Vinod Mahanta, The Economic Times

Big Four Set for Another Wave of Partner Poaching

Recent article posted in The Economic Times talks about how the recruitments come at a time when the Big Four firms are strengthening service lines, scaling up advisory practices and filling replacement hiring. Deloitte's actions exemplify this trend, hiring over 50 lateral partners in the past year, with nearly half from rival firms, particularly bolstering cyber, risk, financial services, and tech divisions

The Big Four firms are preparing for another wave of substantial partner movement as they scale their advisory practices, start replacement hirings, all while managing the challenges of an expanding, ambitious pool of partner base.The imperative to strengthen service lines and recruit partners is underscored by Deloitte's actions; over the past 12 months, the firm has hired around 53 lateral partners, with nearly half coming from competing firms, often as part of large team transitions.

Deloitte is hiring more than 25 partners from EY in advisory businesses— largely cyber, risk, financial services and tech — out of which 13 have joined with the remainder in various stages of negotiations and expected to join in the next few months.

In all, about 50 partners will be joining Deloitte in the next few months, including more than 25 from KPMG.

"Given our robust growth rate and goal to double our business within 3-4 years, we continue to hire talented individuals, including partners spanning various capabilities and industry expertise. We hold a strong bullish stance on the growth of the Indian economy and will maintain aggressive investment," said Romal Shetty, CEO, Deloitte, South Asia.

Rival PwC recently poached five partners from Accenture and is in the market to add more large teams. Over the last few months, PwC has hired 25 partners, most from competing firms.

Meanwhile, EY, the market leader, has opted for a more selective approach to hiring, securing a senior rainmaker in consulting services, a partner leading an 8-10-member team in capital management solutions, and three additional partners specializing in risk management.

Heightened partner activity of the Big Four firms in India since the pandemic is reflected in their projected combined revenues exceeding Rs 40,000 crore for FY23. Last month, total partner count across the four professional services firms surpassed 3,000, with robust hiring continuing at senior levels.

Professional services firms in India are experiencing double-digit growth rates, outpacing their counterparts in mature markets, largely due to the sluggish economic conditions in the West.

"The strong business environment has raised the need for senior expertise, prompting our ongoing investment in key areas such as business and digital transformation, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies," said Sanjeev Krishan, chairman, PwC India. "PwC's unique inclusive culture enables professionals and thought leaders to be authentic, while we provide full support for their career advancement."

The four firms are seeing an unprecedented surge in demand for advisory services following the pandemic-induced acceleration of trends in digital services, risk management, government, and cybersecurity businesses.

Consequently, they have been actively seeking leadership talent capable of delivering high-quality services on large projects for both domestic and multinational companies.

Yezdi Nagporewalla, CEO, KPMG India said he had observed a recent trend where partners are approaching his firm in teams of 2-3 or larger groups.

"They feel more comfortable moving as a team due to their experience working within cross-functional teams internally or closely with other partners," said Nagporewalla.

KPMG has been facing partner turnover, losing over 50 in three years. The firm is in active talks with partners at rival firms-EY, PwC and KPMG-and IT MNCs to recruit tech and advisory talent, preferring smaller teams for easier integration.

"As a firm with growth aspirations, we are constantly on the lookout for good talent, especially those with proven leadership skills and a strong track record.

We continue to attract, retain, and groom very talented professionals across our services," said Nagporewalla.

Incidentally, in the last four years, IT giant Accenture has also been a favourite hunting ground for all the Big Four firms for tech talent required to manage and deliver larger tech transformation projects.

The most notable feature in the latest round of movements has been Deloitte and Pwc hiring teams from EY. Also, for the first time, partners from India's largest professional services firm have shown their willingness to move to rival firms.

"After the embarrassing failure of EY's Everest project, the firm's partners are now much more open to discussions. Previously, EY operated as a fortress, and partners were hesitant to consider other firms due to the stability and scale offered. However, with the partner pyramid significantly expanding, particularly in the last three years, growth opportunities are becoming limited. Additionally, Deloitte and PwC are now aggressively investing and have substantial scale too; that is prompting partners to consider relocation," explained a senior partner who was actively involved in hiring from EY. 

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