Fearing the worst, the firms were quietly pleased to see Levitt had backed off from enforcing an extreme independence regime, instead opting to bar the firms from offering large scale management consultancy services to their clients and forcing the disclosure of non-audit fees in company annual reports.
But despite Levitt’s apparent climb down, this year has seen unprecedented change in the way the big firms have organised their business.
Nick Land, as head of Ernst & Young in the UK, must still be smiling to himself, having helped offload the firm’s management consultancy wholesale to Cap Gemini.
The firm, which for last year reports UK fees of Pounds 625.6m, a like-for-like rise of 16%, got the deal away before the bottom fell out of the market. Despite the news that the new entity, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, is going to have to shed staff, the partners must still be pleased with the result.
They must also be the envy of the partners at Embankment Place and London Bridge.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has once again declined to reveal UK fee income, continues to struggle to resolve its future structure and appears unable to produce a strategy for its long-awaited demerger.
Having announced that it was to hive off its consultancy arm, and other parts as well, it now finds itself in the unenviable position of not finding an acceptable exit route, despite reports of great activity behind the scenes.
The love-in with Carla Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard was short lived, with the mooted sale being canned after HP’s share price started to fall from the skies.
Flotation is another possibility – but as yet no firm proposals are forthcoming.
Such uncertainty is causing the rumour mill to go into overdrive, and must be unsettling for the firm’s people.
PwC has admitted that it will be losing 10% of its partners this year – another set back for the firm that also suffered at the hands of the DTI inspectors when they published the Maxwell report. Former partners at Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte came in for particular criticism over the affair.
KPMG’s strategy for its consultancy arm seems to be more clearly defined – it successfully floated on the NASDAQ and it is expected that the UK, as part of a European entity, will follow suit within a year.
But like Ernst & Young Cap Gemini, KPMG has said it needs to lose staff.
Last year the firm reported fees of Pounds 1.2bn, up 12% on the previous year.
Deloitte & Touche, however, has steadfastly refused to offload its consultants, maintaining that it will hold the whole group together under the international banner of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
In the UK, Deloitte was the fastest growing Big Five firm, last year reporting a 21% rise in fee income. But the firm did say it intended to dispose of its outsourcing arm, CSL – a move it too has yet to complete.
Andersen – the Arthur was dropped during the year – has had its own internal difficulties to contend with and, like PwC, declined to reveal UK fees.
John Ormerod took over as UK managing partner in March this year, succeeding Philip Randall.
He will now preside over a UK firm coming to terms with its bloody split from Andersen Consulting, which was christened Accenture at the beginning of the year.Links
See the Accountancy Age Top 50 table
Last year’s Top 50 table
UK firms push £7bn mark
Consolidation is alive and well
Mixed success as Uncle Sam seeks to split Big Five
Huge growth in corporate finance and insolvency
New big fish gobbles up mid-tier rivals
Traditional services stay strong
The fastest growing firms
Top 50: Opinion
It’s all about perception, stupid
The arrogance of keeping Big Five results secret