Birmingham accountants Wenham Major has been acquired by RSM Bentley Jennison in an undisclosed deal, it has been confirmed.

Administrator Vantis was called in following a meeting between Wenham Major and its bank HBOS last week. The meeting followed the disclosure that financial irregularities had been discovered at the Wenham Major Private Client subsidiary.

The Jennison deal sees the company, one of the UK’s fastest growing professional services firms, take possession of Wenham Major’s core audit, accounting and tax compliance businesses.

About 30 of Wenham Major’s employees will transfer to Jennisons’s Birmingham office adding £2 million to the firm’s fee income.

Jennison’s managing partner Tony Stockdale said: "This is an important acquisition for RSM Bentley Jennison as it further strengthens our position in the Midlands region.

"Wenham Major is a long established, well respected firm with an excellent client base, and we look forward to serving them as part of our growing portfolio of premium level clients.

"Clearly, there has been some speculation about some parts of Wenham Major in recent weeks, but the core audit, accounts and tax compliance business is strong and credible and we are delighted to be able to integrate this operation," he added.

Wenham Major clients have been formally contacted and arrangements have been made to ensure minimal disruption to ongoing work and projects. The staff will move into Jennison’s offices at Legge Street in Birmingham over the next 10 days.

It is thought Wenham Major Private Client has effectively ceased trading and the seven staff employed there have left.

Wenham Major, jointly owned by Ammar Azam and John Joyce, revealed at the beginning of the month that it was conducting an inquiry into its private client tax planning operation run by executive chairman Mr Joyce, who is a well-known figure in the city’s accountancy sector.

He has been unavailable for comment during the past fortnight and it is thought he may be in hospital suffering with a stress-related complaint. Mr Azam is believed to be in the Middle East although he is thought to be returning to the UK later this week.


* Aggressive approach at odds with Victorian past
John Duckers and Duncan Tift examine the background to the collapse of Wenham Major

Wenham Major has been the talk of Birmingham’s wine bars with rumour and speculation rife about what was happening at the company.

Once you mutter the word "financial irregularities" everyone is suddenly an expert on what may have gone on.

But the business community has in some ways been expecting bad news out of Wenham Major for years.

Under executive chairman John Joyce it embarked on a big expansion, even opening offices in New York and Dubai.

In an interview with the Pakistan Daily Times in March, joint owner Ammar Azam described the firm thus: "With 140 years' experience in the Midlands, our business is founded on trust."

The article said Mr Azam believed that sound, trusted, strategic, advice was the cornerstone of any successful business and was intrinsic to Wenham Major’s approach. "We work in close partnership with our clients to help them achieve their full potential.

"More than anything, trust has to be earned and building long-term business relationships is at the very heart of Wenham Major’s approach," he was quoted as saying.

The article went on that the company’s clients were from across the business spectrum – from sole traders and individuals to owner-managed businesses, to smaller quoted companies and public sector organisations.

The company was one of the UK’s fastest growing law firms – last year for the second year in a row it was named in the Accountancy Age league tables as the 'Fastest Growing Firm of Accounts in the UK’.

Yet this was the old-fashioned, stuffy Wenham Major, one of Birmingham’s older firms; able to trace its origins back 141 years.

What was going on?

Some predicted it would all end in tears, and now it has. "It is sad to see what has happened," said one accountancy watcher.

And he recalled when he was much younger going into Wenham Major’s offices in the city centre and climbing the steep stairs because there was no lift.

"There were pictures from Victorian times and all the board seemed to have goatee beards," he recalled. "You knew they had been around for a long time."

When Mr Joyce arrived at Wenham Major, suddenly it was all action.

Wenham Major was high profile, taking on people, advertising itself, looking to make news.

Nothing wrong with that.

The trouble was it reminded a lot of people of how accountancy firm Tenon had launched its West Midlands office out of Birmingham.

Mr Joyce had been heavily involved with Tenon and Tenon was putting on swanky launch functions and promising to take over the world.

It lasted about a couple of years before it all fell apart. So when Mr Joyce landed up at Wenham Major there were more than a few doubters who kept their counsel but put down a marker.

Because Mr Joyce was known in the words of one source as someone who had "always gone in for highly aggressive tax schemes of the sort that the Revenue do not like".

Effectively he offered tax products which looked to get round the tax legislation.

The schemes are said to have attracted some very wealthy clients, mostly from London.

And where is Mr Joyce? There is a deafening silence from him.

Meanwhile, CVs from Wenham Major employees are said to be out there in the market place as they look to resurrect their careers.

What would those Victorians with the goatee beards have made of it all?

Not much.