PwC boss sees reasons to be cheerful in flat markets

Marion Dakers

Chairman Ian Powell tells Marion Dakers about how the accountancy firm is seeking new sources of growth

I’M slightly concerned,” says Ian Powell. “I thought that the activity in the transfer window was tense, and we have not gotten off to the best of starts.”

The chairman of PwC UK might be harbouring doubts about the prospects of his beloved West Brom this season, but he has high hopes for the accountancy group he has led for nearly five years.

As PwC reveals a three per cent rise in revenues for the year to the end of June, Powell tells City A.M. the company has given “a strong performance, given this marketplace”.

He says there is scope for expansion in cyber security, data analytics and advisory work on large capital projects, which are “in demand not just in the UK but on a global basis”.

“We’re not exporting this, that’s not the right word, but we are using UK resources on some major projects worldwide. We expect to see this increasing in the coming years.”

He picks out Central Europe including Russia, where the company is sizing up “a significant investment”, and the Middle East as particularly ripe avenues for growth.

Powell is gradually steering the firm away from audit, which is one of the best-known parts of PwC’s business, but also an area where the firm is facing regulatory reform in the UK and abroad on top of a marketplace that he insists is already “intense”.

Audit services made up 24 per cent of PwC revenues in the last year, down from 28 per cent in 2007.

“We might see a reduction in our market share but the key is that we work with clients that we want to work with,” he admits.

“There’s an increase in tendering and I have to say our performance in tendering has been impressive. We have been selected to be auditor for HSBC. In any market where there’s a lot of competition there are also opportunities.”

The company, like its peers in the so-called Big Four, has lobbied against the Competition Commission’s plan to introduce mandatory tendering for audit contracts at least once every five years. Powell argues that a regime of regular “is going to be increasing costs for clients”.

In spite of the shifting market, Powell says he is optimistic about the rest of his second four-year term in charge of the company: “I’m confident, we are in really good shape. I’m hopeful, I think we are going to see more growth in the UK.”

Degree in economics from Wolverhampton Polytechnic
Advanced Management Programme at Insead Business School
Chartered accountant

1977: Joins PwC (then Price Waterhouse) as a graduate trainee

1991: Makes partner, starts a restructuring team in Manchester

2006: Joins the executive board as head of advisory

2008: Elected chairman and senior partner

2012: Re-elected for a second four-year term