Why a Halloween Brexit needn’t scare consultants to death

A recent conversation with a senior consultant in Canada has stuck in my mind. Amid widespread fears of a cyclical downturn in the next couple of years, her view was simple: Clients buy in the good times, they (often) buy in the bad times, but it’s the bit in between that’s the problem, when clients are just waiting to see what may happen.

This is particularly pertinent to the UK market right now. When we interviewed UK consulting leaders at the beginning of 2019, their biggest worry was that prolonged uncertainty around the shape and timing (and even existence) of any Brexit divorce deal would lead clients to batten down the hatches and sit tight, rather than make big investments in consulting support. But happily, the situation is rather better than expected. Although the market is undoubtedly a little bumpy for many, it’s a lot less bumpy than it might have been, and UK consultants are finding that, at least in the case of Brexit, the in-between bit isn’t so bad right now.

There are a few reasons for this.

To start with, clients waiting for political clarity before committing to Brexit plans have finally realised that this is a fool’s errand, and most have just got on with preparing for a worst-case scenario. Given the need for both speed and expertise, many of these clients are calling on consulting support to get them to where they need to be as quickly as possible.

At the same time, though the makers of UK news programmes may beg to differ, clients are well aware that the world does not revolve around Brexit. Those who were ahead of the curve in terms of Brexit preparations—namely large corporations, traditionally the biggest buyers of consulting work—are now continuing with other investment plans. Perhaps unsurprisingly, what they are finding is that all manner of work, from small projects to large transformation programmes, just got a whole lot more complicated as a result of the wider impact of Brexit, thanks to the need to consider new legal jurisdictions, different regulatory requirements, reshaped supply chains, and a whole host of other complex issues. Bad news for clients, but better for consulting firms, is that this complexity is leading to a need for more time, resources, and expertise, and the consulting bill is going up as a result.

Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t less positive impacts on the UK consulting industry, and ongoing uncertainty means that demand is surely growing more slowly than in any Brexit-free parallel universe. And even those firms making hay from the current opportunities are not complacent—aware that market confidence could ebb, and things could change very quickly. But things are OK, at least for now—surely a cause for celebration and some pre-Halloween apple bobbing in these uncertain times.

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