Who owns whom in the workplace compliance marketplace?

Paul Phillips

Paul Phillips
Director of Consultancy Services, Assurity Consulting
18th June 2019

2019 has seen a significant move in consolidation in the workplace compliance market. Several “big players” have been acquired by others and it appears that the acquisition trail hasn’t yet ended. Indeed, rarely a month goes by when we as an organisation don’t receive an unsolicited approach with the latest “attractive offer” for someone to acquire us.

“So what?” you may ask. What difference does it make? Isn’t it just business, organisations acquire and are acquired all the time. Well, I do believe there is a very big “So what?” Assurity Consulting was established in 1986 at a time when there was a clear and present need for qualified, independent advice for people responsible for managing the built environment (and which, despite the intervening decades, is a premise that still hasn’t really changed).

Up until that time, building, property and estate managers could obtain advice from two main sources. First there were those with a clear vested interest in the advice they provided. Good examples being water treatment companies providing water quality surveys or water risk assessments. The advice was usually accompanied by large quotes for cleaning, chlorination work or extra modifications to water treatment regimes. Very often these proposed works were unnecessary and unjustified. There were many other examples such as air filter manufacturers and suppliers offering air quality surveys (often for free!), where the motivation was to supply more or different air filters. Similarly, ductwork cleaning companies would offer free air surveys which would be accompanied by quotes for ductwork cleaning, that could run to tens of thousands of pounds.

The alternative source for information or advice available at the time was from specialist academics in university departments. Whilst their work was valuable, interesting and ground-breaking, it often lacked the “real world” application for building managers. The interest from the academics in particular locations or outputs lasted only as long as the funding for the project or when the next new thing came up to investigate. There was rarely a continuity of value in the findings for both parties, or any motivation to provide a workplace “service” as we know it today.

That was the environment into which Assurity Consulting was created, a truly independent consultancy providing professional, qualified advice, employing people with the necessary technical and academic background accompanied by a “passionate customer service” mind set. Our first strapline as a business was “monitoring the health of buildings”. It was an important counterpoint to the press headlines of the time revolving around “Sick building syndrome” and “Killer Legionnaires’ disease”. Headlines that those with a vested interest in their findings readily tapped in to, exploiting the understandable concern and lack of awareness of property management at the time. Our motivation was to confirm that the controls in place were working effectively to protect both the people occupying the space as well as the important building asset itself and those responsible for managing it…

So, what happens if an organisation doesn’t receive truly independent advice for their workplace compliance? Why does that matter?

The inevitable consequences are demonstrated in many and various ways. Fundamental to everything is the lack of trust in the integrity of the findings of any advice provided. The question that should always be asked “Who benefits from the advice provided?” The answer should always and only be “the customer”. As we have seen in the financial services and accountancy world, audits which have some other vested interest, lack the independence and objectivity that customers need and value.

So why now?

The M&A activity in the workplace compliance market is seeing the real choice available to Facilities, Property and Estate management diminish. It is becoming less likely that the advice provided is truly independent despite what many will say. Advisors are increasingly becoming part of larger groups where there is increasing pressure to “cross sell” into customer lists for each other’s services. Knowing “who owns whom” is more difficult for the customer to understand and where vested interests lie is not so easy to establish. With so much new consolidation happening, there has never been a more important time for consultancies like Assurity Consulting. Organisations who can demonstrate clearly and simply that the qualified and professional advice they provide is truly independent, impartial and driven by long term customer service, not short-term gain.