02.24.05-1 AGGRESSIVE PURSUITS: The Big Four Accounting Firms

Sarbanes-Oxly has unintended consequences. Which is to be expected when dealing with complex issues. One of these consequences has been the reluctance of the Big Four auditing firms to audit smaller, publicly-traded enterprises. According to a study done by Audit Analytics, and brought to my attention by Nick Wreden at FusionBrand, the Big Four have been dropping smaller clients like flies. Reason being that the additional overhead created by Sarbanes-Oxely makes smaller clients unprofitable.

The Big Four, in concentrating their client base, open up an opportunity for the "Medium Six" auditors to gain share. Tapping this opportunity requires courage (if you get it wrong you go to jail) and an aggressive set of business development competencies that are missing from most audit firms. One of the Middle Six firms that appears to be pursuing this opportunity is Grant Thornton. Edward Nusbaum, the Grant Thornton CEO, recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal describing the need to go beyond the Big Four auditors.

Grant Thornton has been running a series of ads for several months that trumpet their Passion for Accounting. The ads feature a red rose clenched between the teeth of decidedly-looking accountants. My first impression was that Grant Thornton was trying to appeal to the growing number of women CFO's. I'm not sure if this is the case since I am not privy to their strategy. But I can say that if Grant Thornton has decided to focus on pursuing women CFO's in small and medium-sized enterprises dropped by the Big Four, then I think they may have a winning strategy. It will be interesting to see if other Middle Six auditors move to fill this vacuum.