A few years back in this space, we crunched some numbers to see whether it was possible for another firm to join the Big Four. Our conclusion at the time was that it wasn’t — there simply isn’t enough revenue sloshing around the Top 100 Firms to create a firm that would rank up there with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — but that it was possible for more firms to start breaking the billion-dollar mark, joining McGladrey and Grant Thornton.
This year, we saw the first of them approach that milestone.
After a period of aggressive mergers and acquisitions, BDO has poised itself to join those exclusive ranks, as you can see from this year’s Top 100 Firms report, which was published with this issue. In that list you can also get an idea of which firms are likely to be next in line to join the Billion-Plus Club — and while we’re fairly certain that over the next three to five years, there will be at least two more additions, we’ll leave it up to you to imagine the combinations that will get them there. Rest assured, though, that we’ll trumpet the news as it happens, and fill you in on as many details as we can.
Of course, it’s natural for editors and reporters to get excited about major mergers among the top firms. Big dollar amounts and well-known names make for great headlines, and generate a certain amount of excitement in the newsroom. And for the people who work for firms that are aggressively involved in the profession’s current decade-long boom in mergers, or for their competitors, news from the M&A market is naturally interesting.
But what about everyone else? Depending on who you ask (and how you define “firm”), there are anywhere from 45,000 to 90,000 accounting firms in the country, and between 500 and 1,000 M&A transactions in the field in any given year. That means that most of the time, the vast majority of accounting firms — and thus the vast majority of accountants — aren’t involved in M&A. In fact, in our “Year Ahead” survey in October of last year, 80 percent of firms reported that they did not expect to be involved in a merger in 2015.
So why should they care about the eternal ructions in accounting firm M&A?
Let’s assume you don’t need to worry about a merger or sale to ensure your retirement, or to find new staff, or to access expertise in new service areas, or to better serve your clients. If you’re not directly competing with a firm that’s merging, why should you care about M&A?
The simple answer is that, even if you’re not currently competing with a firm that’s merging, you soon will be. Deals are being made all around the country — in fact, many are being made specifically to ensure regional dominance. If your geographic market hasn’t been hit yet, rest assured that it soon will be.
More important, the current wave of M&A is asymmetric. Where deals might once have been primarily about transferring clients, they now involve transfers of expertise and opportunity, as larger firms bring these to smaller firms and smaller markets that they once might have passed over. At any given moment, you could find yourself suddenly facing competition from a firm with far greater resources than yours that can offer your clients services you can’t, and opportunities for your staff that you may not be able to match.
None of which is to say that you need to get merging yourself; there are other ways to protect yourself from competition. But you do need to be aware that markets just like yours can change in the space of time it takes two other firms to sign a deal — and that they’re doing that more and more often these days.
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