Second-tier accountants in direct marketing push

MANY second-tier accounting firms will be ramping up their direct marketing to try and claim a bigger share of the audit and, potentially, consulting markets.

The spate of recent corporate collapses both here and in the US has smaller listed companies in particular reassessing whether they need one of the now ‘big four’ accounting firms to do their audit.

At the same time, some large listed companies are starting to consider using smaller accounting firms for some of their consulting work.

PKF managing partner Neil Smith said his firm was actively pushing its audit service.

“At the same time we managed to slip under the noses of the big four firms and pick up some consulting work for a large listed company,” he said.

“We already have a substantial audit client base and we are actively chasing the bottom 200 listed companies.

“We see our main market in this area as being small to medium-sized enterprises and small listed companies. For example, to audit a company the size of Wesfarmers you’d need about 40 auditors and we don’t have that sort of manpower.”

Mr Smith said the firms marketing push had been working.

“We’re starting to get more invitations to tender for auditing work from listed companies,” he said.

BDO managing partner and Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia national president Geoff Brayshaw said all second-tier firms were recognising the potential for picking up extra audit work.

“In BDO’s case our general marketing and branding has been designed to show that we have the capability to do more audit work in the listed area,” he said.

“There is often a perception from listed company boards that they need one of the big four accounting firms to do their audits but we are actively pushing our capability in this area.

“You have to put yourself out to the market through professional organisations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors and show your technical ability and, most importantly, credibility in this area. Above all it’s a brand thing.”

Bentleys MRI national chairman Geoffrey Hick said the firm was lifting its marketing push both locally and nationally to attract more audit clients.

“This approach is primarily being done directly. We’re targeting companies that we think have potential difficulties with their auditors and operate in niche areas that we have particular expertise,” he said.

“We are also looking at alliances with other mid-tier firms if the client’s requirements are too big.

“The third approach we’re taking is the ‘Trojan horse’ approach and directly approaching the big four firms. If they perceive they have a conflict with a client, we can become their preferred referee.”

Fellow PKF director Ian Olson said he believed mid-tier firms had a value proposition to offer small listed companies.

“We have a higher level of client-partner relationships than the big four firms. I believe that is a better fit for the Perth market,” he said.

Both peak accounting bodies CPA Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia have professional standards regarding members’ marketing activities.

Institute of Chartered Accountants WA regional manager Con Abbott said institute members were allowed to advertise and market their services, providing such efforts fell within its code of professional conduct.

In the institute’s case that means any marketing must “be consistent with the dignity of the profession”.

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