Can consulting manage Brexit?
Home » Views » Ask the clients what they want.

Ask the clients what they want.


London: Last weekend Michael Andrew, chairman of KPMG International, told The Financial Times that he believed the benefits of an integrated audit and advisory business outweighed, "any alternative scenario".

"We will be a multi-disciplinary firm no matter what the regulatory environment will be", he promised.

Quite how he will manage this is not obvious, if, as envisaged, Michel Barnier, the European Union's single market commissioner, suggests next month that Europe's biggest audit providers should not also offer advisory or consulting services.

Andrew and his peers are non too keen on Barnier's other plans for audit itself — public companies might be forced to change auditors regularly, and double up with erstwhile competitors on the biggest accounts — but it is the prospect of cutting consulting from the professional services business model that has really sparked their ire.

We — and they — have been here before of course.

Barnier's plan would take the European market down the route travelled in the US a decade ago, where since the collapse of Enron, and the demise of its auditor Arthur Andersen, the provision of most non-audit services to audit clients has been forbidden, under the Sarbanes-Oxley act.

In the years that followed Ernst & Young sold its consulting business to Cap Gemini, KPMG spun its' off as BearingPoint, and PwC sold, eventually, to IBM. Andersen Consulting was already detached from Arthur Andersen, and has thrived ever since as Accenture. Deloitte sold some country consulting practices, but in effect sat on its hands.

So how will Mr Andrew and his colleagues argue their case this time?

Perhaps they should simply refer the Commission, and the UK's Office of Fair Trading, to their clients.

A decade after Enron, the big firms who divested their advisory businesses have grown them back again. Both in US and Europe, consulting within the Big Four is growing far faster than audit.

Why? Because it is lucrative, obviously, but also because that's what global listed companies want. They want to buy an integrated service and skill set from people they have built close working relations with, and they want it delivered consistently around the globe.

And Michel Barnier will deny them at his peril.

Share this article