We have written before on this very topic, but as there is lots of activity currently in the Irish market, we’ve developed our latest thinking to help you ensure that you get maximum bang for your buck when buying a book of business.
The last few years have generally been very good times for financial advisers. Many of you have grown significantly through your own efforts and those of your team. However there are many of you who have looked to turbo charge this growth through acquisition, either of a book of business or indeed through buying another advice business – lock, stock and barrel. Done well, this can help you significantly increase your growth potential. Here are a few questions to consider,
First of all, be crystal clear about why you are actually in the market to buy a book or another practice. What is the strategic rationale for the acquisition? Are you seriously in growth mode, or have you simply run out of ideas in terms of developing your existing business? Maybe some work on your own proposition and properly planned organic client acquisition tactics are a better alternative to going into the market for an acquisition?
What are you actually looking to buy? Have you run out of opportunities in your existing business and need an injection of potential clients? Are you looking to buy a book of clients hoping you will unlock a few nuggets in the belief that your advice approach is superior to that of the selling broker? Or are you looking to buy a very well-developed business that is going to lift your own business onto a new level through bringing better processes and opportunities than those that exist within your own business? The challenge in answering these questions may be how you will actually leverage the opportunities.
So you’ve decided that the strategic rationale justifies a purchase. The question now is which book or business to actually buy. This is where you need to carry out careful due diligence to really understand what you buying: the quality of the clients, the processes and the client propositions.
Are the clients that you are buying going to increase your recurring income stream over the long term, or are they going to fall away over the coming years through no relationship and loyalty to you? Are they going to really help you to gain a foothold in your target market? At the end of the day, are they going to be worth more or less than the sum of the parts?
The people that will come with a business (if any) will of course also be a tremendous asset or liability going forwards. You need to make clear and educated decisions as to whether they are a good fit for your business or not. Bringing in a strong group of people could really help you to drive your business to the next level.
So you’ve found your purchase target. If you’re simply buying a book of business, the chances are this is going to be a fairly straightforward transaction based on a multiple of the income stream. However if you are actually buying the entire business, there are many other factors to consider.
Are the existing owners remaining involved and if so, in what capacity? Are they going to be part owners of your newly enlarged business, keeping them with skin in the game? If they are remaining as shareholders, they are much more likely to stay committed to growing the business. On the other hand, if they are remaining in the business simply to help the transition, you should be looking to build in clear earn-out targets. This will ensure that you reap the rewards of their ongoing involvement, as they will be financially incentivised to help you transition the clients into your business.
You should also examine closely the profitability of the business you are buying. If they were struggling to make meaningful money, how are you now going to do it? Can you see cumbersome administration practices that you can immediately replace with your own well-developed processes, extracting immediate savings? Can you see savings to be made in terms of people – maybe you don’t need all of their staff? And possibly you can see opportunities to broaden the proposition that was offered to their clients, increasing the revenue potential. Any of these factors will help you realise more profit potential.
What are the risks?
We’ve highlighted a lot of the risks to success in the earlier sections above. However you also need to protect your business against the sins of the past that may not have been uncovered in the due diligence process. What protection have you extracted against poor advice given to clients in the past? What warranties have you been given by the seller about the quality of advice given, the products sold, the performance of ongoing service for trail commission, the promises made to clients? You need to consider how long the seller remains “on the hook” for these issues, as the last thing a buyer wants is a string of complaints (or worse) arising in the future. A seller of a very clean book of business with excellent advice given in the past should not have an issue in providing reasonable and fair warranties.
These are just some of the questions that you should ask yourself before you step into the market to buy another firm. Buying a business is a big step – take your time, ask yourself the hard questions and do careful due diligence in order to seriously enhance your prospects for achieving a value adding purchase.