Grant Thornton UK swallows Robson Rhodes whole

Grant Thornton in the UK merged earlier in the year with RSM Robson Rhodes, making it “a leading player in the mid-market and the provider of non-audit services to one in four of the FTSE 100,” according to GT’s chief Michael Cleary.

The board of the merged entity makes the transaction look more like an acquisition:

Michael Cleary heads up the board as chief executive, but, of the former Robson Rhodes partners, only David Maxwell has a berth on the panel, which has seven members in total.

So basically Grant Thornton is maintaining control over the new entity through its board. Is this good or bad? Shouldn’t there be more than one former RSM partner on the board, since there are 7 members? Seems strange to me is all. Makes me think the merger was just to acquire RSM’s clients rather than really synergize and reap the benefits of shaking things up for both groups management-wise.

Michael Cleary was so effusive in press releases after the merger that this was heralding in a new age for the merged firm, in terms of providing the Big Four with some real competition.

Jeremy Newman of BDO at the time commented that his firm was going in a different direction in taking the fight to the Big Four’s dominance, and that merging to compete was sending the wrong message about what it really takes to provide a Big Four level of service to clients. Basically, the message was that size matters. Jeremy has been adamant that it is investment in people that really matters at the mid-tier level.

Time will tell which strategy works better.


Grant Thornton insists client remove Chairman, is removed as auditor

Here’s an interesting story coming out of Dallas:

Embattled multi-level marketing firm Mannatech has fired its independent auditor, Grant Thornton, after the auditor gave the company an ultimatum: Remove Chairman and founder Sam Caster from the company or find yourself another auditor.

So they found themselves another auditor, BDO Seidman, and let Grant Thornton go. The strange thing is this part of their press release:

There were no disagreements between Mannatech and Grant Thornton on any accounting principles or practices, financial statement disclosure, or auditing scope or procedure.

It’s hard to imagine why GT would insist the company dump their Chairman, given the above quote. But it makes no mention of internal control or corporate governance at the company, which may have caused some concern:

Caster stepped down as CEO in August. His decision came a month after the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit charging Mannatech, Caster and other parties with illegally marketing and selling its dietary supplements as a way to cure and treat diseases, illnesses or serious conditions like cancer.

The company has made a concerted effort to fix the problems that led to the lawsuit, including updating their sales and marketing materials and guidance for employees. With adequate monitoring, solidifying procedures and policies and setting expectations should ensure Mannatech recovers in the future.


Big Four dominate professional services globally

The Managing Partners’ Forum was established in 1995 and is “dedicated to enhancing leadership and the status of the management team in professional firms worldwide.” They recently released the inaugural Global 500, a ranking of the top 500 professional services firms in the world by fee volume.

The Big Four are at the top of the list, with PricewaterhouseCoopers coming first, followed by Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG. Interestingly, Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, formerly a division of Arthur Andersen, formerly the auditor of Enron, formerly in existence, occupies the number five spot:

  1. PwC – $22.0B
  2. Deloitte – $20.0B
  3. Ernst & Young – $18.4B
  4. KPMG – $16.9B
  5. Accenture – $16.7B

I threw the numbers into Excel to do a little analysis. First, I wanted to see how they stacked up in terms of revenue per employee, since the report provided the number of employees. The third ranked firm in total revenue, Ernst & Young, is #1 when it comes to revenue per employee at approximately $161,000. The average of the Big Four is $154,000. The remainder of the four are in the same order as revenues, with PwC and Deloitte shuffling down to make way for E&Y:

  1. Ernst & Young – $161,000
  2. PwC – $154,000
  3. Deloitte – $151,000
  4. KPMG – $150,000

Beyond the Big Four, the next largest accounting firm is BDO at 22nd overall. Rounding out the top 10 accounting firms are Grant Thornton (35th), RSM (36th), Baker Tilly (46th), Horwath (48th) and Moores Rowland (50th). The average revenue per employee for those five firms is $114,230, which is significantly lower than BDO, in the middle of everyone, at $140,500.

The bottom of the Big Four in terms of total revenue is KPMG, but it is 332 per cent higher than BDO. There is about 10 per cent separating each of the Big Four, with PwC 10% larger than Deloitte, which is 9% larger than Ernst & Young, which is 9% larger than KPMG. BDO is about 40% larger than Grant Thornton and RSM. So the Big Four more spread out between each other than I’d originally thought, but is leagues above the rest of the pack which comes as no surprise at all.

It’s an interesting list, by an interesting ‘Forum’. Management in professional firms is a different beast altogether from management of more traditional “operations”. Experienced employees are an intangible asset of any type of business, but in professional services firms there are unique challenges which require special people skills. A good managing partner is so important to retaining strong team members and keeping them (us) satisfied.

(Via Accountancy Matters.)


Audit choice and competition in UK and G8

Jeremy Newman of BDO Stoy Hayward, highlights a key finding of the British Oxera Report on Audit Choice and Competition:

According to the report by Oxera on Competition and Choice published in April 2006 more than 70% of FTSE 100 companies had not held a competitive tender for the last 15 years. The incidence of companies switching auditors is even less frequent. According to the Oxera Report it is around 4% on average for listed companies and less than 3% for FTSE 350 companies.

It’s not just a problem in the UK, however. Grant Thornton researched the global audit market:

The levels of audit market concentration across the world’s eight largest economies are dangerously high, with the Big 4 firms responsible for up to 99% of large public company audits, according to research by leading accounting and business advisory firm Grant Thornton LLP in the UK. […] Analysis of auditor concentration among the G8 economies revealed a high of 99% in Italy, followed by the UK (98%), the US (97%), Canada (96%) and Russia (90%).

That, after Grant Thornton’s US boss issues a call for a study to be performed on the US audit market. Not sure what a study of the US market would reveal since the above quote references a 97% concentration of Big 4 firms on public company audits already. Clearly there is a problem.

Investors and businesses are not being well served by the current situation. I hate to advocate increased intervention by governments of any kind, but it’s clear that public company audit committees also hate to advocate for shareholders’ best interests in terms of rotating audit firms and/or partners.

Maybe the solution is increased coverage of public companies that switched their audit to a non Big 4 firm. I would love to hear from any company in Canada that made the switch and is happier and better served for it.


BDO and Grant Thornton decide against merger

It was only a few weeks ago I was blogging about the the potential merger in Canada of BDO Dunwoody and Grant Thornton. They announced that they were in talks and conducting the necessary due diligence procedures to see if a merger would be good for the two firms and their clients.

They announced today that the merger talks are off.

BDO Dunwoody LLP and Grant Thornton LLP announce today that their respective Boards have agreed to discontinue merger discussions. No specific reason led to the decision to cease discussions; however, both firms recognized that despite the potential of the union, a merger of this nature also presented significant challenges.

HandshakeFirst and foremost I’d say the fact they belong to their respective international networks and one of the two firms would’ve had to dissolve in Canada and the merged firm continue as the remaining firm. That’s a lot of brand value up in smoke for either one of them. I’m not sure the merger’s potential benefits would’ve been great enough to overcome even that sole stumbling block.

So Grant Thornton merges with RSM Robson Rhodes in the UK, and the Grant Thornton merger with BDO in Canada is kaput. Who’s next?