Have you heard the one about the merger?

Damian Wild, AccountancyAge

This week Ernst & Young became the latest to announce a restructuring. It
proposes integrating 87 national practices in Europe, the Middle East, India and
Africa into a single unit. It is undertaking a similar exercise in the Far East,
having already unified the Americas in 2006.

In doing so, it is following in the footsteps of KPMG, which merged its
German and UK firms, and Deloitte, which combined its UK and Swiss practices, in

So what are the firms’ intentions? Well, consistency is chief among them.
Despite operating as global businesses, many have harboured doubts about the
quality of some national practices. Last year’s termination by
PricewaterhouseCoopers of its Japanese member firm was the highest profile
example of this. Bringing all under one umbrella allows firms to instill
confidence that they can offer the same service globally.

But all is not so simple. It is hard to tell whether there will be any real
sharing of profits, which has to be the acid test of whether these really are
unified practices.

Ever since we began compiling Accountancy Age’s Top 50 to monitor and measure
firms, we have been encouraged to use profit sharing as a test for whether
practices are firms or networks. What applies domestically has to hold globally.

It also applies to risk. The risk of liability sharing is why Grant Thornton
severed ties with its Italian firm so quickly during the Parmalat scandal. The
fact that E&Y says it hasn’t taken on ‘appreciably more risk’ as a result of
integration is illustrative.

Without the sharing of risk and reward, these arrangements will only ever
amount to a partial solution.

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