Consultants dismiss Big Four challenge

David Thomlinson

David Thomlinson, Accenture UK managing director

Two of the heads of the UK’s largest consulting firms have poured scorn on
the Big Four’s attempts to get back into the advisory marketplace, saying they
lack the breadth of service of their established rivals and fail to meet the
needs of clients.

The comments are set to ignite a row in the market, which some of the Big
Four have only just re-entered after hiving off their arms in the aftermath of
But the concern shown by the established players may also suggest that the Big
Four are already starting to get a foothold, the firms said.

UK managing director David Thomlinson and
Capgemini UK consulting CEO Tom
Blacksell hit out the Big Four’s efforts in rebuilding their consulting arms
after divesting them at the turn of the century.

Blacksell said clients were more ‘discerning’ and that consultants needed to
carry out as well as advise on work: ‘The ability to execute and advise: I see
that as being a pre-requisite to being successful in the market. Those that
can’t provide the organisational wherewithal to be credible in execution as well
as the advice, may well pick up some work, but they’ll have limited
aspirations,’ said Blacksell.

The Big Four say they only work providing advice on IT, for example, and not
implementation Thomlinson said: ‘If you contrast the business they’re in
compared to Accenture, we clearly have much greater breadth and depth. It’s not
just based around providing advice and reports, but having the capability to
deliver results.’

The Big Four hit back, suggesting that the consultancy firms were scared of
their move back into the market. Alan Buckle, CEO of advisory KPMG Europe, said
the consultancies’ criticisms were a sign of the Big Four’s success.

‘It’s clear that in advisory we’re seen as extremely credible, an obvious
choice. But they’re right that we don’t intend to compete in IT integration and
outsourcing. Some clients want us to sit alongside them opposite an IT
integrator, other times they’ll choose an Accenture to do the whole thing,’ said

Deloitte consulting MD David Owen said if the firm was failing to offer
relevant services to clients then ‘we would not expect to achieve levels of
Owen also denied claims by Blacksell that Big Four consulting divisions had been
built on Sarbox and IFRS work: ‘Those services are provided through audit,
assurance and tax service lines.’

A bitter history

There is no love lost between the Big Four and the ‘established’ consulting

Much of the bad blood dates from the acrimonious split of Andersen Consulting
from Andersen.

But consultants and accountants have recently waged a bitter recruitment
battle following the Big Four’s move back into consulting.

Conflict of interest concerns, exacerbated by scandals in the US, saw the
firms hive off their arms at the turn of the century.

Ernst & Young sold its consultancy arm to Capgemini in 2000, while PwC
sold to IBM and KPMG sold to Atos in the UK during 2002.

The firms, bar Deloitte, have insisted they will not enter into large-scale
IT integration, which they considered created conflicts with their old
consulting arms.

PwC and Deloitte were expected to see consulting fees grow by around a fifth
for 2006, while KPMG was expected to see its consulting business grow by nearly
a third.

Ernst & Young was also expected to reveal its first business advisory fee
income figures later this year.

Consulting in brief:

Big Four partners
Deloitte 140; KPMG 80; PwC 190; E&Y 25

Total market 2007

Largest service line
IT at £1.5bn

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