Looking at this year’s Top 50, it might be tempting to think: ‘Well… not much
change there then, it’s all very much the same as last year.’
But trends cannot be mapped looking at short periods of time, and if you take
a look at the Top 50 from ten years ago, then a very different picture emerges.
Fifteen of the top firms from 1998 have vanished. Andersen fragmented, and
what about Robson Rhodes? Moores Rowland? Levy Gee and the rest?
Of the remainder, seven have merged and four were consolidated into Tenon or
Between 1999 and 2007, other firms moved up, including one consolidator
(Numerica), regional firms such as Scott Oswald and WBS, and City firms such as
Pridie Brewster. Half a dozen also disappeared just as quickly via consolidators
and larger practices such as Bentley Jennison.
So what does all this teach us about the top end of the profession? Firstly,
there is emphasis on acquisition rather than organic growth, which in itself
comes mainly from transaction-based services, including areas such as tax
consulting and corporate finance.
For the major players, critical mass is the key to success and this can only
be achieved by either merger or takeover, increasingly within their peer group.
As the larger firms join together, we see smaller practices promoted into the
table. Being a Top 50 firm can now mean anything from a turnover in excess of
£1billion (and many hundreds of partners and directors) to a turnover of £10m
and fewer than 20 partners. Can, or should, all these firms be bracketed
We believe that there will be no reduction of activity in the M&A
marketplace over the next few years. Firms near the top of the league are eyeing
up their peers as well as those closer to the foot of the table. Now that they
have established a stable footing and carved out a niche for themselves, the
consolidators will also wish to forge ahead.
In 2018, the picture will look very different. Predictions? The Big Four
become the Big Three; the top 30 residue becomes 20. This is more than just a
possibility and we have our own ideas on who and where.
Phil Shohet and Andrew Jenner are
directors at KATO Consultancy
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