And then there were none: “Big Four” exit Russia

And then there were none: “Big Four” exit Russia
All four companies in the famous group of accounting firms will cut ties with their Russian affiliates in the biggest exodus of Russian professional financial services this millennium. / Image: Gennady Gratchev via Wikimedia Commons.
By Theo Normanton in Moscow March 8, 2022

The “Big Four” auditing firms will all exit Russia and Belarus. EY and Deloitte announced on Monday, 7 February that they would follow the lead of PwC and KPMG in cutting ties with their Russian and Belarusian arms following the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Global consultancy companies are structured as networks of standalone regional firms which are officially owned by the partners in each country. This arm’s-length association makes it difficult for the Big Four to close operations in any given country. Instead, they will effectively de-couple from their branches in Russia and Belarus, allowing them to continue functioning as independent entities.

KPMG and PwC were the first to announce their exit, revealing on Sunday night that they would separate from their Russian and Belarusian network firms, comprising 4,500 and 3,700 staff respectively.

These exits followed news that BCG, McKinsey and Bain & Company will suspend their services for Russian clients, although BCG and McKinsey said that they would continue work on some existing Russian projects. Accenture also said on Friday that it would discontinue its Russian business.

The exits of KMPG and PwC meant that it was only a matter of time before EY and Deloitte followed suit. The “Big Four” are strongly influenced by one another, and are often treated as a homogenous group. It would have been conspicuous if one had chosen to stay in Russia.

EY employs 4,700 people in Russia, while Deloitte employs over 2,000. Both companies announced that they would divorce from operations in Russia and Belarus on Monday, completing the biggest exodus of professional services from Russia this millennium.

All four companies attributed their exit to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a press release on its website, EY wrote that “In light of the escalating war, the EY global organisation will no longer serve any Russian government clients, state-owned enterprises or sanctioned entities and individuals anywhere in the world. EY has commenced a restructuring of its Russian member firm to separate it from the global network.”

“The resulting suffering of this conflict across Ukraine, Eastern Europe and elsewhere is deeply concerning to all of us at EY. We strongly encourage all parties to urgently work towards a peaceful resolution in Ukraine,” the statement added.

Deloitte had been operating in Russia for 32 years, and was keen to stress that this withdrawal was not intended to punish ordinary Russians. “While we know this is the right decision, it will have an impact on Deloitte’s ~3,000 professionals located in Russia and Belarus. Like others, we know our colleagues in Russia and Belarus have no voice in the actions of their government,” the company said in a press release.

That sentiment was shared by KPMG, which promised to provide support to employees in the company, saying: “This decision is not about them – it is a consequence of the actions of the Russian government.”

All four firms found themselves in an unenviable position as a result of western sanctions on Russia. Their operations in the West could be fined for representing sanctioned Russian clients, whereas their Russian partners risked reprisal from the Russian government for halting operations with sanctioned Russian and Belarusian clients. Becoming independent will give the Russian and Belarusian branches more freedom over which projects they take on.

It normally takes around a year for a big four accounting company to disentangle itself from member firms, but it may be much quicker in this case.

All four companies re-iterated that they were dedicated to the wellbeing and safety of their staff and partners.