The image has been tarnished

Would Andersen Consulting’s search for a strategic partner take in PricewaterhouseCoopers? Or would AC partners seek to go it alone with a multibillion pound flotation a la Goldman Sachs?

It’s too early for answers to these and other questions and the two parties are keeping their cards close to their chests. But both firms face tough decisions between now and the year end by which time Andersen Consulting will have left the Andersen fold once and for all.

These firms might be toasting a settled future but the dispute has hurt the profession. The Big Five want nothing more than to convince the wider world they are professional services firms, not the accountants of yesteryear.

It’s understandable. To convince the brightest graduates that their future lies with a firm which advises new economy entrepreneurs on growing their business is quite easy. Keeping the same graduates out of the clutches of investment banks and share option-rich dot.coms for a future of tax and audit is much tougher.

That’s not to say tax and audit is all Arthur Andersen and the rest of the Big Five will offer once they have shed much of their consulting businesses.

But in a world where perception is everything you could forgive potential recruits – and the odd existing employee – for thinking that is what their future holds when disputes like this are conducted so very publicly.

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