PracticeAccounting FirmsTop 50 – the need to reveal more

Top 50 - the need to reveal more

Is it time firms went further in how much financial information they reveal?

Accountancy Age’s Top 50 is such an established benchmark for
measuring the health of the profession that it’s easy to forget it’s less than a
decade old.

Until then, the only numbers most firms were willing to reveal about
themselves were in their addresses.

That’s all changed now, of course. These days, all firms are happy to tell us
their fee income. But is it time firms went further in how much financial
information they reveal?

We believe so.

This year, for the first time, we asked firms to tell us their operating
profit. Only 13 were forthcoming. It is to the enormous credit of that minority
that they did. It doesn’t reflect well on those who ducked it.

Eleven of those who supplied bottom-line figures are limited liability
partnership. As part of the LLP deal, greater protection is traded for more
disclosure ­ including publication of financial data ­ so it’s no surprise that
the 11 coughed up.

By the by, Pridie Brewster and Reeves & Neylon ­ both partnerships ­
deserve praise for electing to supply bottom-line figures.

What is rather odd is that eight of the 37 who neglected to provide us with
their operating profit are actually LLPs. The information is publicly available.
It may have been an oversight. It may have been laziness. Or it may have been
designed to avoid drawing attention to a poor margin. That lack of openness ­ by
LLPs but by partnerships too ­ must change next year.

If it seems a little too early to be talking about the 2006 Top 50, indulge
me. After all 2005 marks an important anniversary: it was a decade ago that the
first firm opened its books to the public.

In 1995 KPMG Audit Plc was formed and with it came publication of audited
financial statements. Then senior partner, Lord Colin Sharman, decided to
combine the results of the partnership and the plc in one publicly available
statement.

By including partner remuneration bands and details of his own salary, Lord
Sharman shook up the firm and changed the way the profession was prepared to
think about itself. A decade later and the profession is still more changed. Now
it’s time to move on again. Profits please, next time.

Damian Wild is editor of Accountancy Age

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