The Accountancy Age Large Firm of the Year award is the heavyweight championship of the accountancy world. The winners in the other categories will certainly have been required to demonstrate skill and initiative to earn their awards, but it is among the biggest firms that the heaviest punches are thrown.
But no one should think that this analogy means that it will just be the Big Five slogging it out for the coveted title of ‘Large Firm of the Year’. The award is open to all firms with more than 100 partners.
Last month’s Accountancy Age Top 50 revealed that no fewer than 11 firms had more than 100 partners: from the giant PricewaterhouseCoopers whose 1,200 partners earned £1,589m between them last year, to the comparatively tiny Pannell Kerr Forster whose 126 partners shared £74m.
Each firm will be judged on its ability to produce top-quality work, satisfy customer expectations and develop cost-effective solutions.
The areas that will come under scrutiny cover the entire range of accountancy and professional services including IT, audit, human resources and tax.
As well as excellence, firms worthy of the award will have to demonstrate evidence of major initiatives that have driven them forward or delivered a commercial advantage or expanded the customer base.
Firms of this size will have done their impressing long before they try to win over the judging panel: their clients are a discerning lot.
All the FTSE-100 companies will be among them, as well as many others on the fringes of the top tier of UK plc. That client list extends well beyond the boardrooms: high-net-worth individuals – some very high indeed – charities and public-sector bodies like NHS trusts and councils will also be among their number.
Despite some obvious successes – and some notable failures in individual areas – none of the firms has been able to solve the conundrums that they would most like to. In many ways, and despite their financial muscle, they are still at the mercy of government. Limited liability partnership legislation is on hold – possibly only until the autumn, but possibly for longer.
Among those which stand out among the smaller large firms is BDO Stoy Hayward which merged with Moores Rowland during the year to create the biggest firm outside the Big Five. Also noteworthy – again because of the merger fever that has gripped mid-tier firms over the last 12 months – is Pannell Kerr Forster, which appears to have survived its aborted merger attempt with Robson Rhodes.
Horwath Clark Whitehill also stands out, though this time it is for the wrong reasons. PwC aside, it was the only firm which refused to provide information for this year’s Accountancy Age Top 50.
Each of the Big Five could make a convincing argument for being entitled to the award. Take PwC, which has come through its first year relatively unscathed. True, it has lost some high-profile audit clients, Abbey National and Diageo among them, but it continues to grow at a rate of 20% a year.
And while growth in the firm’s consultancy revenues may have slowed – it is this area that is seen by the firms as the cash cow of tomorrow – PwC has managed what could have proved a divisive merger with only minor problems.
Or what about KPMG’s case for calling itself Large Firm of the Year?
It has been picking up government contracts like they were going out of fashion and the firm’s global chairman, Colin Sharman, is the first working peer who is a practising accountant. On a global level, KPMG managed to persuade its Canadian partners to reject a poaching attempt by Arthur Andersen.
Then there is Deloitte & Touche. Its 27.3% rate of growth for last year was the fastest among the Big Five. The firm also now earns more than half its UK revenues from consultancy: this move from traditional tick-and-bash audit to the more glamorous world of advice might just catch the judges’ eyes.
For profile, no one can touch Ernst & Young. Its sponsorship of the Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy garnered more column inches than the firm had any right to hope for. It also presents its own award, to the Entrepreneur of the Year – an accolade whose recognition is growing.
That leaves just Arthur Andersen. Although involved in a fairly bitter divorce from Andersen Consulting, it has managed to keep the inevitable rows out of the public spotlight. Again, a creditable performance, but is it enough to earn the ultimate prize?
Those are the main contenders for what is likely to prove a victory on points. But the award winner will have to prove that, unlike the surroundings at the ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum, it has its feet in the future, not in the past.
If you want to enter your trainee, financial director, large, small or medium-sized firm, public-sector achievement or even your annual report and accounts into this year’s Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence, now is the time to start framing your entry.
There are 12 categories in this year’s awards including a new category for trainee accountants.
The ceremony will take place in the Natural History Museum in November, and you can email us to request an entry form (see above for details).
This year, there is one category that will be judged by readers – Personality of the Year. Nominees will be drawn by Accountancy Age’s editorial team, and shortlisted by the judging panel. Readers can then vote for the winning personality.
Free entry. Closing date: 30 July 1999
Ceremony: 3 November 1999, Natural History Museum, London
For an entry form: call 0171 316 9554; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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