Irish Accountancy Sector by Mark Butler
Irish Accountancy Sector: Navigating Consolidation, Transformation and Strategic Mergers
by Mark Butler
The landscape of accountancy practices is undergoing a significant transformation, with an increasing emphasis on strategic, digitally-driven approaches to foster growth. In addition, the dynamics of the global and Irish accountancy sector are witnessing a trend towards consolidation. This article explores the key trends in the sector, especially in Ireland, where the importance of strategic mergers, cultural alignment, client satisfaction and wider service offering are paramount for sustained success.
Mark Butler, managing partner of HLB Ireland has led the firm through a number of mergers in recent years, most recently with John McCarrick & Associates, an accountancy firm founded in 1990 by former Irish international runner John McCarrick. The deal is the fifth transaction HLB Ireland has been involved in so many years as it continues to scale the firm.

“We’re always on the trail of finding suitable partners who would like to join us. John was 30 years in business and has a similar client base working with privately owned businesses. ‘John, like us, believes that clients should always have access to a partner and an advisory practice is built on the personal relationships forged with clients. Therefore, culturally they were a perfect fit to join us.

“We are focused on ambitious growing entrepreneurial led businesses,” he added.

Technology, he said, was allowing HLB Ireland to strengthen its relationships with clients. “Traditionally business needed an accountant in-house, and then we dealt with historic information predominantly for compliance purposes.

The right technology and having an advisory mindset is changing the focus of these relationships and we can now be much more hands on in assisting and providing much more timely current information which facilitates us being in a better position to advise our clients, and this approach also reduces risk for businesses.”

The traditional mindset of accountancy firms is focused on building enduring relationships; within our experience, these trusted relationships can last decades. We have recognised that in order to maintain and grow these relationships into the future, investment in technology for focused service delivery is essential. Additionally, being in a position to focus on advisory across our full range of clients along with services such as Cyber Security, Wealth Management, ESG and Sectoral expertise, will be critical into the future as client needs and indeed competition continues to evolve.

Trends in the accountancy sector
Consolidation Wave:

The global accountancy sector is experiencing a wave of consolidation, driven by factors such as technological advancements, regulatory changes, succession challenges and the need for firms to enhance their service offerings. Larger firms are seeking to expand their market share and capabilities by merging with or acquiring smaller, specialised firms.

Digital Transformation:

The traditional model of individual client acquisition is giving way to a more interconnected, leader- and specialist-driven model. Embracing digital tools and diverse distribution channels has become essential for accountancy firms to stay competitive.

Talent Acquisition and Retention:

Attracting, securing and retaining talent, spanning from recent graduates to seasoned professionals, presents an enduring challenge for firms of varying sizes. The traditional model of structuring an accountancy practice is changing, partly I believe, to try deal with the talent shortage and to continually attract a high calibre professional to practice.

Private Equity:

The accountancy sector has witnessed a notable surge in the influence of private equity, as an increasing number of firms have been acquired by consolidators or firms, some of which are private equity backed. To date in Ireland these are generally UK-based entities. This trend reflects a dynamic shift in the professional services landscape, as private equity firms recognise the strategic value and potential profitability within the accountancy sector. The infusion of private equity investment brings not only financial backing but also a drive for operational efficiency and strategic innovation thereby disrupting the traditional model. This growing trend of acquisitions by UK parties underscores a transformative phase for those accountancy firms, as they navigate new partnerships and ways of working.

Key Factors for a Successful Merger
In the HLB Ireland experience, there are a number of key factors that contribute to a successful merger. When contemplating a merger, firms should prioritise several critical considerations. These include aligning firm cultures, ensuring a seamless integration of values and work styles, and strategically managing the transition process. It is imperative to foster open communication, address potential challenges proactively, and establish a shared vision to guarantee the success of the new expanded firm.

1. Cultural Alignment in Mergers:

Cultural alignment takes centre stage in the intricate process of merging firms, demanding a prioritised focus to orchestrate a seamless transition and foster harmonious collaboration. The success of any merger hinges significantly on the compatibility of firm cultures and the resonance of shared values. This emphasis on cultural synergy is particularly critical in Ireland, where the close-knit nature of the business community places a premium on relationships and shared values. Here, the interconnectedness of professional and personal networks amplifies the significance of aligning cultures, creating a foundation for enduring success.

2. Client First Approach:

Engagement and expertise are crucial factors for clients who wish to build trusted relationships with professionals who have the advisory skill set to help them grow their business and indeed for professionals seeking to build their careers. It is therefore critical that there is this alignment evident for the long term in building these client relationships post merger.

