Top 50 – Big Five rocked

They are ranked in the same order and their growth rate, averaging 18%, is almost as vigorous as last year’s average of just over 20%.

But the figures don’t tell the whole story. The accounting giants are feeling pressure from both inside and out, leading to radical changes which will make next year’s table look very different.

Ernst & Young has sold off its consulting activities to Cap Gemini, PricewaterhouseCoopers has announced its intention to divide itself into smaller units and KPMG is attempting to list its consulting arm.

But these changes, driven by a regulatory crackdown by SEC chairman Arthur Levitt and the desire of their consulting arms to seek outside alliances, have come too late to affect this year’s table.

Any analysis of where the Big Five’s huge fee income comes from is hampered by the continuing refusal of PwC and Andersens to reveal UK figures. But looking at the other three, it appears the firms are enjoying growth across all service lines.

Audit and accountancy grew by an average of 12%, tax by 17%, insolvency by 16% and consultancy by 17%.

The real star, however, appears to be corporate finance, where the average growth rate was 29%. The big firms are clearly giving the merchant banks a run for their money.

Of the five, Deloittes enjoyed the strongest overall growth, at 21.4%, with E&Y expanding at the slowest rate of 13%.

PwC remains the giant at almost twice the size of its nearest rival KPMG.

Looking at individual areas of strength, KPMG’s insolvency income grew by 38% and corporate finance income by 34%.

All the firms have more partners than last year, with the exception of PwC whose figures remain the same.

But two of the firms, PwC and Deloittes, have trimmed professional staff numbers. There has also been a slight decline in number of UK offices.

Even with Grant Thornton’s takeover of HLB Kidsons, in terms of size, the mid-tier remains a long way behind the Big Five.

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