During a roundtable discussion revealing top issues in its advisory services practice, Big Four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers talked about how change and current market trends are transforming its clients' needs.
"Everybody else uses the term consultant," said Juan Pujadas, PwC's U.S. advisory practice leader, addressing the third arm of the global assurance and tax firm. "We want to be different in the marketplace."
The credit market crisis, increasingly high health care costs, the macro-economic business climate and the competition for talent continue to challenge companies. As a result, many are starting to ask advisors how to address these issues.
"Change is something our clients need to react to or it's something that they plan," Pujadas said.
In the area of governance, risk management and compliance, people are starting to make improvements in technology and infrastructure, as well as looking at the skills of employees.
"What we're finding is that a greater pace of change creates much more complexity, which results in a demand for transparency," said Dennis Chesley, a partner in PwC's financial services advisory practice.
The credit crunch is resulting in a shift, according to Gregg Nahass, PwC's U.S. practice leader for mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. He said there was a pause in the mergers and acquisitions market for approximately two to three months, but movement is starting to pick up again.
He predicted more in-country transactions for U.S.-based companies because of the decline in the dollar.
"What we are also going to see is foreign countries starting to make acquisitions in the U.S. because they are buying on the cheap," Nahass said.
Trends in health care dominated the discussion of Carter Pate, PwC's global and U.S. managing partner for health industries and government services.
"We have been watching very closely, and a number of companies continue to struggle with their health care costs," Pate said. "Starbucks pays more for health care than coffee beans. It's not sustainable in its current delivery."
The next trend for companies looking to retain workers, he said, may be addressing wellness - and punishing those who don't.
Mike Boyle, U.S. leader of PwC's CFO advisory services team, said that convergence in accounting standards is high on the list of concerns for many financial executives. He said companies should start preparing by assessing the impact of such a change before it becomes a mandate.
"It's a situation that companies should be assessing right now," Boyle said. "There are certainly efficiencies in doing that, but going through the process is not going to be as easy as one might think."
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