What You Need to Know
- Advisors need to prep if they want to sell their firm.
- Bad compliance records and poor back office practices can kill a sale.
- Having a succession plan is a big plus to the buyer.
With advisory firm mergers and acquisitions at an all-time high, many of our clients wonder if now is the time to market their firms for sale.
The obvious factors to consider in making this decision are whether the financial multiples are in your favor: revenues, EBITDA, earnings before owners compensation, profit margins.
But other issues that come into play as buyers evaluate the feasibility of a potential sale should be as important to your firm in preparing for a potential sale.
We have assisted firms throughout the United States for decades on such M&A matters. I recently spoke with my partner, and chair of our M&A Group, Rachel Lilienthal Stark, to discuss issues critical to the M&A process.
First, if your compliance efforts are neither adequate nor up-to-date, your ability to attract a prospective purchaser will be hurt. Diligent compliance processes protect both your brand and the value of your entity.
Also, because the value of an advisory firm is primarily based on the goodwill of its relationships, the client-facing employees (both owners and non-owners) will be the focus of any potential purchaser’s inquiries.
In fact, losing professionals who have significant client contact will adversely impact the purchase price. It is essential to put strategies into place to prevent this — including restrictive covenants and bonus or equity incentives.
Ironically, many firms think about selling because they do not have an internal succession plan. However, Rachel cautions that owners who wait until they are ready to retire to form a succession plan can hurt a sale as a potential purchaser will worry that client relationships will not transition after the owner leaves.
To attain the highest value for a sale, prepare ahead with both an internal and external succession plan (even though the internal plan may not transpire).
Also imperative is that a firm’s client contracts are up-to-date, both from a business and legal perspective. Under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, with “potential” narrow arguments to the contrary, any change of ownership of 25% or more will result in a change in control, by regulatory standards, and would trigger an assignment of the investment advisory agreements.