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The logo of Ernst & Young is seen at a branch in Zurich, Switzerland Oct. 24, 2018.ARND WIEGMANN/Reuters

Ernst & Young (EY) said on Thursday it was planning to split its audit and consulting units into two companies, as the professional services firm looks to ease regulatory concerns over potential conflicts of interest.

The Big Four accounting firms, comprising EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, have been under regulatory scanner for years over concerns that the companies’ advisory services could undermine their ability to conduct independent reviews.

London-based EY, which in June had denied reports on its restructuring plans, said it would provide its 13,000 partners with more information before voting on the split starts on a country-by-country basis from late 2022. It is likely to conclude in early 2023.

In Canada, EY has 477 partners and a total workforce of 7,000, spokesperson Victoria McQueen said. Worldwide, EY has about 13,000 partners.

Ms. McQueen said the firm is still modelling the split, so she can’t say how many Canadian partners and workers will end up with the spun-off firm. She said the new global corporate entity will comprise of EY’s consulting arm, its strategy and transactions group, and the majority, but not all, of the tax-consulting practice.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, some of EY’s largest Canadian auditing clients include Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Manulife Financial Corp., Intact Financial Corp., Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, Metro Inc., Shaw Communications Inc. and Emera Inc.

If ratified by the partners, the company’s split would mark the biggest shake-up in the sector since the 2002 collapse of Arthur Andersen, the auditor that was mired in the Enron scandal and whose downfall reduced the “Big Five” to “Big Four.”

UK auditing and accounting regulator, the Financial Reporting Council, had asked the Big Four firms in 2020 to separate auditing as a stand-alone business in Britain by June 2024, partly spurred by corporate failures at builder Carillion and retailer BHS.

EY affiliates, which audited payments company Wirecard AG’s books, are also facing heat from the German fintech firm’s investors after it collapsed in 2020. EY has denied any wrongdoing.

EY Big Four rivals have also been facing increased pressure to break up their audit and consulting practices. However, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers said earlier this year that they had no plans to restructure and would continue with their current business models.

EY expects to report a record revenue of $45.4-billion for its most recent financial year, up 13.5 per cent from a year earlier, according to a report from the Financial Times.

With files from David Milstead.

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