EC go-ahead for merger

The European Commission was yesterday due to remove the final hurdle in the path of the Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse merger.

Only a timing delay would have prevented the commission from revealing its backing of the merger. Regulatory approval by the EC leaves the two firms with just six weeks to compile their detailed management teams if they are to meet their 1 July deadline for merging.

Peter Wyman, Coopers’ UK head of tax and a board member, said the merged firm – which is expected to adopt a traditional name cashing in on 150 years of goodwill – would be ready for launch on the due date.

‘A delay to the autumn is very unappealing, but I am sure six weeks will be fine,’ Wyman said.

A PW spokesman added: ‘In the next few weeks, we will announce some senior management positions. We are very anxious that people see progress in the merger because we want clients to know it is going ahead with the right people in place.’

The firms, which announced global leaders for the merged partnership last year, are currently working on national and regional appointments.

Both said they realised the importance of putting the right people in charge of different business streams.

The issue was highlighted following personality clashes which emerged last week in Spain, where Coopers partners objected to PW’s pre-eminence in banking audit.

PW’s spokesman added: ‘We are attempting to sort out Spain. The Coopers partners must realise they will lose out unless they are part of this new network – it’s just a question of banging a few heads together to make them see sense.’

A further key issue facing the merger candidates is the structure of the new business. Both have different organisational methods, but have been prevented from sharing information until after full regulatory approval.

EC backing will allow the firms to share previously confidential financial information and details of client satisfaction levels.

Wyman added: ‘We are quite a long way down the road on some things. But we are unable to start on others until after Wednesday, which has meant that we have been prevented from making a whole host of decisions.’

Leader, page 14.

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