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April 30, 2008

A perfect fit

A perfect fit

The pursuit of market-leading clients for risk management, transaction support and tax services forms part of RSM International’s strategy. Arvind Hickman explores how the network’s latest addition, UK firm Bentley Jennison, falls into line with RSM’s global ambitions.

RSM International describes new UK member firm Bentley Jennison as the perfect piece to complete its global puzzle.

Founded in 1984, the firm possesses an eye-catching growth record and is particularly strong in the provision of risk management, transaction support services and tax. Now known as RSM Bentley Jennison, the firm has 800 professional staff and reported fee income of £63.7 million ($126.2 million) in 2006. It has doubled in size every four years and claims to be one of the fastest growing firms in the UK.

Although achieving impressive growth is one thing, what excites RSM International chief executive Jean Stephens most about the new relationship is the firm’s presence in the non-audit services sector. Stephens tells IAB Bentley Jennison has a strong reputation in risk management, tax and transaction support services – making it an ideal match with the network’s strategic plan.

“When you have a win is when the firm’s vision and strategy matches RSM International,” Stephens says. “As with most networks, we have a strong audit practice [and] we have strong international tax, but it’s the risk management and transaction support that really are big growth areas for us.”

The choice debate raging in the UK and other parts of the world is centred on whether a few players outside the Big Four can provide audit services to the largest public companies. Stephens believes the debate would be better served if it shifted some attention to non-audit areas that a wider range of firms can provide.

“That’s where we can add most value for our clients, especially when you get into the choice argument. We can serve those very, very large companies and there is no size [limitations] in transaction and risk support areas,” she explains. “It’s been a focus over the last 18 months. It’s a combination. When we are recruiting members, I’m looking deeply at that to see what they have and making sure that we’re bringing on members that do have that depth of capability. It’s about targeting [clients] together. We’re taking an international team to clients and prospects to help meet their needs.”

Adding to the argument, RSM Bentley Jennison national managing partner Tony Stockdale says the firm already serves large UK companies in markets normally dominated by the Big Four. “Our focus with the FTSE 100, and indeed the FTSE 250, has been services other than audit and I think the [choice] debate would be a better debate in the profession if one considered how many firms can offer services wider than just audit to larger companies,” Stockdale says.

RSM’s focus on growing its non-audit services capability was one aspect of the network’s strategy that appealed to Bentley Jennison. Another reason to join was the need to be a part of a large integrated network to better serve the international requirements of clients.

“Bentley Jennison has been growing for many years now and in parallel with that growth what has been happening is our client base has been changing,” Stockdale says. “As a generality we’ve been dealing with bigger businesses and more complex businesses, and increasingly a lot of those businesses have operations or trade overseas.”

Prior to RSM, the firm was a member of the much smaller accounting and legal association IAG International.

Stockdale predicts membership to the world’s seventh largest accountancy network will help his firm achieve a 35 percent growth rate.

RSM Bentley Jennison is already in contact with fellow member firms and representatives will travel to meet US counterparts in the coming months. The aim of these meetings is to establish a working relationship as well as to better integrate services and processes.

As integration of the network gathers pace, another growing trend in the profession – consolidation – is not quite in the firing line. Stephens says RSM is always open to the idea of a merger but finding the right partner in terms of quality and strategy is a hard task.

She notes: “A lot of times I look at it and say it would be great because of scale, but then you get one step below that and you have quality issues… You have to have strategic fit and that strategic fit is critical in terms of taking decision for the network.”

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