PwC will increase its global headcount by more than a third over the next five years as part of a $12bn investment in recruitment, training, technology and deals designed to capture a booming market for environmental, social and governance advice.
The plan, announced on Tuesday, marks a significant acceleration from the audit and consulting group’s $7.4bn investment since 2016, over which time its annual revenues grew by 20 per cent to $43bn.
The expansion will add 100,000 people to a workforce that has grown by more than a quarter, to 284,000 people, in the past five years.
It includes a $3bn plan to double its Asia-Pacific business, which brought in $6.4bn in revenue in the year to June 2020, and the launch of “trust leadership institutes” in the US and Asia to train clients in business ethics and the rudiments of ESG.
Investors are increasingly scrutinising the social impact of the businesses they back and its effect on their financial returns, and PwC’s investment plan is the strongest signal yet that the Big Four accounting firms expect ESG advice to become a core part of all of their business lines, just as digital capabilities have become the norm over the past decade.
Bob Moritz, global chair of PwC, said the firm was “going to massively invest to redefine itself and rebrand itself to make sure we’re valuable for what our clients need and what the world needs”.
The market for professional advice on “pure” sustainability issues, such as clean technology and sustainable investing, reached $1bn globally in 2020, according to Source Global Research, which expects that combining advice on sustainability with other services will be even more lucrative for advisers.
The other Big Four firms — Deloitte, EY and KPMG — are including sustainability issues within longstanding practices such as audit and assurance, and are giving ESG greater prominence within their businesses. EY has designated Steve Varley, the former head of its UK member firm, as its first-ever global vice chair for sustainability, for example.
Accounting firms are also providing ESG training to auditors as the industry prepares for increased regulation in areas such as climate-related disclosures by companies. As regulators discuss standardised ESG disclosures akin to the international accounting rules agreed decades ago, all PwC staff needed at least “a baseline understanding” of ESG, said Tim Ryan, US chair.
Ryan said the US business would combine its accounting and tax reporting operations into a single unit to be labelled “trust solutions”. Both divisions needed to make similar investments, he said, and both were striving to help clients be more trusted at a moment when society’s expectations of companies are growing.
There will also be a $1bn investment in quality control and automating audits. Ryan said that PwC planned acquisitions to improve its capabilities in areas including ESG, cloud technology and artificial intelligence.
The firm has made small technology acquisitions in recent years but the focus on ESG is likely to be seen as its biggest strategic shift since it bought the strategy consultancy Booz & Co in 2014.
PwC’s spending plans include $125m for a US initiative aimed at finding 25,000 jobs for students from racial and ethnic minorities over five years, including 10,000 within PwC. The US firm currently hires 7,000-8,000 people a year in total.