Consultancy Australia's 2023 consulting industry year in review

30 December 2023 Consultancy.com.au 6 min. read
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With multiple senate inquiries still pending, the longer-term fall-out from the PwC government tax breach affair is still not yet fully known, but it’s likely 2023 will be looked back on as the year in which the fabric of the Australian consulting industry changed forever. Amusements aside, Consultancy.com.au reviews some of the biggest and best (scandal-free) stories of the year.

Chuckles amid the flames

Possibly the one story that best summarises the biggest themes of 2023 is also perhaps the most genuinely amusing… for now. Under sustained grillings from the Senate, more and more questionable Big Four behaviour came to light, including KPMG’s complicity in a 7-Eleven wage-theft scandal and NAB having been advised by Deloitte on a scheme to defraud its customers. Except those things never really occurred; rather, they were invented by GenAI, and then published by the Senate.

Consultancy Australia's 2023 consulting industry year in review

The other major theme of the year was a cost-of-living crisis that even ruined desert, with the RBA – that’s the Reserve Bank of Australia for those not in the loop – repeatedly lifting interest rates in an unpopular bid to stem inflation. Yet, while tasked with guiding the economy, the maths-boffins somehow messed up their own books, the RBA revealed to have underpaid its staff over a period of seven years. The bank then brought in PwC to help clean up the mess.

Alongside the RBA, national carrier Qantas helped spread around the unpopularity and perhaps spare the Big Four of some of the public’s abundant well of opprobrium. While naturally concerned about the drawn-out reputation hit, it turns out the quartet needn’t have been all that worried, as barely anyone knows who they are anyway, or otherwise couldn’t give a rats. Consultancy.com.au this year closed in on 15,000 LinkedIn followers, so at least somebody out there cares.

Canary in the coalmine

A stagnant M&A market was a commonly-cited factor for this year’s dismal consultancy returns, reflected somewhat in their own local inactivity. As a barometer, Accenture made just the two purchases in Australia over the past calendar year. Yet, fans of a universal corporate singularity needn’t fear, as the hungry giant continued to gobble up everything else beyond this realm, including the off-brand ‘South American Matrix’ characters Mnemo and Morphus in Mexico and Brazil.

Consultancy.com.au’s most cherished acquisition of the year however was made on the other side of the world, with the UK branch of Ernst & Young adding Newcastle-based ServiceNow advisory whyaye, creating the already tongue-twisting entity EY whyaye but with the added fun of a Geordie accent. With EY now looking to build a $1 billion global ServiceNow practice as part of its new artificial intelligence platform, that moniker could well become ‘EY.ai whyaye’.

They’re coming for our jobs

Released barely the twelve months ago, 2023 started out with reports of consultancies cautioning staff against the use of ChatGPT, before then engaging in a full-blown sprint to unleash the bots – with marketeers seemingly the first on the employment chopping block and the GenAI battalion prompted to go dub themselves.

Yet, in a blow against patriarchal programming bias, McKinsey & Company instead chose to name theirs after the first woman it could trust to count numbers back in 1945.

Even before the robots began their concerted efforts to make humans redundant, 2023 was book-ended with bad news on the consulting employment front. But on a brighter note, the year kicked off with a changing of the guard at both McKinsey and BCG in consecutive weeks; Wesley Walden taking over as A/NZ boss of the former and BCG’s Grant McCabe naturally just the one step behind. In the tradition of both firms, no one has heard a word from either of them since.

The story of the year, that wasn’t

It feels like an age ago now, but what would have been the biggest consulting story of the year in EY’s attempted self break-up only fell over in April. Perhaps the greatest revelation emerging from the fall-out was that outgoing global CEO Carmine Di Sibio had been likely listening to Dutch electro-house to get pumped ahead of the tense boardroom showdowns, selecting Blasterjaxx and Australian DJ/producer Timmy Trumpet’s ‘Narco’ as his go-to hype song.

And finally, to rub salt into the wounds of an already-reeling Australian consulting industry, the AFR in September released its prestigious annual list of the country’s most powerful consultants … but for the most part chose to omit lowly consulting professionals from the equation. Gone were the likes of Deloitte and PwC chief executives Adam Powick and Tom Seymour, only to be replaced by their indefatigable Senate tormentors in Barbara Pocock and Deborah O’Neill. Tally-ho.