First Consulting buys SmartRules and eyes accelerated expansion

11 October 2019 4 min. read
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First Consulting has acquired SmartRules, a Dutch company that specialises in delivering business process management (BPM) solutions based on Appian and Pegasystems technology. The deal is First Consulting’s first since inception, and lifts the firm’s headcount to nearly 300 in three countries. 

The acquisition is part of First Consulting’s longer-term ambition to grow into a 1,000-strong Western European consulting firm, said managing partner Geert van den Goor. The consultancy was founded in the Netherlands in 2005 and has since established itself as one of the country’s fastest growing consulting firms. A strong inorganic growth campaign has seen the firm branch out to 250 consultants, and with SmartRules now on board, the barrier of 300 consultants is in reach.

Van den Goor pointed out that by 2024, the business consulting firm aims to have 400 consultants in the Netherlands, and some 600 in Western European markets, with a focus on the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia. First Consulting already has a presence in the UK, where an on the ground team of around 20 consultants has been built since launching in October 2017. In Germany, the firm’s operations are still in their infancy.First Consulting buys SmartRules and eyes accelerated expansionThe purchase of SmartRules has now accelerated First Consulting’s German plans. The Utrecht-based boutique has fifteen employees working from a Frankfurt office, and this will serve as First Consulting’s hub for serving existing clients and hunting new ones. Interestingly, First Consulting operates without offices, on the belief that its advisors add most value at the heart of where it matters – at clients.

“But our scale is too small to make an impact in the British and German markets. If you have more ambitions, you need to take bigger steps,” said Van den Goor. The two consulting markets are Europe’s largest in size, and notorious for being the most competitive too. In order to accelerate growth and thus make more impact, First Consulting earlier this year sought support from private equity firm Waterland, with roughly €6 billion of assets under management one of the Netherlands’ largest financial investors.

A buy and build strategy

The Dutch investor took a majority stake in the consulting firm, and in return is supporting the financial investments needed for expansion. “Growing independently would have taken too long. It requires a buy-and-build strategy, and to fund this we needed an investor with deep pockets,” explained the managing partner, who prior to joining First Consulting spent more than two decades with Accenture in Amsterdam.

Founded in 2012, SmartRules helps companies automate their processes. The company is dedicated to business process management implementations and integrations on Appian and Pegasystems – two leading software providers in the BPM-solutions space. 

“We are proud to be part of a no-nonsense consulting firm for which quality of service and client satisfaction are central to their approach.”
– Bert Westeneng

The offerings of SmartRules will be integrated into First Consulting’s business technology and digital practices. “We will collaborate immediately on a customer and commercial level,” said Bert Westeneng, the founder of SmartRules, further highlighting that SmartRules will for the time being continue to go-to-market under its current brand.

Westeneng continued; “After an incredible ride the last seven years this is a great next step. This allows us to offer a full digital transformation proposition to the market, and will be able to offer interesting career perspectives for our people. We are proud to be part of a no-nonsense consulting firm for which quality of service and customer satisfaction are central to their approach.” 

Van den Goor added that while SmartRules will provide capabilities that benefit all of First Consulting’s industry practices – the firm works for clients in the energy & utilities, infrastructure, telecom, retail and financial services sectors – it will in particular boost its track record in banking and insurance. The majority of SmartRules’ clients are in financial services, with the likes of Achmea, Aegon, ING, Nationale Nederlanden and Rabobank part of the company’s roster.

First Consulting first moved into the financial services consulting market at the end of 2015, and four years down the line it has a large team of consultants supporting clients with operational business transformations in areas including digitisation, robotic process automation, agile working, target model optimisation, process mining and customer experience.

Combined, First Consulting and SmartRules generate revenue of €35 million.