Business

British merger for financial firm founded by accountant named in Nama inquiry

Gary McDonald Business Editor

A BELFAST-based financial consultancy firm founded by the accountant who was allegedly central to the controversial Nama loan sale has been merged with its larger parent in Britain.

RSM Northern Ireland and its consulting business PACEC Ltd have been subsumed into RSM UK to strengthen the service capability and sector expertise of the Belfast firm and extend its UK reach.

The Northern Ireland operation had begun life in 1989 as McClure Watters, founded by chartered accountant David Watters (60).

The 2014 multi-million pound Nama loan sale, dubbed Project Eagle, had allegedly been Watters' idea, with a draft letter circulating laying claim to a £7.5m "success fee".

At a Stormont inquiry in September 2015 into the deal, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson alleged that Mr Watters was among five men - including former first minister Peter Robinson - set to share in that success fee, a claim all five have strongly denied.

Despite having led the firm since its formation, Mr Watters will now leave RSM as a partner, but will remain in a consultancy role for an initial period of time.

Indeed he remains active in many other businesses, and is listed as an active director of more than 30 companies in Northern Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man.

It includes a role as non-executive director of John Graham Holdings Ltd, a civil engineering, asset management and construction group with a turnover in excess of £300 million and operating activities throughout the UK and Ireland.

As part of the merger, all 70 staff from RSM Northern Ireland and its Belfast and Cambridge-based consulting business PACEC will join RSM UK, bringing the total headcount for the combined business to almost 4,000.

RSM Northern Ireland, based at Lanyon Quay, is a well-established firm with over 25 years’ experience in audit, tax, and consulting in Ireland and the UK, and the business will fully integrate as part of RSM UK.

Richard Gardiner will take on the role of Belfast managing partner going forward. He said: “We have consistently grown our practice over the years, both organically and through acquisitions, and this is the next step of strategic growth for us.

“Both organisations have a strong sense of shared values and vision, including our commitment to professionalism; our desire to deliver a high standard of client service; and the importance we place on supporting our clients, suppliers and staff to achieve their goals.

"This merger highlights a natural synergy in terms of what we do and how we do it – bringing together two complementary businesses to enhance our expertise and capability and shape the future growth of the firm.”

David Gwilliam, chief operating officer at RSM UK, said: “The professional services market in Northern Ireland is vibrant and RSM is a key player in this market. Our merger offers a fantastic opportunity to grow our services in Northern Ireland and expand our consulting business in the UK.

"We have a clear vision to become the first choice advisor to middle market leaders and the merger further strengthens our offering and geographic reach across the UK – taking us a step closer to this goal."

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