William M Mercer's strategic global expansion has been achieved through a series of acquisitions, joint ventures and occasional "organic growth" which has established them in the US, Canada, Far East, Australia and Europe and are approaching the difficult task of adopting a common philosophy and culture throughout its subsidiaries in response to similar pursuits from the side of their multinational clients. It has recently been consolidating some of its work in Sweden with the set up of an investment consulting practice in Stockholm; is extending its investment consulting business in Belgium; and is currently reorganising France - though no one is based there as yet. Mercers' main clientele are pension funds, charitable foundations and corporates with contingent liability funds and positions itself very much as a specialist - well that is to say, it offers practically every consultancy function bar money management, an area which offers tempting financial rewards. "There are pressures in the sense that the margins that the firms make from those activities must be quite attractive," admits Robert Baker, deputy head of the investment practice.

Though consultants' margins "are a problem", it hasn't deterred Mercers from recently investing heavily in IT, developing its 'growth area' of asset liability modelling and is currently working on a proactive investment manager monitoring service (PIMMS) which gives a thorough appraisals of the managers the pension fund clients hire.