News from Cass Business School

The Way Ahead for Professional Service Firms

Monday, 30 November, 2009

The past year has been a time of turmoil in the world of professional services firms which are the lifeblood of the City.  Has the financial crisis brought about a profound and irrevocable change in this sector?  Or will professional service firms (PSFs) soon return to their old ways of working?

Professor Laura Empson, Director of the Centre for Professional Service Firms at Cass, recently hosted a discussion forum with senior City leaders from three very different sectors and very different firms to consider this question.

Stuart Popham (Senior Partner, Clifford Chance), Richard Murley (Managing Director and Co-Head of UK Investment Banking, Rothschild), and Jeremy Newman (Global CEO, BDO International) reflected upon the changes that PSFs have experienced over the past twelve months, those which lie ahead, and the impact these changes will have on their client relationships, competition, regulation, and  professionals.

To conclude the discussion, Professor Empson argued that: The recession has acted as a catalyst for a process of change that's been underway for most of the past decade but there are some fundamental truths which are common to all professional advisors in this current environment: there has been a major shift in the balance of power within the PSF sector which means that the firms in question have become far less powerful in relation to their core stakeholders.

Whatever else has changed, the power of strong relationships remains fundamental to the professional service sector between professionals and their clients, and among professional colleagues.  Ultimately professional services must be based on trust in individuals and the organisations they represent.  The firms that come out of the recession in a healthy state will have been careful to rebuild and sustain that trust.

But in terms of what may have changed fundamentally, the recession has called into question some long-held beliefs about how to price professional services and how to reward the people who deliver them.  It is too soon to say whether these changes will be sustained as the economy recovers.

As one senior partner in the audience said in the ensuing discussion: 'It is all very well clients asking you to share their pain.  The question is, will we get to share the pleasure afterwards?'

For a copy of the report of the event please contact Tara Rees-Jones, Centre Manager Cass Centre for Professional Service Firms on

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From left: Stuart Popham (Senior Partner, Clifford Chance), Laura Empson (Professor in the Management of Professional Service Firms, Cass Business School), Richard Murley (Managing Director and Co-Head of UK Investment Banking, Rothschild), and Jeremy Newman (Global CEO, BDO International).

Stuart Popham and Professor Laura Empson

Richard Murley and Jeremy Newman

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