Big Four expanding transaction services, corporate finance

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Soaring UK M&A activity is generating demand for corporate financiers and transaction services specialists in large accounting firms. Recruiters at the Big Four are struggling to keep pace.

"This year we are looking for 120 people to join our transaction services division," says Melany Gibb, a recruitment manager at accounting firm KPMG. "We are also looking for another 40 corporate financiers by the end of June."

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and Deloitte are also adding to their transaction services divisions. Charles Macleod, head of human resources at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, says recruitment reflects the division's increased workload: "Transaction services has been a very busy part of our business for the past 12-18 months. All the accounting firms have been doing very well out of it."

Accountancy firms' transaction services teams perform due diligence associated with M&A deals, as well as helping companies manage deals post-completion. Increased recruitment reflects the upturn in M&A: data provider Thomson Financial says the value of takeover approaches in the UK hit a six-year high in January 2006, at 15.6bn.

At KPMG, hiring in transaction services is part of an ongoing trend: "Last year, our transaction services team grew by 40% to 500 people," says Gibb. "This year we expect it to expand by a similar amount."

Growth in UK M&A deals is also stimulating accountants' need for corporate financiers. As large M&A deals come back into fashion, investment banks are again leaving the mid-market space to accountancy firms. According to a report in The Telegraph last weekend, investment banks are now eschewing deals worth anything less than 400m.

Recruiters say rapid expansion of transaction services teams is making it hard to find talent. "It can be difficult to find the right people," says Macleod at PWC. "This can be a very pressurised area and not everyone wants to work in that kind environment."

Gibb says KPMG is looking to hire a mix of people, including some with accounting qualifications and others with more diverse backgrounds such as an MBA. "We need people who are numerate," she says. "They need to be familiar with financial modelling, commercial due diligence, operational due diligence and everything that goes on around a transaction. It's very hard to find them - most are already working in the Big Four or in other tier one organisations."

After five years, pay for transaction services specialists ranges from 60,000 to 70,000, plus an average bonus of 40%.