Most of the growth within the Big Four consultancy practices has been in technology-driven propositions. They are trying to build outsourcing practices to compete with the likes of Accenture. Growth has been a big priority. Some firms have had up to 17% growth in the last 12 months and that has mainly been driven by technology propositions. This is coming through both hiring, but to meet the demands in this sector, acquisition has become more common place. There are investment funds in place to make small specialist technology acquisitions with a focus on digital, analytics, cyber and risk.
Some consultancies have managed to acquire digital businesses and integrate them very successful. Others desiring to replicate this model may now be a little late to the party, since digital consultancies have grown in value hugely. The Big Four are recruiting out of their own competitors, but also from the digital agencies directly.
The difficulty of hiring from these is a mismatch in cultural alignment. For this reason acquisitions can sometimes work better, as they can gain a number of people who can emulate their own culture in a new environment. In that space, being adaptive is important and the Big Four need to be more flexible to attract those that would not have seen themselves working in a professional services firm.
Those who have had careers in digital branding have very different skill sets to forensic accountants, yet they now both work in the same organisations. Those from a digital environment may be used to working in a relaxed and creative office in Hoxton. Those from a classic Big Four background will have worked in the City in a more structured environment. Some consultancies have found that placing them in the same office has not worked when they have expanded their digital practices. This has led some to setting up separate offices in close proximity to get the best from both styles of working.
The way they have to go to the marketplace has also changed. Their clients have become more intelligent in this space than they have. Some have hired the top digital strategists from large technology companies. Historically the Big Four could go to their clients knowing they had greater expertise when offering strategy. Now, due to some of these hires, they have to prove their worth when advising on digital.
The consultancies that have managed to bring in top talent in this area have their own challenges. Consultants that have come in from digital agencies, often through acquisitions, offer great expertise but they can lack experience working with Board level clients. Previously they have worked with departments lower down in the organisation such as Marketing.
Change programmes in public services
The General Election caused a pause in activity within the public sector earlier this year. Now, some of the large central government programmes are pressing on with hiring. The main change is public sector procurement has become far smarter. Some large white elephant projects like the National Identity Card Scheme were dropped before completion but cost the taxpayer tens of millions. Those mistakes are unlikely to be repeated because the digital agenda is moving into the public sector as well. There are many central government consultant roles for digital candidates and a lot of work is coming through for national security roles.
Within Whitehall there are some very large scale change programmes going on, mainly around cost reduction. They are stripping headcount out of central government, but in the public sector environment this happens very slowly. It’s politically very sensitive because relatively small cuts can mean losing large numbers of staff. Certain departments and agencies have become very good at employing the right people directly to cut down their consulting spend. There is a demand for permanent large scale programme directors and they are coming from the Big Four. However they are still reliant on consultancies to implement change as they cannot support all resources in-house, hence the government is increasingly open to working with people from the commercial sector. That’s been a trend over the last decade and that continues to grow in certain areas. Historically, those working in regulatory bodies would be those that couldn’t cut the mustard in Financial Services. Now they’re hiring good people and paying them good money. There is active promotion for people to come in, understand how the regulatory bodies work and then allow them to filter back into the commercial market. The aim is to improve controls and compliance in the banking sector.
Digital growth in finance
Those that have worked for the regulatory bodies and understand them are very attractive hires for banks. They have internal relationships with them and are able to have more open and frank conversations over any issues. The FCA has grown a very sharp and powerful set of teeth and has exercised their right to issue very large fines. They are now a highly respected organisation. Historically a compliance person would be somebody that the MDs would pay lip service to. Now Heads of Compliance are some of the most powerful people in a business. Reputational risk is a big issue for banks. Throughout 2008 and 2009 risk became the focus. The consulting work sold into the banking sector was to protect balance sheets and operations. Now they’re moving back towards growth strategies to improve their digital abilities.
Diversity and inclusion is very important for the Big Four. They are all aiming to even up their gender balance within the partner level. This has to be an organic programme. It is not a problem they can recruit their way out of, policies must change. An example of that would be the introduction of more flexible opportunities. They can’t just talk about it, these policies must be applied. It’s difficult because consultancies are very beholden to clients. If you have someone working two days at home it affects their availability. Work-life balance is difficult due to the nature of the job.
The acquisition of technology firms where that culture is important is rubbing off. Consulting businesses are changing. They are more relaxed, more contemporary. Their structure is flatter, there is less tie-wearing. However, they are huge organisations that employ tens of thousands of people and traditionally they are audit firms. They have a very well-established culture of their own. It won’t and shouldn’t change overnight.
The biggest change is a willingness to hire from industry into senior roles. There is a growing respect between consultancies and their own clients. The Big Four have gone to market and hired the smart people themselves. In the cyber space there are examples where they have hired senior people directly from banks to join them and add to their proposition. This was spoken about in the past but was rare. They were worried about the sales ability of those that have good technical knowledge. Now they are being brought in to support those that are selling with knowledge and a shared empathy with clients from their own experience in the market. Previously they hired from other consultancies, but now they are comfortable casting the net wider. They have trawled through the same fish in the same pond so many times that it is now time to look for different hiring opportunities.
Rees Draper Wright are a specialist international executive search business that focuses exclusively on the placement of Senior Consultants within the professional services sectors. As well as the UK they also work internationally throughout the Middle East, United States, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Far East.