3. Strategic Mergers for Growth:

Younger professionals in the Irish accounting profession are increasingly aware of their career progression options and the potential impact mergers have upon their career trajectory. Merging with the right firm is seen as a strategic move to enhance career prospects, leverage a broader client base, and access additional resources. Access to an international network is key to forward thinking firms keen to ensure they retain clients as they in turn need access to global support. International accounting networks serve as invaluable platforms, facilitating cross-border knowledge exchange among firms, enabling them to learn from each other’s diverse experiences and insights along with aligning strategies for growth.

The Uniqueness of the Accountancy Profession
The accountancy sector is undergoing a paradigm shift, with digitalisation, consolidation, and strategic mergers becoming prominent trends. To grow the firm of the future successfully, ambitious professionals will prioritise embracing digital tools, navigating consolidation opportunities, ensuring cultural alignment in mergers, and recruiting leaders with multifaceted skills to adapt to the evolving landscape of the profession.

1. Leadership Cultivation:

In professional services firms, the cultivation of effective leadership is paramount to ensure that leaders are optimally positioned to navigate and serve the evolving needs of the firm in the future. Leadership development programs should be thoughtfully designed to hone the skills required in the dynamic landscape of professional services. This involves fostering strategic thinking, adaptability, and a deep understanding of emerging industry trends. Cultivating a culture of mentorship and continuous learning further contributes to leadership excellence. In the face of technological advancements, global complexities, and shifting client expectations, leaders must be equipped with the ability to inspire innovation, foster collaboration, and drive sustainable growth. By prioritising leadership development, professional services firms can fortify their resilience and readiness for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

2. Segmentation:

To drive ongoing growth, a clear view of your market is important to ensure real meaningful engagement with that target audience. Segmentation by industry is an approach forward-thinking firms have adopted and, in turn, have built deep expertise in key sectors with a view to being the top-of-mind option in their field. This approach builds a deep understanding of evolving client needs in specific industry segments. In our experience and the experience of professionals adopting this approach, this focus yields results beyond the specific segments focused upon and elevates the firm’s profile as a true expert. Market segmentation is crucial for efficiently allocating scarce resources and time, allowing firms to tailor their efforts to specific client segments strategically.

3. Three Essentials for Strategic Growth:

Sophisticated marketing, evolved pipeline management, and innovative service development form the three essentials for strategic growth. The synergy of sophisticated marketing, evolved pipeline management, and innovative service development surpasses the impact of each individual component, marking these three essentials as a formidable force for strategic growth. Together, they constitute the cornerstone for navigating the dynamic terrain of the accounting sector. The harmonious balance of these elements not only ensures a comprehensive strategy but also forms a powerful alliance that propels sustained growth.

4. Pipeline Management and Business Development:

Integrating business development as a core requirement for professionals leading specific segments is crucial. Growth doesn’t happen accidentally. Firms focusing on effective pipeline management for both recurring revenue and project work tend to maximise opportunities, aligning business development strategies with the growth objectives. Fundamentally it is important to understand the source of inbound valuable referrals so they can be built upon.

5. Recruitment of Multifaceted Leaders:

Accountancy firms should actively recruit leaders with additional skills to core technical requirements, including business development and innovation. The ability of professionals to be willing and open to widen their skill base ensures a firm’s agility and adaptability in a rapidly changing environment.

aerial view of person using their laptop
Embracing Change
Growth-minded leaders must embrace change boldly and promptly. Investing in technology, systems, and people is essential to position firms confidently for the future.
The global and Irish accountancy profession is in the midst of a transformative period, marked by consolidation, digitalisation, and strategic mergers. Professionals and firms that prioritise cultural alignment and strategic growth strategies will likely thrive in this evolving landscape.

Embracing change and investing in the right talent, technologies and new services are essential for navigating the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, ensuring sustained success for accountancy practices in the future.

Mark Butler can be contacted directly and in confidence at

About HLB Ireland
HLB Ireland is a leading advisory & accounting firm working with ambitious domestic and overseas businesses in Ireland. Specialising in a number of key sectors such as food & agriculture, technology, arts and entertainment, and private clients with service areas including tax consultancy, outsourcing and cyber security. HLB Ireland is an independent member of HLB International, a global top 10-ranked network.
Mark Butler headshot
Mark Butler
Managing Partner

Mark Butler, managing partner of HLB Ireland has led the firm through a number of mergers in recent years, most recently with John McCarrick & Associates, an accountancy firm founded in 1990 by former Irish international runner John McCarrick. The deal is the fifth transaction HLB Ireland has been involved in so many years as it continues to scale the firm.