7 Jul 2016 12:00pm

How the Big Four have responded to the EU referendum result

The result of last month’s EU referendum and the market volatility and business uncertainty that followed has prompted an increase in demand for legal and financial services, as British businesses scramble to make sense of what the outcome means for them

The Big Four have harnessed this opportunity and created new specialist roles and teams to help their clients understand the implications of the referendum result on their business.

KPMG has appointed Karen Briggs to the newly created role of “head of Brexit”, while Deloitte has set up a "Brexit centre" and EY and PwC have set up specialist teams to inform and support their clients following the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

Briggs will work with KPMG’s "Brexit response panel", which comprises senior partners and experts in tax, economics, audit, immigration and financial regulation amongst others, in supporting organisations at home and abroad as they adapt to the post-EU world.

Simon Collins, KPMG UK chairman, said, "We have pulled together experts from across the firm to provide the help and guidance our clients need and have appointed one of our most senior partners to our executive committee to lead the charge.”

Briggs added, “Our dialogue with clients shows that they need expert support on mitigating the risks and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise from a Brexit. To ensure we can deliver both the Brexit-related services our clients are demanding, on top of business as usual, I plan to build a dedicated team.

“We have been advising our clients to consider the next two weeks, two months and two years to assess the path ahead. Looking at our 2:2:2 model, many of our clients have been seeking advice on their immediate risks. However, we are now seeing clients look further ahead to what opportunities might lie ahead in the next two years – whether these are bolstering trading relationships with China or out-manoeuvring competitors.

"We are also engaging international clients and are observing, interestingly, predatory intentions from other European nations considering what competitive advantage a Brexit might mean for them,” she added.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner of PwC, added, "As the dust settles on the EU referendum result, organisations are taking stock and looking at both the challenge and opportunity ahead.

We have had a team in place to prepare for the potential outcome of the referendum – remain or leave - since last year

Steve Varley, UK chairman, EY

“Our experience is that businesses are adaptable. While there are uncertainties, it is essential for the economy, UK skills and future growth that business maintains confidence and continues to invest for the future.”

Ellis is leading PwC’s "Brexit group", which has three areas of focus – “supporting our clients with what Brexit may mean for their business plans; developing our insight on the impacts on industries, regions and people; and gearing up to resource areas where there is client demand".

He added, “We are already seeing increased appetite for strategy advice as well as for support around treasury management, immigration advice and pensions."

PwC has also held a series of webcasts to discuss the main issues and implications of the referendum which have been watched by 20,000+ viewers in total and prompted hundreds of questions, a spokesperson said.

Rick Cudworth, head of Deloitte UK’s "Brexit centre" has also noticed a lot of interest from clients in understanding the implications of the UK leaving the EU for their business.

He added that more than 10,000 clients joined the firm’s external webinar on 24 June.

“Prior to the vote, we identified Brexit leads for each of our industry groups and conducted ‘war game’ exercises to help our clients and our own firm think through potential scenarios. All of our responses are coordinated through a Brexit centre which has enabled us to share knowledge across the business and deliver the right expertise consistently,” he said.

“We are conducting a post-referendum analysis of the business landscape and policy options to help clients as they begin to take decisions about investment, recruitment and so on and we have met key stakeholders including clients, trade bodies and government to discuss where we can help. We are emphasising the need to manage immediate financial risks, communicate with staff, investors and markets and make detailed and considered plans for the future their business faces. Our clients are expressing caution but also looking at both short and long term opportunities.”

EY has also taken steps to help its clients deal with the impact of the referendum result.

Steve Varley, UK chairman, EY said, “We have had a team in place to prepare for the potential outcome of the referendum – remain or leave - since last year. We are already working with many of our clients on the impact of the EU referendum on their business. Brexit will affect their business strategy, supply chain, funding, tax position, regulation, growth opportunities and talent pipeline.

“We have a big and diverse team in the UK - in the heart of our business we have mobilised a group of more than 60 partners to help our clients respond. Given the importance of UK business in global trade, we are working with our global business to put together the right teams and solutions for our clients across the world.”

Meanwhile, the British government has said it is in talks with some of the biggest accountancy firms in order to prepare for complex upcoming EU exit negotiations.

A PwC spokesperson confirmed it has been approached by government officials, who were told that the firm was “ready to help as needed”.
The government estimates it needs around 700 extra staff to deal with the negotiations with the EU and other countries.

David Cameron said last week in parliament that the EU exit is “the most complex and most important task that the British civil service has undertaken in decades” and guaranteed the team would be led by and staffed by “the brightest and best across our civil service”.

He said, “It will report to the whole of the cabinet on delivering the outcome of the referendum, advising on transitional issues and exploring objectively options for our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world from outside the EU.”

Earlier this year, it emerged government spending on consultants and temporary staff had risen by between £400m and £600m over the last four years.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that the government spent £1.3bn last year on consultants, with the largest suppliers being PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PA Consulting and McKinsey.

Sinead Moore

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