The last few weeks have been eerie. The markets are fluctuating, schools are closed, streets are deserted. The Portland area had a run of 65-degree sunny days followed by two days of snow. Our office is down to a skeleton crew, and the rest of the staff are working from home.
At the beginning of March staying away from the coronavirus seemed as simple as keeping anyone sick at home. Now the ambiguity of who might be carrying the virus has sparked fear of the unknown and driving us to make drastic, unprecedented changes in our lifestyles to protect those at highest risk for severe infection. The situation and preventative measures seem to change daily and vary state to state.
But, this, too, shall pass, and we are all trying to stay productive and maintain perspective on the current situation. Twelve years ago, we experienced a similar market shock. Though the circumstances and drivers are different now, the way the industry adapts and manages investor uncertainty to find our way to the other side of this, as innovators and entrepreneurs, we will have to think similarly.
Be a Resource
The biggest piece of advice I can give to advisors who expect to make it through is this: be a resource.
Be a resource for your clients and their communities. They’re all searching for guidance right now. Even if you can’t give them concrete answers, you can give them context. Nobody can predict exactly what is going to happen in the next few months, but you can support your community by sharing your knowledge of the financial system.
There are many ways to be a valuable resource. As clients share their concerns with you, use your experiences to help them understand what’s going on, why, and the best action (or non-action) they can take in the present moment. To reach a larger audience you can host a virtual Q&A for clients using webinar and meeting technology. You can also designate a page on your website to link relevant articles you’ve found as well as your own commentary–share these ideas via social media and email too. The important thing is to keep the communication open and to continue being their trusted advisor.
April is Financial Literacy Month, which is the perfect time to communicate your resources and knowledge beyond your existing client base to increase your visibility and extend your network. Financial education is woefully insufficient in our country, and crisis or no, offering a consistent and reliable source of information for your community can help improve overall financial health–as well as your own business growth–in the long run. Our valuation data from 2008-2013 supports the idea that practices who are broadly engaged endure the downturn and grow faster during the recovery.
While most things are changing so quickly it’s hard to keep them pinned down, there is one constant we have seen: continuing acquisition activity.
In recent weeks our open marketing listing notifications have been posting as normal (with more coming soon) and have continued to receive high number inquiries from qualified buyer candidates.
Financial practices will eventually feel the impact of market fluctuations on their gross revenue over the next three to six months, but not immediately. Business owners will be able to control the short-term impact of reduced revenue by cutting operational expenses in an effort to preserve profitability. Focusing on other key value factors like harnessing technology to create efficiencies at lower cost and maintaining client trust to preserve their tenure can also help balance reduced revenues.
Demand for financial business acquisition opportunities remains high. Whether you know your business will weather the current roller coaster or you are not sure if you want to take on any more sudden headwinds, the marketplace is still going strong. On the open market, sellers will continue to benefit from a large pool of qualified buyers. And as decreased assets generate declining revenue, acquirers will find that buying practices with less expensive financing is a viable strategy for long-term growth.
Nobody can tell you what is going to happen to business values. Price is a function of supply and demand, and with the calls we have received even this week, eager buyers aren’t going anywhere. However, as deals come together, we will likely see an increase in contingent financing, hold backs, earn-outs and other adjustment mechanisms. These risk-balancing deal terms are applicable in both seller-financed and bank-financed transactions. We are working with our colleagues in the financing channel to provide you more information on these resources as the situation evolves.
Some advisors will need to sell for the same reasons that drove them before: life events, timing, regulations, endurance. How current events impact those drivers will be seen on a case by case basis. The swiftly changing landscape could leave sellers at a stark disadvantage to predatory buyers and it will be especially important for sellers to be informed and supported as they enter the marketplace.
No one knows what the next few months will hold or what everything will look like when we find ourselves on the other side of this. Though, even without my crystal ball, I think I can safely predict this: people are going to need trusted financial advice.
When the markets start to settle and our daily lives can get back to normal, you will need to be there, instilling client confidence and ensuring that they know what the next best step is for their assets.
If previous periods of volatility are any indication, things will rebound and we will find ourselves climbing out of the valley. Stay adaptive and keep your strategic plans at the ready.
If you are thinking about selling your business, please be cautious of predatory buyers who are looking to take advantage of the current market drops and squirrel out rock bottom prices. Remember that your business still has significant value and you owe it to your clients to find the best successor to take over their accounts. At no cost, our M&A team will review any unsolicited offers you’ve received and help you understand if they are fair for the value of your business. Click here to submit your offer review request.