The news Wednesday that Ladenburg Thalmann is buying Securities America, for what some call a bargain price, resolves some issues for the independent broker-dealer’s 1,700 advisors, but raises a good number of questions, as well, experts say. Most important, they note, is the need for aggressive retention packages and other steps to stem the tide of departing advisors.
For the deal, Ladenburg will pay $150 million in cash up front to Securities America parent company Ameriprise Financial and possibly more if certain performance targets are met by Securities America in 2012 and 2013; the deal is being financed by an affiliate of Dr. Phillip Frost, Ladenburg’s principal shareholder and chairman. Securities America should add about $450 million annual sales to Ladenburg’s results and up to $50 billion in assets, according to the company.
Securities America will continue to operate as a stand-alone business and keep its current headquarters in La Vista, Neb. The combined entity, based on trailing 12-month results, should have about $675 million in sales, $70 million in assets, and 2,700 financial advisors.
“This is a very smart move for Ladenburg Thalmann,” said Chip Roame (left), head of the consultancy Tiburon Strategic Advisors in an interview. “The risk here is that Securities America reps continue to exit, making it worth less and less, and making the $450 million revenue run rate not realistic.”
The price at about one-third of annual revenue is “an amazingly low price,” Roame shares. “Often firms sell for around three-times revenues (or nine times more than this),” he said.
Considering the fact that a $150-million deal typically involves paying three-times yearly sales for a $50 million-revenue firm, this means that Ladenburg Thalmann is “allowing Securities America to potentially lose 85% of its revenues before it’s a bad deal, so there’s very little risk for them.”
As for how many advisors and what level of sales and assets are in play, “By the end of September, there will have been 10-15% of assets having left since January,” said recruiter Jon Henschen of Henschen & Associates. “By yearend, that can climb to over 30% but can be diminished if Ladenburg is aggressive at convincing reps to stick around. But, poor market conditions also can be the biggest factor in reps not wanting to make a change out of fear of poor transition retention during difficult markets.”
To him, though, the upfront nature of the deal is surprising. “I thought the upfront amount was high, causing Ladenburg to take a leap of faith that retention will be high,” Henschen explained. “Usually, the upfront would be perhaps around 25-50% of the purchase price, with the rest paid over two to three installments, based on assets retained over the first year or two.”
Also, he says, paying 30-40% of trailing revenue for firms in the independent broker-dealer space is typical. Other experts, however, says broker-dealers are being sold today for about 50% of fees and commissions.
The arrangement for the deal is interesting, notes Roame, since the incentives should allow for a much higher payment if the Securities America reps stay.