Top consulting firms according to clients and consultants

22 July 2019 12 min. read

Analysis of surveys among over 1,000 senior executives and nearly 5,000 consultants has identified the UK’s most in-demand consulting firms. While unsurprisingly the list is dominated by large global consulting firms, dozens of smaller specialist consultancies are found to be punching above their weight, able to successfully compete with the likes of McKinsey, BCG and the Big Four in certain sectors and areas of expertise.

The UK’s £10.6 billion consulting industry is home to over 1,000 established management consulting firms, with 60,000 consultants and staff, according to industry association MCA. These consulting firms work across all sectors of the nation’s economy – from the public sector and transport to retail, aviation and energy – helping clients with some of their most pressing strategic, organisational, operational and digital challenges.

Analysis of the consulting industry’s service portfolio shows that there are more than 100 fields of expertise consultants work in, ranging from strategy, mergers and acquisitions and operations, to innovation, finance, human capital and digital. Competition among consulting firms is fierce however, with firms competing to serve the country’s top clients and support the UK’s most prestigious projects. At the other side of table, organisations are more discerning than ever about the external advisors they work with.

Surveys – one consisting of 1,000 senior executives who have recently hired a consulting firm, and another polling nearly 5,000 consultants – has identified the elite group of strategy consultancies McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company and the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) as the UK’s leading consulting firms. Conducted by the Financial Times and Statista, the client survey asked executives to recommend consultancies based on the quality of service offered, while the consultant survey asked respondents to provide recommendations based on aspects such as prestige and peer perception.

Top 20 consulting firms according to clients and consultants

The top consulting firms

Deloitte Consulting, KPMG Advisory and McKinsey & Company were recommended most frequently, in all 29 of the 29 consulting service categories assessed. Deloitte Consulting is the globe’s largest consulting firm by size, and ranks most highly, alongside Big Four competitor KPMG, operating as KPMG Advisory (this is similar to how rivals EY and PwC brand their consulting wings). At the same time, McKinsey & Company, the world’s largest strategy consulting firm, with 23,000 employees globally, also ranks in the eyes of clients and consultants as UK’s top consulting firm.

Accenture came in second, recommended in 28 of the 29 consulting service categories, while PwC rounded off the top five of UK’s leading consultancies. The globe’s largest professional services firm generates consulting revenues of almost £4 billion in the UK. EY, the fourth of the Big Four in this ranking – but the third largest in terms of UK revenues – followed with 25 recommendations across sectors and functional areas.

The elite group of top eight consulting firms was completed by Boston Consulting Group (sixth), the globe’s second largest strategy consultancy after McKinsey with 18,500 employees globally. Bain & Company ranked eighth, and has approximately 8,000 consultants. Combined, the trio of the ‘MBB’ were the runaway market leaders in the strategic segment of the consulting industry, both in reputation and size, and well ahead of peers such as A.T. Kearney, Oliver Wyman, L.E.K. Consulting and Roland Berger.

The high position of the Big Four in the management consulting space is in stark contrast to around a decade ago. At the turn of the century, following the collapse of Enron, the Big Four sold off their consulting arms amid controversy around independence between audit and consulting work. EY then sold its consulting arm to Capgemini, PwC to IBM and KPMG spun off its arm, which later became BearingPoint. Deloitte kept on to its consultancy wing, although it came very close to divesting it, and that has since formed the basis for Deloitte Consulting’s lead in the global consulting landscape.

In fact, the leading position of Deloitte and PwC in particular are even more dominant if subsidiaries are taken into account. Deloitte’s acquisition of Monitor Group, co-founded by strategy guru Michael Porter in 2012, marked the firm’s entry into the strategy consultancy segment, and today Monitor Deloitte has approximately 1,500 consultants globally. Deloitte is further represented by Deloitte Digital, the company’s digital transformation unit. PwC sent a tidal wave through the consulting arena when it bought Booz & Company back in 2014, and today the rebranded Strategy& operates as its strategy consulting subsidiary. Both units received several recommendations from clients for their strategic work.

Meanwhile, EY also has a strategic consulting unit, EY-Parthenon, launched in 2015 after it bought The Parthenon Group. In the UK, the group’s footprint lags its stature in North America (where the firm is headquartered) and mainland Europe (where the firm bought three offices of OC&C to ramp up its footprint). While KPMG did have interest in Roland Berger when it was undergoing a strategic reorientation, as well as Booz, it has not made a major catch in the strategy space, and serves the market fully with its KPMG Advisory Brand. However, in the UK, KPMG did acquire Boxwood in 2015, a leading London firm, and KPMG Boxwood has since managed to get ten recommendations by clients and consultants, more than Monitor Deloitte or Strategy&.

Top 20 - 40 consulting firms according to clients and consultants

The list of UK’s leading management consulting firms is continued by ten other players that received a recommendation in ten or more categories. Capgemini Invent ranked ninth – the consulting wing of French IT services giant Capgemini was formed last year after the group merged its Capgemini Consulting brand with several of its creative units. IBM Global Business Services, the consulting unit of American technology giant IBM, shared ninth place with Invent.

