With a new strategically-important merger planned, Grant
Thornton Australia (GT) intends to be at the forefront of
anticipated changes to the nation’s mid-tier professional services
market.

The firm plans to combine with the Melbourne office of AGN
International member William Buck this month, strengthening its
presence in Australia’s second largest city.

Grant Thornton has had limited representation in Melbourne since
its former wealth investment management arm decided to leave the
firm last year to create its own brand. The defection followed a
decision by Grant Thornton’s Australian firms to combine into a
single national firm, which became effective at the start of this
year.

William Buck Melbourne adds 23 partners, more than 280 staff and
annual turnover of A$42 million ($39.5 million). GT chief executive
Robert Quant told the International Accounting Bulletin
that the planned integration will provide many benefits for the
firm. “It completes our national presence in terms of scale and
having full service offering,” he said. “It takes us to a A$160
million practice and we can now confidently say we have a high
quality full service offering of scale and depth in each of our key
capital cities.”

Aggressive growth

The William Buck merger is the second large-scale acquisition for
GT since it announced its decision to form a national business. The
Perth office of Praxity member Bentleys joined Grant Thornton in
September 2007. The two acquisitions, combined with steady organic
growth, takes GT’s annual turnover to A$160 million, which is an
increase of more than 50 percent on the A$104.6 million reported
for the year ended June 2007.

The largest player in the Australian mid-tier is consolidator WHK
Group, a Horwath International member firm that reported fee income
of A$265.1 million in 2007. The other mid-tier presence that is
possibly larger than GT is BDO Kendalls, an association of firms
that reported combined fee income of A$159.4 million in 2007.

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The decision to become a national firm and recent aggressive growth
are both linked to GT’s strategy to be the “standout alternative to
the Big Four in the Australian professional services and accounting
market”, Quant said. “We realised that there are certain elements
required to [become the standout alternative to the Big Four] and
one element is that we must have the scale and depth of service
offering to be able to meet the needs of our chosen market. To get
there we recognise we need to have a combination of a strategic and
organic growth,” he said.

“I’m not a believer of size for size’s sake but you need to be on
the league tables when you are being considered in your markets.
You do need to have enough scale to be able to cover the investment
costs for initiatives and infrastructure costs that you would like
to incur.”

Part of the incentive behind consolidation is to take a leading
role in an evolving mid-tier market. “I see further consolidation
and adjustment taking place. In the middle-tier there has been
limited change for 20 years and we think there is now a catching up
taking place. Ultimately, there is a position for a few firms to be
genuine alternatives to the Big Four in terms of their scale and
their quality of offering. Not in every part, but in certain
markets, and we think clients and the market are crying out for
some competition because the Big Four can’t be all things to all
people.”

MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

Movements in the market

• 2006-2007 Deloitte
Australia acquires parts of BDO Melbourne office and Horwath Sydney
office

• Early 2007 Horwath
Australia member firm merges with BDO member firm

• April 2007 WHK Group
defects to Horwath International less than a year after joining SC
International

• September 2007 – Grant Thornton Australia
merges with Bentleys Perth office

• 16 May 2008 – Grant Thornton Australia
merges with William Buck Melbourne


Carolyn Canham