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While the Big 6 have consolidated into the Big 4, accounting firms are making their way up Business Insurance's Top 10 rankings of the world's largest employee benefit consultants.

Leading the way is Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P., which combined with The Kwasha Lipton Group ranks as the fifth-largest consultant, based on $505 million in estimated 1997 revenues.

Deloitte & Touche L.L.P./Employee Benefit Group debuts this year in the ninth spot, based on $154 million in estimated 1997 benefit consulting revenues, and Arthur Andersen L.L.P.-Human Capital Services debuts as the 10th-largest firm, based on $118 million in estimated 1997 revenues.

KPMG Peat Marwick L.L.P. reported $110 million in estimated 1997 revenues. The New York-based accounting firm, however, would rank in the top 10 based on pro-forma 1997 revenues. Together with Ernst & Young L.L.P., which KPMG announced in October it was acquiring, combined pro-forma revenues from their respective employee benefit operations are an estimated $194 million in 1997, which would place the combined firm in the No. 9 spot among the world's largest benefit consultants.

There is speculation that KPMG's and E&Y's employee benefit practices may not merge (See Updates).

Meanwhile, executives from other accounting firms said they are looking to become big players in the employee benefit consulting arena.

The combined Coopers & Lybrand and Kwasha Lipton now are in the process of integrating the employee benefit practices of Price Waterhouse L.L.P., with which Coopers recently merged (BI, July 11).

Reed A. Keller, vice chairman of Coopers & Lybrand, said the firm's goal is to consult for companies that are increasingly more global, sophisticated and complex, he said. "These companies need global advisers that are truly connected around the world with the financial wherewithal" to support the technology.

At Arthur Andersen, the Human Capital Services unit is "one of our key critical elements that will be critical to maintain our competitive advantage," said David Walker, a partner and global managing director in Atlanta. "We have the ability to look at human capital challenges from a much higher level and broader perspective to offer clients integrated solutions on a one-stop shopping basis."

Over the past five years, the Wilton, Conn.-based Deloitte & Touche/Employee Benefit Group has maintained an annual 25% revenue growth rate, said Ainar Ayala, associate national director.

In addition to focusing on internal growth, the group will "selectively look (to acquire) niche or specialty consulting practices to help bolster a specific practice area," Mr. Ayala said.