Deal Activity Rebounds After Brief Lull; Deal Terms and Multiples Remain Robust
After a brief lull during the second quarter of last year, RIA deal activity surged in the fourth quarter, rounding out a record year in terms of reported deal volume. Concerns about the pandemic and market conditions were quickly shrugged off, as deal terms and the pace of deal activity returned to 2019 levels after the brief pause at the peak of the shutdown.
Catching a Falling (Butter) Knife
Last week, Macquarie Group announced its acquisition of Waddell & Reed (WDR) for $1.7 billion. At first glance, the pricetag implies an EBITDA multiple of over 11x and some are asking why Macquarie’s new CEO paid such a premium for a business whose AUM has halved over the last six years. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In this post, we dig into the deal economics and explain why paying a premium does not necessarily mean Macquarie over paid.
Despite Harrowing Moments, the RIA Community Is Prospering
Now, after seven months of living with the pandemic, there is still no end in sight. We might only be halfway! But despite the barrage of challenges, the RIA community has embraced WFH, profited from buoyant markets, and resumed a relentless pace of M&A. It has been, if very strangely, a very good year. Is this a sign of industry resilience? Or an awful lot of luck?
What Do You Do When Liquidity Matters More Than Fundamentals?
After the initial punditry on whether or not the 2020 market crash/recession and recovery would be “L” shaped, “U” shaped, “V” shaped, or “W” shaped, it has become clear that the recovery is “K” shaped, with higher-skilled and higher paying jobs recovering rapidly, and many lower-skill, lower-paying jobs declining. What does this mean for RIAs? Most RIA clients are higher-income professionals who are paying more attention to their investment portfolios in this environment – not less. Bullish for clients = bullish for the industry.
Last Wednesday, the SEC announced an expansion to the definition of “accredited investor” to include individuals based on professional certifications and inside knowledge of issuers while keeping the old wealth and income thresholds the same. What does this mean for RIAs, their clients, and for capital markets?
Earn-outs are commonly used in RIA deals, and we expect contingent payments to make up an even larger percent of deal consideration for the next few months, quarters, or years depending on how long the current economic uncertainty lasts. And while we hope most of our clients would be thrilled by the prospect of $335 million in upfront cash payments, we don’t want you to end up feeling as Ryan Reynolds did last week. In this post, we explain what an earn-out is, why they are commonly used in RIA transactions, and how earn-outs may be used as a saving grace for deal activity in the current economic environment.
Is Volatility the New Normal?
If one thing has become clear, it’s that market volatility is here to stay – at least for a while. In this post, we explore what this volatility means for you and for your RIA.
In this post, we look back at RIA transactions that occurred in Q1 2020 and venture what M&A will look like over the rest of the year.
Tune Your Business Model for Greater Resiliency
The value of RIAs and the future of transactions in the industry ultimately comes down to the health of the individual firms. Fortunately, there is a relatively straightforward way to assess the financial well-being of your firm, and ways of taking corrective action if your firm’s future is threatened.
Matt Crow's Podcast Interview with Mindy Diamond
This is our first blogpost in three weeks. As the Coronavirus pandemic set in across the United States, Mercer Capital adjusted to working remotely about as smoothly as I could have hoped. The RIA team here at Mercer Capital struggled to find appropriate topics to cover in our weekly blog. Regular “business as usual” topics seemed out of place, and writing about very current events, like the massive dislocations in the structure of markets, isn’t why our readers spend their precious minutes absorbing our blog. For a couple of weeks, it seemed better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Fortunately, Mindy Diamond of the financial advisory recruiting firm, Diamond Consulting, asked if I would help her with a podcast about the impact of the pandemic on RIA valuations and, consequently, on transaction activity.
If you don’t subscribe to the Diamond podcast, Mindy hosts the all-stars of the RIA universe like Shirl Penney, David Canter, Mark Tibergien, and Liz Nesvold. Mindy also throws in a few mere mortals such as myself for variety – and digs until she gets well past the talking points. I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I enjoyed the interview.
Creative Planning’s Minority Sale is the Most Consequential RIA Deal So Far in 2020
It’s hard to imagine, but the most significant piece of news for the RIA community so far this year happened less than three weeks ago and is already almost forgotten: Peter Mallouk sold a minority stake in his firm, Creative Planning, to private equity firm General Atlantic. The transaction is easily one of the largest, if not the largest, minority transaction in the history of the RIA industry, and potentially provides a blueprint for others to follow.
