TRANSITION TALK

Top 10 Drivers of Business Value

Posted by FP Transitions on Sep 6, 2023 8:00:00 AM

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The value of your practice is determined by many factors, some obvious, and some not so obvious. And the degree to which some aspects impact your value more largely depends on the reason you’re valuing the business in the first place. 

Whether you’re considering acquisition, onboarding new talent–or new owners–, monitoring annual growth, or getting ready to sell, these ten factors have the most significant impact on the value of your business. Focus in these areas can make a major difference in your book’s sustainability and its eventual purchase price when transition time arrives.

  1. Predictable revenue and recurring revenue streams
  2. Client demographics
  3. Average client tenure
  4. Size of potential market
  5. Transition timing
  6. Client affluence and average client revenue
  7. Asset or revenue concentration
  8. Use and structure of referral fees
  9. Length of surrender period
  10. Profitability

A focus in any number of these areas will benefit your business, but determining those with most impact and where you can maximize your value improvement efforts comes with looking at your business in the context of its peers and priorities. A benchmarking analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs) goes hand in hand with your business valuation allowing you to contextualize the data and plot out your next steps for the short- and long-term.

1. Predictable Revenue

The most significant—and perhaps most obvious—value driver is revenue. Consider where your revenue is coming from and the predictability of each revenue stream. A thorough valuation will examine not only whether a revenue item is recurring, but will analyze the source itself. Look at historical returns and whether the products generate predictable revenue, year after year, or a periodic return that occurs every few years.

2. Client Demographics

Client demographics are another important factor when it comes to the value of your business. For valuation purposes, demographics focus primarily on the ages of your clients, as a proxy for when clients tend to have the highest capacity for invested assets and personal income. Client demographics also paint a picture of the quality of the assets you manage, inferring client tenure as well as potential growth. Certain age groups statistically represent a larger accumulation of high value assets, in both the short and long-term. It’s generally accepted that clients within the 50-70 year age bracket are at the peak of asset accumulation; their relationship adds significant value to your current book.

However, do not ignore other age groups. For instance, senior clients (71+ years) may have larger dispersals, but also tend to generate high fees in the near term. Senior clients can also add an element of sustainability to your practice by introducing you to their heirs. Younger or “next generation” clients (30-50 year range) may not add much current revenue to your practice, but they contain the seed of long-term growth. Be careful with “best” management practices that encourage you to only keep “A-Clients.” Well-balanced client demographics enhance your practice’s current and projected values.

3. Average Client Tenure

Client tenure is directly related to post-transition client retention and is a significant value driver, especially when the reason for your valuation includes a transition of leadership and/or ownership. Households who have recently joined an advisor may be less inclined to stick around through a transition. However, clients with a long-term relationship tend to stay with their trusted advisor’s handpicked successor. The existence of loyal client relationships can play a big role in determining your deal structure in a third-party sale or merger.

4. Size of Potential Market

How you define the market for your business causes significant ripple effects down to your value. Your market controls your exposure to potential buyers, which affects the demand for your practice, which impacts the competition over your purchase price. There are many ways to define the market for your practice, including affiliation, service offerings, or geography. Any limitations on your market, for example related to regulatory structure or product focus, should be balanced by qualities that support retention—for example with a broker-dealer or insurance company who will facilitate a transition or provide additional benefits to specific client bases. Clarifying and understanding your market also helps you to define what a perfect fit acquisition partner might look like.

5. Transition Timing

If you are preparing to sell your practice, consider any recent changes before talking with buyers and committing to a timeline. A recent acquisition, shift in BD network, conversion to RIA, or restructuring of fees and services could have an impact on the transition of your practice during a sale. Major modifications like these require a “curing” time to let the business and clients settle into the new situation. Jumping into a sale too soon after a large change could destabilize your post-sale client retention and elevate the transition risk. The key here is stabilizing the client relationship to preserve value.

6. Client Affluence and Average Client Revenue

Revenue and assets per client can have a compounding effect on your overall operation. A client base composed of high net worth (HNW) clients has a stronger fee profile and better long-term growth and stability. Businesses with high per-client revenues tend to have less demand for significant infrastructure, such as support staff or expansive office space, to maintain client relationships, and so have higher profitability. This translates to higher values. In contrast, practices with many smaller, less affluent clients often have higher overhead and higher expense drag. The flip side of this is asset concentration.

7. Asset or Revenue Concentration

While HNW clients can help boost revenue and profitability with less impact to capacity and operations, there is a risk of concentrating your revenue in too few sources. Revenue concentration risk occurs when an outsized percentage of your revenue is generated by a small number of clients. The danger here is that a loss on only one client can then cause a swift and significant decrease of assets and revenue. This affects the stability of value as well as client retention rates in a sale. FP Transitions’ valuation model calculates revenue from a top percentage of clients (ranked by number of households) and compares it to the total revenue of the practice. If the concentration is abnormally high, market value dips.

8. Referral fees

New client growth bolsters value and offering referral fees to colleagues can be an effective tactic to grow your business in this area—if the fee structure makes sense. A common referral fee structure that works well is paying a percentage of revenue (if allowed) for a limited period of time, two years or less. For fixed fee referrals on larger accounts, it may be beneficial break up payments in order to normalize cash flow. However, paying referral fees into perpetuity creates a long-term obligation that must be assumed by a buyer. This arrangement can reduce practice value—prospective buyers don’t generally want to take over a permanent expense they didn’t agree to and can’t control.

9. Length of Surrender Period

If you sell annuities and take up-front commissions—or take larger commissions and small trails—try to minimize the length of the surrender period. Most buyers will consider an acceptable surrender period to be 1-2 years, on average. Assets that are tied up well into the future, and that produce minimal current revenue, present little opportunity for a potential buyer. A long timeframe on surrender tends to diminish value.

10. Profitability (for larger businesses/firms)

Business value is anchored top-line revenue—predictable, reliable income sources. In the case of external sale, expenses are only important when they are passed on to a buyer (as mentioned with perpetual referral fees, or items like a long-term lease) and, fortunately, most expenses can be eliminated in an arms-length transaction. However, as the business grows, pay attention to the bottom line. The profitability that comes from balancing revenue and expenses is a significant driver of value, especially when it comes to internal transfers of ownership, mergers, and monitoring growth.

It's important to understand the distinction between compensation and profitability. Many advisors consider profit to be the same as compensation because, in a single-owner practice, they get to take all of the profits home at the end of the year. However, for owners looking to create a sustainable business, the focus needs to be on both revenue AND profit. A revenue-sharing arrangement with an employee or officemate may increase top-line revenue, but tracking the bottom line shows that the increased income is often offset by increases overhead—the compensation arrangement produces no net profit.

If you are a sole owner the initial impact will be academic, you will continue to take it all home, just in different categories. The key is to show a history of profit. The ability to generate revenue and control operational expenses will become a necessary metric to evaluate your key employees. Profit becomes especially important if you want to sell internally or recruit a successor to the business. Demonstrating a history of profitability is useful for incentivizing next generation owners, attracting outside investors, and securing financing for acquisition.

Remember, formal valuations are assessed in the context of its purpose, whether you’re preparing to sell your business, litigating a partnership dissolution, transferring minority ownership stake, or simply tracking annual growth. Many advisors simply need a starting point. These factors can paint a comprehensive picture of your current position.

Take your business planning to the next level by leveraging valuation insights to inform your next steps and business goals through personalized benchmarking analysis.

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Topics: Business Growth, Business Value, Buying & Selling, Sustainability, Benchmarking, Valuation & Appraisal