EY picks Hywel Ball as next UK Managing Partner

13 March 2020 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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EY looks set to name its current audit business leader as its next UK Managing Partner. Despite fears that the advisory and accounting wings of EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC could be forcibly broken up to avoid alleged conflicts of interest, Hywel Ball is reported to have been selected as Steve Varley’s successor.

Since the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion, talk of ‘breaking up’ the Big Four has been steadily reaching a crescendo, and earlier in the spring a Parliamentary report even endorsed the separation of the Big Four’s accounting and advisory wings. In April 2019, this led the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to recommend a shake-up of the British audit market. While it stopped short of calling for a dreaded ‘break up’, it cited the need for legislation to address what it described as “serious competition problems.”

Amid this flurry of negative press, the Big Four of KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY have each moved to show that they are capable of self-regulating, while suggesting state intervention would harm the growth of the UK’s professional services market. The desire for the industry’s top players to quell fears that their auditing and advisory wings were too closely linked reportedly saw Panos Kakoullis miss out on replacing David Sproul as Deloitte’s North West Europe CEO – as he was closely associated with the audit side of operations.

Hywel Ball, UK Managing Partner at EY

Now, however, EY seems to have brushed off such concerns, with the news it has picked its Head of UK Audit to run its whole UK operations. According to reports from Sky News, Assurance Managing Partner Hywel Ball has been identified as the leading candidate to succeed Steve Varley as its UK and Ireland regional Managing Partner.

An EY veteran who has been with the firm for 35 years, Ball’s appointment is expected to be ratified within the next week – a move which is broadly expected to provoke controversy. Aside from Ball’s close links to auditing, the move would see EY opt not to become the first of the leading audit firms to appoint a female boss, despite EY's UK Chief Operating Officer, Lynn Rattigan, and Global Accounts Committee Chair, Alison Kay, both being on the final shortlist of four candidates.

Late in 2019, the professional services came under fire from the Financial Reporting Council on this basis. The audit watchdog slated the profession for a perceived lack of diversity in the sector, saying more needed to be done to ensure that firms did not limit access to its most senior roles to white men.

Speaking in October, Sir Jon Thompson, the FRC’s new CEO, said, "The business case for improved diversity has been made and now it's time for the audit and accountancy profession to take further positive action."

In 2018, the last major UK professional services firm to have a female CEO ousted her in sensational fashion. Grant Thornton’s Sacha Romanovitch had introduced changes including capping her own salary at 20 times the firm’s average pay, and overhauling the firm’s partnership structure to make it a John Lewis-style profit-sharing scheme for all staff, before a group of 15 anonymous Partners and Directors at the firm leaked the contents of Romanovitch’s annual performance review with an unsigned complaint, claiming she had “misdirected” the firm, and accusing her of pursuing a “socialist agenda.”