.

MOST CURRENT COMPENSATION DATA

For aspiring consultants, compensation can be a reflection of their short- and long-term goals. That means knowing which companies are offering what — and what kind of room they have for negotiation. For that, the industry turns to Management Consulted.

In January, Management Consulted publishes its annual Management Consulting Salary survey. This compilation, the firm says, “may be the only firsthand report in the industry containing current numbers obtained directly from offer letters for an entry level McKinsey salary, Boston Consulting Group salary, and stats from over 60 additional consulting firms.” The pay and benefit data is culled from Management Consulted’s interview prep and resume prep services (along with verified website visitors and data furnished by consulting firms). The best part: the data originates from 2021 responses, making it far more current, Management Consulted notes, than pay data from Indeed or PayScale.

Each year, Management Consulted breaks its data into three buckets. The first is compensation for incoming MBA and PhD full-time hires (who are traditionally paid the same). The firm does the same for new hires who hold undergraduate or Master’s degrees. You’ll also find summer internship pay for both the MBA-PhD and Undergraduate-Master’s degree segments. On top of that, Management Consulted supplies potential career earnings based on promotions and experience.

Colleagues at McKinsey Robot Lab

THE BEST OF TIMES

What can MBAs expect to earn starting out? Among the MBB, the data is pretty consistent — with little room for negotiation according to Management Consulted. MBAs averaged $175,000 starting out at McKinsey, Bain, and the Boston Consulting Group. The same was true with signing bonuses, which were each pegged at $30,000. Overall, total compensation came in between $216K and $220K. One major difference between the firms: Bain offers 25 days of PTO off the bat, compared to BCG (18) and McKinsey (15). In contrast, McKinsey boasted slightly higher relocation reimbursements, not to mention 50% tuition reimbursement for returning second years. When it comes to retirement, according to Management Consulted, BCG injects $10,930 in new hires’ 401K accounts, compared to up to $8,000 at Bain (and a 7.5% share at McKinsey).

The MBB followed a similar pattern at the Undergraduate and Master’s level. Starting pay and signing bonus was substantially lower at $100,000 and $5,000 respectively. Again, McKinsey topped their rivals in total pay, but the margin was slim. Like the MBA package, Bain provided more PTO (20 days), while McKinsey offered better relocation reimbursement. In BCG’s case, new hires enjoyed both 401K and profit-sharing (on top of performance bonuses, which were available to select candidates in all three firms).

Want to top out in pay. Consulting is the place for MBAs and business majors to be. Over the past 14 years, Management Consulted reports, consultants have seen base salaries increase in 13 years. Last year, consultant pay jumped by nearly 10%, more than double the usual 2%-4% growth rate. That signals both a “tightening labor market and increased demand” observes Management Consulted.

GETTING CREATIVE

In terms of demand, Management Consulted notes that consulting firms are experiencing “record revenue” and “double-digit industry growth.” This has spurred heavier M&A activity, with larger firms like McKinsey and AlixPartners acquiring boutique firms or service providers in spaces like digital, supply chain, and sustainability. Despite the upbeat numbers, Management Consulted also wonders if a correction — if not an outright reckoning — could be on the horizon.

“Future margins are at risk as firms continue to raise salaries without a commensurate rise in project rates. So far, margins have been protected by a decrease in operational costs (i.e., smaller office space, less travel). Still, there is only so much firms can cut. The potential result? Without the traditional increase in pricing power that industry consolidation brings, we may see firms begin to shrink project teams or prioritize the hiring of cheaper pre-MBA talent in the next decade.”

In the meantime, a tight labor market, coupled with increased demand for consulting services, translates to more lavish perks for prospective consultants in 2022.

“Firms are improving the non-compensation, “intangible” benefits they offer,” explains Namaan Mian, COO of Management Consulted, in a January interview with P&Q. “The most notable of these is the increase in PTO. Firms like EY, Grant Thornton, and Huron have introduced unlimited PTO, although the cynic in me must note that this reduces the cost of termination for these companies as well. Studies also show that employees with unlimited PTO take less time off than those with a defined number of paid days off. In addition, firms are introducing more generous 401k matching policies. For example, Strategy& offers a 4% automatic match, and then matches 25% on the first 6% of an employee’s contribution in a separate account.”

BCGers enjoying a boat ride at the 2019 [email protected] and [email protected] conference in Miami

INVESTING IN PEOPLE

For MBAs, Mian clicked off several differentiators that firms are using to bring graduates into the fold. “They’re not brand new, but there are financial inducements becoming more widespread across the industry:

  • Higher performance bonus caps (ex: up to 35% of your base at AlixPartners)
  • More generous profit sharing (ex: up to $40,000/year at L.E.K.)
  • 2nd year tuition reimbursement (offered to returning interns at firms including Deloitte S&O, ZS Associates, L.E.K., and Accenture Strategy)
  • Higher signing bonuses for interns who immediately accept full-time offers (ex: Accenture Strategy offers a $17,500 early sign-on bonus on top of the standard $35,000)
  • Cost of living adjustments (ex: ZS Associates offers a max COLA of $17,400).”

That’s just a start. Oliver Wyman is offering signing bonuses up to $45,000. That number is $35,000 at Accenture…plus another $17,500 for returning interns. In contrast, AlixPartners and Alvarez & Marshall will pay performance bonuses up to $$60,000 and $50,000 respectively — higher than the MBB. KPMG is offering 30 days of PTO, with Kynteo starting at 28 days. And Health Advances carves out three paid community service days. At the same time, base pay can still be a hot ticket. Accenture Strategy starts MBAs at $175,000, no different than the MBB — with total compensation rising to potentially $230,000. And Accenture Strategy is hardly an outlier. There are similar compensation structures in place at EY Parthenon and Strategy&.

In a ‘rising tide raises all boats’ landscape, consultants holding an undergraduate or Master’s degree are reaping the benefits too. Deloitte Consulting, for one, starts these hires at $90,000, not counting signing bonuses of $12,500 (Undergrad) and $15,000 (Master’s) — with the latter enjoying the potential to snag another $26,250 in performance bonus. L. E. K. Consulting features profit-sharing up to $16,000, while Accenture extends a 15% discount on its stock. On top of a $10,000 signing bonus, EY Parthenon awards a $60,000 retention bonus after three years. Gartner gives its new hires up to 22 days of PTO, while Cornerstone Research covers 100% of moving expenses. When it comes to overall pay, Alvarez & Marshall first-years can make up to $155,000, including a $105,000 base.

Next Page: Internship and Career Pay.

Consulting Pay: What MBAs Earned In 2021

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