10 October, 2016

PwC loses top spot to Deloitte as world's largest firm

PwC Global has posted record revenues of $35.9bn for the 2016 financial year, an increase of 7% compared to 2015

The firm reported growth across all of its core practices and regions. It has, however, fallen slightly behind its Big Four rival Deloitte, which last month announced its own record revenues of $36.8bn.

The two firms are neck to neck in the race to be the largest accountancy firm in the world by revenue, a title that PwC did hold. According to the 2016 International Accounting Bulletin annual rankings, PwC snatched top place back after playing catch-up for the previous two years.

For the 2016 financial year, PwC’s $15.3bn assurance business grew by 6%, with a focus on IT, risk and data assurance.

Its advisory arm saw growth of 8% to $11.5bn on the back of increased client demand for consulting, forensics and deal-related work. A strong deals market pushed PwC’s tax business revenues by 7% to $9.1bn.

Regionally, China and India in particular helped boost revenue growth in Asia by 10%. North America and the Caribbean revenues grew by 8% boosted by the US. While in South and Central America, revenues were up 9%.

Revenues in Western Europe grew by 6%, while Central and Eastern Europe recorded an increase of 10%.

“To secure future growth, we are investing heavily in technology to enhance the quality and impact of our services and make the best use of the skills of our people. The world is changing rapidly and we are planning the services our clients, capital markets and other stakeholders will need tomorrow, as well as serving their needs today,” said global PwC chairman Bob Moritz.

“Whether it’s the tax and audit services of the future, blockchain or augmented reality, we are implementing a strategy to meet the long-term needs of our stakeholders and the career aspirations of our people,” he added.

The firm welcomed a record level of new joiners, adding a total of 58,081 people, including 26,780 graduates, more than half of which were female. Overall PwC’s global headcount grew by over 7% to more than 223,000 people. Asia and Central and Eastern Europe saw the largest increases in headcount.

A total of 665 partners were admitted, 27% of which were female.

“With the increase in female partners admitted this year and the highest ratio of female leaders in our history on our global leadership team, we are making progress; but there is much more to do,” said Moritz.

The firm’s UK business reported an 11% increase in its UK revenues this year, despite warning that the impact of the EU referendum is “still being worked through”.

Revenues at PwC UK grew to £3.4bn in 2016, from £3.08bn last year, while profits rose 1.3% to £829m. However, distributable profit per partner fell 5% to £706,000 as the firm invested in people and technology.

07 October, 2016

Bots are coming to LinkedIn

To take messaging to the next level, LinkedIn has built a bot described as an “assistant.” And while this mini-application is a first for LinkedIn, don’t expect the floodgates to open to third-party developers. With a professional focus, the company isn’t interested in letting bots that you’d find on Facebook enter its territory. In fact, LinkedIn wants to be more guarded to ensure the right experience — perhaps taking a page from Facebook’s David Marcus, who called bots “overhyped and underpowered.”

Weiner said that LinkedIn will do more with bots in the future, but for right now “the team is starting to walk before they run. They want to illustrate some use cases in regards to professional networks.” He added that under Microsoft ownership, there will likely be additional resources that’ll let LinkedIn do some interesting things, especially around the area of conversation. “Over time, when you start to introduce Microsoft’s library of capabilities, there’s going to be some exciting things happening,” he said.

One could assume that, over time, LinkedIn could open up its messaging service and data to third-party developers to build relevant bots. However, while it’s still testing the waters, expect the company to explore other internal bot-like services to improve the messaging experience.

I believe this is their intent through- “The idea is to remind people that networking is an important thing, and conversations can be made easier.”

Samsung acquires virtual assistant startup Viv, whose team built Siri

Device maker Samsung today said that it has acquired Viv, a startup that was building a virtual assistant based on artificial intelligence. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The move is clearly targeted at improving Samsung’s existing products, presumably most prominently smartphones.

“With Viv, Samsung will be able to unlock and offer new service experiences for its customers, including one that simplifies user interfaces, understands the context of the user and offers the user the most appropriate and convenient suggestions and recommendations,” Samsung said in the statement.

Indeed, Samsung does need to do more to improve automated contextual responses to users’ input through speech recognition, and the acquisition should help a good deal. Viv’s team previously helped create Apple’s Siri virtual assistant.

But even this week Google, the company behind the Android mobile operating system that Samsung phones use as a base, showed new first-party Pixel smartphones featuring a deep native integration of the Google Assistant virtual assistant, which first showed up in the Google Allo messaging app. Essentially the move shows Google outdoing one of its partners. Now Samsung is announcing its response.

The timing is also meaningful; Samsung’s high-end Galaxy Note7 has faced ongoing issues, including a recall.

As for Viv, it never actually launched and has been quiet about the technology it has been incubating since being founded in 2012, two years after Apple’s Siri acquisition. Investors include Horizons Ventures, Iconiq Capital, and Pritker Group Venture Capital.

06 October, 2016

Microsoft has killed its Band fitness bracelet

Microsoft provided the following statement:
"We have sold through our existing Band 2 inventory and have no plans to release another Band device this year. We remain committed to supporting our Microsoft Band 2 customers through Microsoft Stores and our customer support channels and will continue to invest in the Microsoft Health platform, which is open to all hardware and apps partners across Windows, iOS, and Android devices."

This news shouldn't be too surprising, given the generally poor reviews of Microsoft's first- and second-generation fitness trackers. Despite the fact they worked with both iOS and Android, many people complained about the Band's obtuse interface, short battery life, and uncomfortable form factor.

Microsoft will still be making health-focused products, but those will be in the way of software - interestingly enough, Microsoft's "Health" apps are now called "Microsoft Band." Still, don't expect any new fitness-tracking hardware from Microsoft anytime soon.

05 October, 2016

Salesforce just bought another company for $700 million after spending $4 billion over the past year

Salesforce has acquired marketing data software company Krux for $700 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Salesforce disclosed in a regulatory filing that it's paying $340 million in cash and the remainder in stock for the company. Krux CEO Tom Chavez confirmed the deal in a blog post.

Founded in 2010, Krux is a marketing software company that specializes in data analysis and intelligence. Marketers use Krux's software to better target customers. The company has raised $50 million so far.

Salesforce has been putting a lot of focus on boosting its data and predictive analytic capabilities lately, and Krux's software is expected to help Salesforce's marketing cloud offerings.

Krux is the latest in a series of companies Salesforce has bought over the past year. Salesforce has spent nearly $4 billion on acquiring companies like Demandware, Quip, and BeyondCore over the past 12 months, as well as making a failed bid to buy LinkedIn for over $26 billion (Microsoft walked away with the prize). Salesforce is also rumored to be interested in buying Twitter, a company with a $17 billion market cap.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff hinted during his most recent earnings call that he won't stop his record-high acquisition spree anytime soon, and would most likely keep it up through the end of the year.

"This M&A window, I talked about that I think on the last call, openly in the press, seems to have opened for the year," he said. "I think it will probably close, probably at the end of this calendar year. But it's been incredible time for us to acquire some phenomenal assets."