Ernst & Young announces split of accounting and consulting firms

Judah Duke, Business Editor

Professional business services firm Ernst & Young announced plans to split its accounting and consulting divisions.

Pending a vote from the firm’s more than 10,000 partners across 140 countries, the split would mean less confrontations with regulators’ restraints, along with possible dividends coming the partners’ way, many even in the millions.

“The world is changing, and we have to adapt to continue to thrive and achieve our full potential, while we address the needs of all of our stakeholders,” Nguyet Thu Vu, EY’s director of marketing and communications, said in a statement. “Having carefully considered various options, we firmly believe that we can embrace the changing landscape, build businesses that redefine the future of our professions, create exciting new opportunities, and deliver greater long-term value for EY people, clients and communities.”

The move comes amid rising pressure from governments to promote accountability and to avoid conflicts of interest internally and with other big accounting firms. In addition to EY, the other United Kingdom-based “Big Four” firms include Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.

After energy company Enron Corp. committed fraud in 2001, Congress pushed for increased oversight of accounting firms. It tasked the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board within the Securities and Exchange Commission to take a closer look at the internal activity of large accounting firms.

A series of high profile fraud cases followed in recent years, including construction company Carillion PLC’s scandal in 2020 and ethics training issues at EY in June.

The other three big firms have not made plans to cut their consulting practice from their accounting companies. Deloitte even refuted news about plans to split its advisory and accounting businesses.

EY provides its services to some of the world’s most prominent corporations, which include Hewlett-Packard Co., Coca-Cola Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., AT&T Inc., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., Intel Corp., Walmart Corp. and General Motors Co.

EY establishing its consulting division as a separate company is a tactic to avoid missing out on business from clients that the accounting firm serves. The firm’s multinational foothold requires corroboration with the individual oversights of domestic and international governments, and the split would save time and resources spent meeting these demands.

For all of its benefits, the split may end up causing some complications.

It is likely that the new consulting company could go public, with an initial public offering that would deliver payouts to partners managing the consulting practice as well as some in the accounting one — as much as $8 million and $2 million each, respectively.

With most shareholders being past partners within the consulting division, the new business needs to exercise care regarding equity distribution. Shareholders would no longer enjoy the unregulated profit gains they did as partners.

Additionally, accounting partners may argue that the resources of the whole firm have been responsible for new and future growth in consulting revenue.

EY’s partner appointments rose 38% between 2020 and 2021, with more partners now than ever.

The voting process will begin as soon as the end of 2022 and could finish in early 2023.