In 12 months’ time most of the Big Five should have completed the hiving off of their consultancy arms, the mid-tier will have shrunk as mergers gather pace while consolidators are likely to have gobbled up many smaller practices.
In all this confusion the danger is firms will take their eyes off the groups that really matter: clients and new recruits.
Clients don’t care about internal structures and politics, they are interested in the balance between cost and service. Any firm that pursues survival at the expense of offering value will have a limited shelf life.
That’s common sense. But firms have a bigger problem regarding new recruits.
By reputation, consulting is sexy; audit and tax are not. Firms have a massive marketing job on their hands to convince thousands of graduates looking for a challenging career path that an accountancy firm which has sold off its consulting arm is every bit as vibrant as a dot.com start-up. That will require a new flexibility in terms of hierarchy, remuneration and working practices.
2000 has been seen as the start of a new era in most quarters, but for accountants it is really the end of almost all that has been familiar in recent decades.