Earlier this year, with the global pandemic raging and markets in decline, we promised our clients and the industry that we would continue to provide an inside look as to what was happening in the M&A market for financial advisory practices.
It’s hard to keep secrets in a small office. The rooms are tight, the walls are thin, and it’s just a matter of time before everyone knows everyone else’s business. Even when an owner has quietly decided to sell their practice, they should assume that staff members will eventually find out (if they haven’t already). In our experience, it’s best that employees hear the news from someone they trust: the owner.
Prospective sellers are often reluctant to speak to staff members about their exit plans because they aren’t sure how the selling process will pan out and they don’t know how the staff will feel about the change. While it’s important to be sure of your decision before announcing your plan, looping your staff into the process can increase your success and can even help shape the structure of your sale.
The Sell and Stay® approach to selling a financial services business was developed by the professionals at FP Transitions to fulfill the preference of many sellers to gradually exit the business by giving up their ownership obligations while continuing to service clients and earn an income. This arrangement can be customized in a hundred different ways, but often entails an owner selling the majority–or all–of their ownership to a third-party buyer and remaining as an employee of the business for a set number of years (typically 3-5) before fully exiting.
Buyers who are open to this type of transaction not only access a larger acquisition pool, but can enjoy other unique advantages as well. You, of course, enjoy all the benefits of a traditional acquisition: immediate growth, available financing options, expansion into different areas and niches, and economies of scale. In addition, the acquisition can help you tackle some other areas of your long-term growth strategy through:
- Client Continuity and Retention
- Turn-key Practice / Office
- Talent Acquisition
- Reduced Training Costs
- New Competencies and Service Offerings
- Institutional Knowledge
I recently checked in on a client and she mentioned that she had to remind her staff to take vacation. As a small business owner, she wears many hats including H.R. As she processed payroll week after week she noticed her staff wasn’t requesting PTO. Her immediate concern was that employees would lose their accrued time off if they didn’t use it. More importantly, time away from work is necessary to get rested and charge your batteries.
Admittedly, “going on vacation” in these times may just mean closing and locking the door to your home office or taking your laptop and files off of the dining room table and putting them away for a few days. However, depending on where you live, you may be able to go out and safely explore local parks and trails or even go camping.
Today’s Independent financial advisors face an endless array of challenges and opportunities. Identifying challenges before they arise is key for finding solutions and developing strategies for tackling the issues that present the greatest opportunities for improvement and growth.
The four biggest opportunities are:
- Balancing Growth and Profitability
- Recruiting and Retaining Talent
- Creating Business Sustainability
- Growth Through Mergers and Acquisitions
Balancing Growth and Profitability
Growth and profitability are inextricably linked and balancing the two within a single practice is the difference between building a one-generational practice and a multi-generational, sustainable enterprise.
Acquiring a wealth management practice brings immediate growth and is an alternative to spending money and time on marketing to find new clients. That’s why there is currently an average 75-to-1 buyer-to-seller ratio. If you’re going to succeed in this arena, you need to stand out from that crowd. If you don’t have the cash on hand, one of the best steps you can take is to become prequalified for a conventional or Small Business Association (SBA) loan.
Twenty years ago, most acquisition deals consisted of a down payment of around 30% with the balance seller-financed through an earn-out arrangement. As fee-based practices became more prevalent, buyer demand increased. The combination of recurring revenue and increased demand pushed values higher and, in time, strengthened the underlying deal terms as well. Gradually we witnessed a shift to the use of performance-based promissory notes in place of earn-out arrangements. And, in the last seven years or so, the landscape changed yet again when the availability of bank financing entered the picture. This has afforded younger, smaller buying firms the opportunity to compete financially with larger, more established firms.
A place to start accessing this financing is to prequalify for a loan. A bank will review your finances and give you an estimate of how much they will lend to you. A bank’s prequalification tilts the acquisition playing field in your direction; you can knock out 90% of the competition. Sellers like the security prequalification brings to the transaction. In addition, you’ll be ready to move quickly if there’s a new opportunity or if a seller has a short time horizon.