SchwabiTrade isn’t the Only Threat to the Most Consistent Profit Stream in the RIA Community
It’s hard to see the advent of SchwabiTrade as a good thing for the RIA community – especially the wealth management community. If Schwab is looking to recapture margins from zero commission trading and low rates on sweep accounts, it need look no further than the ten thousand plus RIAs now in its eco-system.
Pre-season Soccer and the Mercer Price Tag are Likely More About Form Than Substance
We were intrigued (and skeptical) of the recent reports that RIA aggregator Mercer Advisors was looking to fetch a $700 million-plus price tag in a prospective sale by its PE backers at Genstar Capital. A 15-16x multiple on an estimated pro-forma, run-rate EBITDA of approximately $50 million results in a $750 million to $800 million enterprise value for the business, which certainly got our attention. Still, this figure could be meaningless if it’s an unlikely appraisal of Mercer Advisor’s current market value. For this week’s post, we’ll address our opinion from a fair market value and strategic value perspective.
Attention Drives Activity
It’s been a year since the Focus Financial IPO generated a similar level of conversation in the RIA community – and the transaction dominos have been falling ever since. In that same year, Victory Capital pulled off a major acquisition, Affiliated Managers Group got back into the acquisition game following a two-year hiatus, United Capital was acquired by Goldman Sachs, and Mercer Advisors is soliciting bids.
I was thinking about all of this on a road trip across the southeast last week, in-between blasting Tom Petty on satellite radio and dropping in on a few clients. At one of my first stops, a client asked if I saw a lot of M&A activity in the RIA space. Yes, I replied, but I see even more headlines about it. Plenty has changed in the RIA community in the last twelve months, but even more has not.
Fidelity’s Partnership with Merchant Investment Management
On June 10th, Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions and Merchant Investment Management announced a new partnership to increase wealth managers’ access to capital for acquisitions and growth initiates. The deal opens up a sizable new sales channel for Merchant, and in return, Fidelity’s behemoth platform tacks on a few additional selling points to entice M&A-minded RIAs.
No. But Goldman’s United Capital Buy Suggests the Consolidation Winds are Shifting
If there is one consistent story in these RIA rollups, it’s that building them takes longer than anybody expects. Duran worked on building United Capital for nearly 15 years. Some things require scale that cannot be acquired in one lifetime, however, and that’s where the CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, saw an opportunity.
A Few Reflections on the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter
In a world where non-stop financial commentary is as commonplace as it is tedious, one man’s market insights get an unusual amount of attention: Warren Buffett’s annual shareholder letter. Buffett is an ironic icon of the investment management industry. He’s made his fortune from active investment management, but regularly articulates his skepticism of the same. He’s doubtlessly inspired more people to found RIAs than any other individual, yet his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, is not an RIA. And his annual treatise on the performance of his company is full of common-sense wisdom that, based on Berkshire’s track record, is anything but common.
John Bogle’s Legacy Endures with the Prominence of Passive Investing
This week we say goodbye to perhaps the greatest advocate of passive investing. John Bogle’s contributions to indexing strategies and ETF investing have had huge impacts on both active and passive management, which we’ll address in this week’s post.
Management Claims Their Model is Recession Proof; Unfortunately, it isn’t Analyst Proof.
Last week was turbulent for equities around the globe, but Focus Financial (Nasdaq: FOCS) was hit particularly hard. Less than five months since IPO, Focus closed Friday at $27.45, decidedly below where the offering priced at $33, and not much more than half the share price achieved less than three months ago.
Partner-Level Conflicts at Firms of All Sizes Continue to Fragment the Industry
The recent controversy surrounding Ric Edelman’s cease-and-desist letter to his former partner, David Bach, is another reminder of how difficult it can be to sustain wealth management partnerships despite their (sometimes) obvious advantages. This week’s post will explore the sources of these disputes and what you can do to avoid them.
After watching the price of trading drop for decades, it wasn’t so surprising when J.P. Morgan announced that it would offer free online trading for certain investors last month, but when $2.5 trillion manager Fidelity Investments announced they were going to be offering two “free” index funds, the industry rocked on its heels. Is this the next leg down for pricing of investment management, a publicity stunt by Fidelity, or something else altogether?
Now that Focus is public, we have a new channel with which to study and benchmark the industry. We have lots of questions, but for this post we’ll just look at the implications of the Focus valuation that is consequent from the IPO.
Most of the sector’s recent press has focused on M&A trends and the SEC’s proposed advice rule, so we’ve highlighted some of the more salient pieces on these topics and a few others that are making news in the industry.
Last week we offered up some observations on Focus Financial’s S-1, and as we continue to study the filings, it occurred to me that they say as much about the current state of the RIA industry as to they do about Focus itself.