Whether you are buying or selling, it is important to understand what is being bought and sold and what expectations both the buyer and seller have of each other. Absent these details, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if an offer is fair. After all, “fair” is a relative term. The question of fairness would be easy to answer if all deals were done the same way, but the reality is they are not. Nonetheless, there are still common attributes to most deals that can shed light and aid in understanding the underlying terms. This in turn helps both buyer and seller assess the reasonability of an offer.
WHAT IS BEING BOUGHT AND SOLD?
The sale of many, if not most, financial service businesses are completed as asset sales as opposed to stock sales, where all ownership rights are transferred to a third party. In an asset-based sale, both buyer and seller receive more favorable tax treatment when compared to a stock sale. Since financial services businesses are primarily relationship-based, providing mostly intangible services, what is being sold in an asset sale is rights to a future benefit stream—namely, revenues. However, given the intangible nature of the assets, there is no certainty that a buyer will receive the same amount of revenue from the clients as the seller did. This is why the ability to leverage the seller’s goodwill (the primary asset being bought and sold) to establish proper deal terms that create a shared risk, shared reward scenario become important.