Cantillon: Rival for Big Four in accountancy merger

Merger will help Grant Thornton boost existing capacity in other areas of accountancy

Michael McAteer: leads Grant Thornton’s  large insolvency business. Photograph: David Sleator

Michael McAteer: leads Grant Thornton’s large insolvency business. Photograph: David Sleator


Less than 13 months after RSM Farrell Grant Sparks sold its insolvency business to global firm Duff & Phelps it has agreed to merge with Grant Thornton (the “Grant” in both names is coincidental) in a move that will edge the enlarged entity closer to accountancy’s Big Four.

RSM Farrell Grant Sparks’s decision to sell its long-established insolvency arm was meant to allow it to focus on its audit, tax and corporate finance practices. Presumably it was not a factor at the time , but the sale of that division means there is no crossover with Grant Thornton in a key area.

Grant Thornton already has a large insolvency business, now led by Michael McAteer, and which was at one stage headed by the firm’s managing partner, Paul McCann. It handled many of the high-profile cases that resulted from the financial crash, including Quinn Insurance, to which McAteer and McCann were appointed administrators.

Its strength in that area is in part a result of another merger, this time with corporate recovery specialist Foster McAteer, in 2008. When that was announced, Grant Thornton’s then managing partner, Paul Raleigh, said the firm intended into develop market leadership in corporate recovery. Its revenue more or less doubled to €100 million from 2008 to last year and its insolvency division must have been a big contributor to that growth.

While there will always be a need for insolvency practitioners, figures over the last year show demand for their skills has been falling as the economy recovers. It obviously makes sense for Grant Thornton to boost its existing capacity in other areas of accountancy. Joining forces with an established practice such as RSM Farrell Grant Sparks was the most straightforward way of doing this.

The fact that only one of the two firms has an insolvency practice may also help the deal’s case when it comes to getting Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approval, which is required before the merger can go ahead.