RSM: What’s in a name?

RSM: What’s in a name?

Kevin Reed of Foulger Underwood discusses how certain brands are intrinsically associated with accountancy and they’re here to stay.

RSM: What’s in a name?

“Ultimately, it’s all about providing assurance not only for our clients but also for our people and the profession,” RSM International CEO Jean Stephens told Accountancy Age last year in reference to the ‘next-tier’ firm’s role in building trust in audit.

That just a few weeks later its UK practice would remove its CEO, CFO and COO after the revelation of millions of pounds of accounting errors, would have been maddening to her.

While the name RSM certainly isn’t a tainted one, the travails of its UK members over the past years could certainly be viewed as soap opera territory – and indicative of the increasing pace of change that has occurred within international network members in the past 15 years.

Robson Rhodes had served as a vital cog in RSM’s (then LRRD) network from the mid-70’s. But by the mid-noughties the UK firm was in trouble: loss-making in 2006 and owing tens of millions of pounds to lenders and partners. A potential merger deal with US counterpart RSM McGladrey fell through.

Instead, Grant Thornton stepped in to take on the firm. The clean-up job faced by Grant Thornton and then-CEO Scott McLean was immense and costly. Dozens of former Robson Rhodes partners left or were deemed surplus to requirements. As Scott told Accountancy Age a few years after the deal, “We knew when we did the merger the cost involved in a merger of that size will have financial implications.”

And along came Tenon, renamed RSM Tenon: at the time a groundbreaking UK practice due to its stock exchange listing, and known for its entrepreneurial client focus.

The firm burned brightly but fizzled out financially. Having overextended itself, RSM Tenon was sold out of administration in a pre-pack deal to Baker Tilly.

And then we have the classic end-of-episode cliffhanger…who will RSM find to fill the gap in the UK, five years after losing Robson Rhodes and now Tenon? The answer was under our nose – and actually took a lot longer than a half-hour TV show. It was in fact several months after Baker Tilly’s acquisition that it decided to switch networks, rebranding as RSM some time later.

As if to confuse matters, it seemed as though the Baker Tilly name would disappear from the UK accountancy market. While it’s somewhat subtle, it’s still with us – the UK network of firms MHA stepped in as its representative. However, with lots of work going into building the MHA brand over the past 15 years, one wonders when the Baker Tilly name will feature more prominently than a footnote on MHA members’ website.

And now RSM’s UK firm faces up to accounting woes and a new management team to sort out the mess.

It seems that despite all the drama, the ups and downs, firms coming and going, that certain brands are intrinsically associated with accountancy. And they’re here to stay…for now.


Kevin Reed is engagement and communications consultant at Foulger Underwood

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