Best Practice: Mazars’ David Herbinet

FOR DAVID HERBINET, partner at Mazars, the popular children’s rhyme about the spider that repeatedly tries to climb up a drain pipe will hold a degree of resonance. Comparison can be made with top 20 firm’s attempts to crack the FTSE 350 audit market. It is a case of try, try, try again.

Mazars latest bid to carve out some audit work from the hitherto untapped companies that inhabit the FTSE 350 involves the formation of a dedicated advisory board to target the market.

Speaking to Accountancy Age about the initiative that was launched earlier this year, Herbinet says it is no mystery that Mazars has been trying to penetrate FTSE 350 audit market.

“We have a good market share in non-audit work with some good specialisations. We want to crack the FTSE 350 market for audit services. We have had various strategies over last ten years but to be blunt we haven’t cracked it,” Herbinet says. “We have been trying various things.”

The most difficult thing for Mazars, and its mid-tier peers, has been getting in front of, and having material conversations with, FTSE 350 companies. Consequently Marzars has set up the advisory board with the aim of doing just that.

The board has been formed with the appointment of Gerald Raingold, a former managing director of investment banking and capital markets at BNP Paribas, and John Grosvenor, a former senior global partner at PwC.

The timing of the initiative is propitious in that it will boost Mazars’ attempts to pick up business from companies considering their audit options as a result of competition inquiries into the audit market, the results of which are expected later this year.

Herbinet says there are no financial criteria by which to gauge the board’s initial success. It is more about changing perception about using firms outside of the Big Four.

“It has been successful. We have already seen a significant number of audit committees, chief executives and non-executives from the FTSE 350,” Herbinet say. “It is not short-term initiative and has not been done to get a quick buck. It is clearly a commercial initiative but in the context of competition and choice no one knows what round the corner.

“One thing for sure is that the competition debate is raising the level of interest the FTSE 350 have with firms outside the Big Four. They want to understand our capability and they probably believe we can do as good job but they still perceive they have to have a Big Four auditor.”

Mazars has also been targeting the public sector audit market. However, its bid for local government contracts up for grabs with the closure of the Audit Commission’s practice has been tinged with disappointment.

Although Mazars’ strategic partner DA Partnership, set up as a spinoff by Audit Commission head of practice Gareth Davies, was provisionally awarded the Audit Commission contract for the North East and North Yorkshire – worth £5m a year – this was not enough for DA to fulfil its ambition to launch it as an employee-owned independent firm. Instead, DA Partnership becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mazars.

Davies will be joining Mazars as head of public services to lead the new venture. He will be reunited there with a team of former Audit Commission advisory colleagues led by Mark Fletcher.

“It is a nice contract for us. It is a substantial contract that delivers more than 3% growth which is always good in a difficult market,” Herbinet says. “It positions us as a major player in the public sector market for the audit of local authorities. We are also one of only four firms to be selected for limited assurance work.”

In terms of Mazars attempts to break into the FTSE 350 market, the positive spin will rely on whether the firm, like the luckless spider, ever does reach the top of the spout.

Practice: Mazars
UK partners: 109
UK fee income: £108.2m (y/e2011)
Top 50+50 ranking: 12

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