Finance giants target firms

Small and medium-sized UK accountancy practices are being hunted by major finance and insurance companies eager to gain access to lucrative client bases.

The strategy parallels American Express’s aggressive acquisition programme over the last two years, making it the ninth largest accountancy firm in the US. Sun Alliance, Pearl Assurance, Merrill Lynch and Norwich Union are understood to be considering snapping up UK practices. Equitable Life was interested but has pulled out.

Amex is debating acquisitions in the UK for their face value, rather than its US policy of gaining the small-business client base to sell its financial services. Its subsidiary, American Express Tax and Business Services, has fees of over $100m a year and is bidding to become the seventh largest US accountancy firm.

Richard D’Ambrosio, director of public affairs for Amex, said: ‘We want to be in major markets which may interest small businesses.’

Amex’s rival Century Business has acquired accountancy firms in the US with annual fees of about $80m but is not expected to attack the UK.

Consultant Gordon Gilchrist said acquisitions of UK firms are foreseeable within the next two years. ‘Cheques written by banks will be much larger than those written by accountancy firms.’

Zahir Fazal, audit and marketing partner of Horwath Clark Whitehill said: ‘If Amex is successful in the US, we will see it over here.’

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