The consulting market in France: Doing quite nicely, despite fears to the contrary

I was on holiday with my family in France in late Spring 2016, a regular trip for us to get our fill of croissants, moules-frites and some early sun and sand. As we left a restaurant one lunchtime, I was surprised to be accosted by a well-dressed French woman: “You’re not leaving us, are you?” she asked, distress in her voice. Since we had definitely paid the bill, it took me a few minutes to work out what she was asking. I reassured her that, from my vantage point in my London bubble, I thought we were unlikely to leave the EU. Oh those halcyon days before the referendum…

To get to the point, it’s interesting that even before the June 2016 referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU, there were concerns in France about what a “leave” decision could mean. Fast-track almost three years and the threat of Brexit remains a worry in France but hasn’t actually had any major impact on the consulting market so far—for better or worse. What it is doing is adding to a backdrop of anxiety with US protectionism, European political instability, and the gilets jaunes protests all in the mix.

Perhaps though, French consultants shouldn’t be quite so worried. 2018 saw a consulting market expansion of almost 7%—the biggest uptick in growth for quite a number of years, according to our recently published report on the market. But there is a very “glass half empty” mood in the market, and even those firms that report a good 2019 so far remain concerned. Maybe those concerns will have been allayed—at least partly—by the recent postponement of Brexit. And if this doesn’t quite tip the balance to a more optimistic frame of mind, French consultants would do well to reflect on the many other positives shaping their market right now. Interest in new technology is increasing, economic growth is modest, but steady, and a more business-friendly President is doing a good job of attracting increased FDI. Given our concerns about the sluggish state of the French market just a few years ago, things really are looking up.

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