The U.S. consulting market expanded by 9 percent to more than $50 billion last year, according to a new report that found Big Four firms outperformed the overall U.S. consulting market, posting growth of 12.8 percent to $17.5 billion.

Much of the growth in the Big Four consulting market last year came from acquisitions, according to the report, from Source Information Services. In the U.S. market alone, more than a quarter of consulting acquisitions in the last 27 months involved accounting firms.

“Of course, acquisition is not necessarily a guaranteed route to success, but it can certainly change perceptions about a firm’s positioning, and that’s important at a time, like this, of change in the industry,” said the report. “The jury may still be out on the real value of PwC’s acquisition of Booz in 2013, but it ruffled feathers to the extent that it is still being talked about.”

The U.S. consulting market’s largest customer was the financial services industry, growing 11.9 percent to $12.4 billion last year.

“Financial services companies are asking themselves how they’re going to grow in the future,” said Lynne Doughtie, vice chair of advisory at KPMG, in a statement. “They still face regulatory and cost pressures, but they pulled almost all the levers where efficiency is concerned, and they now have to look at how they can improve their top line. Our role is to bring innovation as clients are looking for this.”

The report pointed out that the Big Four are well positioned as experts in all things relating to financial management and risk, which is not only the largest service line in the U.S., but also the fastest growing.

“But size is a double-edged sword for these firms,” the report’s authors cautioned. “Strengthening global capability is important, but it can be challenging for a big firm to offer a seamless global experience when there are so many moving parts in that equation. Nevertheless, the dominance of large transformation programs in the market means that it is more important than ever to get it right.”

Regulation continues to be a major driver of consulting activity, but there is also a growing amount of work connected with digitization.

“Arguably tougher still is the need for Big Four firms to prove their digital credentials,” said the report. “There certainly appears to be plenty of commitment to getting this right, but the ultimate test will be whether clients are convinced. The extent to which that’s achieved will go a long way to determining the success of the Big Four throughout the rest of 2015, but there’s little at this time to suggest any significant change in their fortunes.”

For a copy of the report, "The U.S. consulting market in 2015," visit www.sourceforconsulting.com.

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