The eleventh place firm was SNC-Lavalin Atkins, formed in 2017 after it was acquired by Canadian engineering group SNC-Lavalin for £2.1 billion. SNC-Lavalin Atkins specialises in engineering consultancy and project management. The group of top twenty consulting firms was completed by a mixture of various firms. A.T. Kearney and Oliver Wyman, both US-headquartered, and UK-headquartered L.E.K. Consulting, are strategy consulting firms, and serve clients across most industries. The Advisory arms of Grant Thornton and BDO were also lauded for their services, with both firms among UK’s ten largest accountancy networks.

Private equity-based PA Consulting Group is a UK-origin management and technology consultancy that has offices in 13 nations. BearingPoint has a heritage in KPMG Consulting and today is one of Europe’s largest home-grown consulting firms, with almost 5,000 employees. Baringa Partners has around 550 consultants and staff, and operates across the UK, while it also has an office in Germany. Business consultancy Moorhouse Consulting has around 160 consultants, and is since March last year part of Germany’s Software Quality Systems.

Top specialist consultancies

Beyond the most renowned and largest players, a group of 14 firms managed to receive top plaudits in four or more categories. These firms are, according to the reviews, the best in their specific fields of expertise. Not surprisingly, Alvarez & Marsal ranked as a top consultancy in its core expertise of mergers & acquisitions, restructuring, operations & supply chain and organisation change. Korn Ferry outperformed its peers in particularly human capital, people performance and change management, FTI Consulting ranked highly in finance consulting, mergers & acquisitions, turnaround and strategic communications.

Four strategy consulting firms also featured in the mix. OC&C Strategy Consultants is a London-headquartered consultancy with a focus on sectors such as retail, consumer goods, luxury, media and telecom; Arthur D. Little is the globe’s oldest management consultancy and has a strong track record in technology-intensive and production sectors; and Roland Berger is Germany’s largest management consulting firm, and Europe’s largest player in the US-dominated strategic space. LiveStrategy is a boutique English player that provides blue ocean strategy services to SMEs.

IT consultancies Cognizant (US headquartered), Vendigital (founded in 2000 and based in London) and Tata Consultancy Services (part of India’s largest IT services group Tata) all operate in the technology and digital transformation space. Kantar is a research agency that was recently acquired by Bain Capital, Mott MacDonald is an engineering consultancy, and BAE Systems Applied Intelligence is the UK’s largest safety and security consulting firm, formerly known as Detica.

Top 40 - 70 consulting firms according to clients and consultants

The top 50 of UK’s most important consulting firms are also a diverse group. The trio of AlixPartners, Sia Partners and Simon-Kucher & Partners are all established global players with a strong reputation in their field of expertise. AlixPartners has around 1,600 consultants across almost 30 offices; French-origin Sia Partners has expanded rapidly in recent years on the back of acquisitions, lifting its team size to around 1,400 consultants today; and sales & marketing and pricing specialist Simon-Kucher & Partners is one of Europe’s fastest growing consulting firms.

There are also a large number of home grown firms thriving in the UK. Digital, strategy and transformation consultancy Curzon & Company and specialist transformation management consultancies The Berkeley Partnership and the Egremont Group were also highly recommended. PPL Consulting specialises in professional human resources consulting, while Talik & Company is an organisation development consultancy based in Milton Keynes with a team of around 20 senior consultants. Formed in 1987 in the North of England, ASE Consulting has offices in London and Sydney. Each of these firms has shown that specialisation can truly pay dividends in the UK market.

From an engineering consulting perspective, Arcadis and Arup ranked among the top consultancies. RSM follows in the footsteps of the Big Four, Grant Thornton and BDO are traditional accounting firms with an ever-growing and highly touted advisory practice , while BMC Consulting Services, Infosys Consulting and Wipro are all active in the IT-segments. Publicis.Sapient, formerly Sapient Consulting, specialises in digital business transformation, digital marketing and advertising, and is a fully owned division of French advertising giant Publicis.

Other consulting firms that were considered by clients and consultants as part of the UK’s crème de la crème included Analysys Mason (a consulting firm for the telecom sector), Capco (a financial services specialist), Chaucer (a digital consulting company), CIL Management Consultants (a London-based boutique), Crimson & Co (a supply chain consultancy that merged with France’s Argon Consulting last year), Newton Europe (an implementation-focused consulting firm), OEE Consulting (a specialist in operational excellence), Q5 Partners (a UK consultancy that also has offices in London, New York, Sydney and Hong Kong) and Wavestone (a French origin player – its UK wing was formed through the acquisition of Hudson & Yorke).

American firms also had a strong presence in the more specialist segments of the UK consulting landscape. Navigant Consulting for instance is a global player with 5,500 consultants and a UK office based in London. North Highland is a leading North American firm and a member of Cordence Worldwide; in the UK it is active in business and digital transformation, among other areas. Mercer is one of the globe’s largest human capital consultancies with a large UK office; Protiviti is part of publicly listed Robert Half and specialises in finance, risk and compliance; Slalom has over 10 offices in the US and 1 in Europe (London); and ZS Associates specialises in sales and marketing consulting, outsourcing and technology, with its UK office based in London.