Completing an annual valuation on your business is the financial service industry equivalent of undergoing your annual physical. I’ll turn 55 this year and I have resigned myself to the fact that prescription medications have officially become their own food group and an annual physical is no longer optional. My annual pilgrimage happens to take place in the spring tucked neatly amongst the sporadic appointments to see specialists for knees, elbows, near sightedness, far sightedness, rotator cuffs and something about my lumbar.
Now, the key word here is annual. If I had my cholesterol checked 10 years ago and then never again how am I going to know if what I am doing is working? An annual examination provides a historical record of your overall health including your vital signs enabling you to make changes in order to perform at your best. The good news is that, unlike my annual physical, your valuation results should get better as your business matures.
Your business is a living, breathing entity. Just like the investments you make on behalf of your clients, it needs to be nurtured, protected, and developed in order to realize its maximum value. It’s important that your valuation be updated annually. The monetary value of your practice is just one of many pieces of information to be gleaned from a professional business valuation.
I had been looking forward to attending the Investment News Women Advisor Summit, but when an in-person event was no longer an option I was excited when Investment News did the ultimate pivot and changed their all-day onsite Summit to a virtual webcast.
Hotel and meeting rooms were cancelled, and their technology team got to work. The webcast was scheduled for May 14th. Attendees received an email the day before with directions on how to view the event that included a great video introduction from Liz Skinner.
A Digital Experience
I’d been wondering how a conference would work virtually. I didn’t know what to expect and it was easy. The eight sessions were listed on a main page. At the beginning time of the session, you just clicked the session’s “View Now” button, and you were connected. You could see each speaker and it was easy to access their bios, slides, and resources.
There were 600 people attending and speakers from 10 different cities–their largest event ever! Questions could be submitted throughout the sessions and were posted and answered in real time on social media using @investmentnews and #womenadvisersummit2020. Every session had a different topic and a bit of a different format which helped the time fly by.
Equity-based compensation provides an excellent solution for practice owners who need a reward system that goes beyond the traditional salary/bonus structure and shares the economic value of equity, but not equity itself.
A critical element in the success of any small business is its ability to recruit, reward, and retain talented advisors and support staff. To this end, equity compensation is often used to achieve these goals. Synthetic equity is a tool set that can provide ownership-level benefits without buying or selling actual stock in an advisory business.
To be clear, the process of transforming a single-owner practice into a sustainable business generally relies on equity. Equity, or stock, is what next-generation advisors invest in, and over time and with hard work benefit from, above and beyond what compensation alone can provide. Equity is the shareholder value created in a business managed from a bottom-line up perspective with a focus on earnings or profits as the ultimate financial goal. Equity is a powerful building and motivational tool, but with the opportunities come obligations. Because of these obligations, buying or selling equity isn’t the only way to offer key employees ownership-like benefits, nor is it always the best option.
Even with market volatility over the past few months, the marketplace for financial advisory businesses has remained strong. FP Transitions is pleased to announce the recent sales of financial services businesses in the following areas :
- Palm Beach, FL | $6,000,000
- Houston,TX | undisclosed
- North Carolina | undisclosed
- Rhode Island | $1,500,000
- San Francisco Area, CA | undisclosed
- South Carolina | $3,600,000
- Sacramento Area California | undisclosed
- Atlanta Area, GA | undisclosed
- Miami Area, FL | $350,000
- Lafayette Parish, LA | undisclosed
- Rhode Island | $700,000
- Houston, TX | $1,100,000
- Chicago Area, IL | $120,000
- Northwestern, TX | $450,000
- Boston Area, MA | undisclosed
- Florida Panhandle | undisclosed
- Tampa Area, FL | $750,000
- North Carolina | $450,000
- Michigan | $1,200,000
Sold announcements include all closed third-party transactions facilitated by FP Transitions, including private listings, pre-arranged matches, and those listed on the open market.