The top consulting industry news stories of 2019

31 December 2019 Consultancy.uk

The last 12 months saw public scrutiny, rapidly advancing technology and Brexit subjected the UK’s consulting industry to sustained disruption. As a result, Consultancy.uk’s most popular articles published in 2019 were dominated by huge changes to the British operations of the Big Four, the resurgence of strategy consulting, and a wealth of new challengers joining the market, seeking to benefit from its turbulence.

Kicking on from a strong 2018, the Consultancy.org group has enjoyed another year of exciting growth in terms of both readership and reach, with coverage having taken root on every continent. In Britain, this has seen continuous expansion in terms of site visitors, an increase in leading industry interviews, and the continued recognition of Consultancy.uk as a leading publication through mentions and awards.

Britain’s management consulting industry has also seemed to enjoy positive growth, on the face of things. According to the Management Consultancies Association, the industry has breached the £10 billion mark in revenues for the first time, while it’s headcount has topped 60,000 consultants, as many firms ramped up their capabilities to meet a spike in consulting demand. This has been reflected by a number of the platform’s most read articles over the last year, with a number examining why many new members of the workforce are considering careers in the sector.

The best read 2019 news stories on Consultancy.uk

Top consulting firms according to clients and consultants’ topped this field in terms of readership, highlighting the best firms from a consultant’s-eye-view. ‘Best consulting firms according to 20,000 graduates’ meanwhile looked into which firms were most attractive to university leavers, as the industry continues to participate in a war for top talent in Britain. Finally, ‘10 leading consultancies to work for in the UK’ saw analysis from The Sunday Times reveal the consulting companies that rank as the best industry employers.

Technological transformations continued to be a massive driver for consulting growth in the UK, meanwhile. ‘Failed SAP implementation costs LeasePlan €100 million’ was the year’s most read article, and featuring the kind of multi-million mishap that can occur in a high-profile digital transformation, it illustrates exactly why the expertise of consultants is so keenly sought after in this regard.

This trend saw long-standing technology outsourcer Capita launch its own consulting wing in a bid to boost its revenues, in another of the year’s most popular stories. Digital transformation also seems to have benefitted long-standing consultancies, as illustrated by the year’s second-most-read story ‘Is strategy consulting dead?’, stating how strategy firms like the MBB are looked to, as firms look to integrate new IT systems into their business. Building on this, the likes of ‘McKinsey & Company debuted new branding in 2019’, to symbolise how these grand old companies are thriving thanks to these new business needs.

Ups and downs

2019 wasn’t exclusively a smooth ride for UK consulting though. As shown by the popularity of ‘Five major changes facing the global consulting industry’, changing client behaviour, project complexity and new competition are all impacting the profitability of top firms, alongside a mounting body of criticism aimed at many professional services companies’ accounting wings. The Big Four in particular were routinely the subject of public scrutiny, with the shadow of Carillion still looming large over them almost two years on. This year, EY and PwC were tied to further scandals which allegedly contributed to the collapse of Thomas Cook, among a number of other similar stories.

The quartet each oversaw some form of restructuring of their businesses as the negative PR – combined with Brexit uncertainty – seemed to slow their economic growth. One particularly well read example saw EY subsequently downsize its financial services consulting practice – while it also chose to move its EY Europe HQ to Brussels ahead of Brexit.

KPMG meanwhile continued to endure direct fallout from Carillion. The smallest member of the Big Four saw slowed economic performance in the UK lead to it having to make a number of notable changes as it looked to shore up its business, ahead of 2020. On top of this though, the firm also suffered the added blow of a reported bullying scandal, which saw a number of senior staff exit its deal advisory wing, before the Partner accused of bullying himself stepped down. Elsewhere, KPMG’s financial services wing was also rocked by a spate of resignations, this time in protest at the ousting of Tim Howarth, who was investigated for his conduct via messaging platform WhatsApp.

Overall, 2019 feels somewhat like Groundhog Day for the consulting industry. The top firms continue to grind out growth – albeit at a slower rate than before – despite public criticism, while digital disruption continues to fill their coffers. At the same time, as was thought to be the case last year, come the end of 2020, the trends which dominate consulting industry news are likely to have shifted. That being said, a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the future of the consulting industry, and the broader UK economy in 2020.

With Brexit set to finally come to fruition, and British companies still battling to overcome a productivity crisis, a talent shortage resulting from an ageing population, high employment and a slowing of migration could further lend to a troubled year. As a new year of economic and geo-political uncertainty dawns, consultants must keep a weather eye trained on the news, if they are to continue to thrive in such a potentially turbulent environment.


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