The year began with Jean Stephens, the global head of RSM, the world’s sixth-largest accounting firm, saying she is open to merger talks with rivals as the profession geared up for a potential wave of consolidation or private equity buyouts. 

And 2023 has certainly been a year of diversification and consolidation in Scotland’s accountancy sector, driven partly by the availability of private equity investment.

Aberdeen-headquartered accountancy group AAB recently snapped up Elstan HR, an outsourced human resources business in south-east England, the ninth business to join AAB since it secured investment from August Equity two years ago.

The largest of these acquisitions took placed this spring when AAB bought accountant French Duncan, which has served Central Scotland for more than a century with offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling.

Elsewhere, Opulus Financial, established to provide chief financial officer (CFO) solutions through a multi-disciplinary professional service offering, partnered with N4 Partners in 2021 with a strategic vision to establish a network of regional accountancy practices across Scotland with larger hubs in strategic locations to create a hub-and-spoke business advisory group.

With the support of SME Capital, Opulus has since completed the acquisition of six accountancy practices across Scotland: Wylie & Bisset; George and Co; Nicolson Accountancy; John Kerr and Co; Alexander Marshall and Craig Cleland.

The group has a pipeline to continue expanding and has advanced plans to roll out its legal, HR and IT advisory offerings to offer a wide-ranging CFO solutions package.

Matthew Garstang, CEO at Opulus, said: “From a standing start two years ago, we have grown to be a firm of 160 staff, turning over in excess of £11m and servicing clients throughout Scotland and beyond.

“We have a clear vision to provide a wide range of professional services including accountancy, HR, IT and legal – a unique proposition which will serve SMEs with a wide-ranging, technology-led solution that has hitherto not typically been offered.”

And in October accountancy heavyweight MHA entered the Scottish market after sealing a deal billed as a merger with Aberdeen-based Meston Reid & Co. Under the deal, all 29 staff and five partners at Meston will stay with the firm.

The move marks the third deal that MHA, the UK network member of Baker Tilly International, has agreed this year following mergers with two firms in Wales. 

MHA now has 20 offices across the UK and is eyeing further mergers in Scotland as part of its expansion strategy.

Taken together, these deals and others signal a dynamic marketplace typified by diversification
and consolidation that have radically altered the delivery of accountancy services to clients across Scotland.