EY split plan is ‘stopped, not paused,’ says Irish chief

Big Four firm eyes more growth in current financial year

The proposal to split EY’s audit and consulting businesses globally have been “stopped” and “not paused”, the accountancy giant’s Irish lead partner has insisted after United States executives killed off the proposal in April following months of disagreement.

The Big Four firm had secured approval last September from its global leadership for the proposal, dubbed Project Everest. If executed, it would have represented the biggest shake-up in the accounting industry in more than two decades but the plan faced strong opposition from some quarters of the firm’s US business over the structure of the arrangement.

While it is widely believe that an alternative structure for the split could be explored down the road, Frank O’Keeffe, EY Ireland managing partner, said that no formal process has been initiated.

“We stopped Everest for a number of reasons because we thought that was the right thing to do,” he told The Irish Times. “And the word ‘stopped’ is not ‘paused.’”


Mr O’Keeffe said, however: “There is no doubt that the strategic intent [of the split] is still very much a question that we need to answer for professional services. We’re incredibly proud in the way that we are the ones that are taking about changing the face of professional services globally.”

Ultimately, he said that while the proposal had been rejected, the firm had “learned a huge amount about ourselves globally about ourselves and about EY Ireland which will make us much stronger”.

Mr O’Keeffe, who was speaking in Singapore where he was attending the annual EY Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) chief executive retreat, said that EY Ireland’s current financial year, which ends in June, had been another year of growth albeit not at the same pace as 2022 when the firm’s revenues swelled by 26 per cent to €536 million.

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“All of our businesses are performing really well,” he said. “Our corporate finance business – because of the lack of transactions – is probably having a more in indifferent year than it would have had but all of the other elements of our business are flying.”

The Big Four firm, which is beginning its search for a new headquarters in Dublin city centre, is well on its way to hiring some 900 new staff, he said, bringing its overall Irish headcount to more than 5,000.

“The whole office environment has changed significantly,” Mr O’Keeffe said. “More organisations are looking for less space. What we’re really looking for is at the right price point, the most collaborative office space that has all of the elements we need: proximity to all of the infrastructure and easy access close to where our people want to be.”

He said that if it was not for hybrid working, EY Ireland “might be out of space at this time”.

On the topic of the EOY retreat, Mr O’Keeffe said that the trip to Singapore was a chance for the 24 finalists in this year’s competition to think about Singapore and the rest of Asia as potential growth markets.

“These are serious operators,” he said. “But, what makes the Irish entrepreneur, I think, so valuable for our ecosystem at home is that they spot opportunities. They’re not afraid to travel.”

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times