Four “To Dos” Before You Sell Your Investment Management Firm

Considerations for Every RIA Owner

Practice Management Transactions

Selling the business you built from the ground up is a bittersweet experience. Many business owners focus their efforts on growing their business and push planning for their eventual exit aside until it can’t be ignored any longer. While this delay may only prove mildly detrimental to deal proceeds in other industries, in the investment management space, there are very few buyers who will be interested in YOUR business without YOU (at least for a little while).

Long before your eventual exit, you should begin planning for the day you will leave the business you built. There are many considerations for investment managers contemplating a sale, but we suggest you start with these four:

1. Have a Reasonable Expectation of Value

Taking an objective view of the value of your company is difficult. In many cases, it becomes a highly emotional issue, which is certainly understandable considering that many investment managers have spent most of their adult lives nurturing client relationships, growing their client base, and developing talent at their firm. Nevertheless, the development of reasonable pricing expectations is a vital starting point on the road to a successful transaction.

The development of pricing expectations for an external sale should consider how a potential acquirer would analyze your company. In developing offers, potential acquirers use various methods of developing a reasonable purchase price. Most commonly, an acquirer will utilize historical performance data, along with expectations for future cash flow to generate a reasonable estimate of run-rate EBITDA, and an appropriate multiple that considers the underlying risk and growth factors of the subject company.

With the recent run-up in RIA multiples observed, and the even faster run-up in headline multiples, setting reasonable pricing expectations given your firm’s specific risks and opportunities is an increasingly important step in preparing for a transaction.

Valuations and financial analysis for transactions encompass a refined and scenario-specific framework. The valuation process can enhance a seller’s understanding of how a buyer will perceive the cash flows and corresponding returns that result from purchasing or investing in a firm. Additionally, valuations and exit scenarios can be modeled to assist in the decision to sell now or later and to assess the adequacy of deal consideration. Setting expectations and/or defining deal limitations are critical to good transaction discipline.

2. Have a Real Reason To Sell Your Business

Strategy is often discussed as something that belongs exclusively to buyers in a transaction, but this isn’t always the case.

Without a strategy, sellers often feel like all they are getting is an accelerated payout of what they would have earned anyway while giving up their ownership. In many cases, that’s exactly right! Your company, and the cash flow that creates value, transfers from seller to buyer when the ink dries on the purchase agreement. Sellers give up something equally valuable in exchange for purchase consideration – that’s how it works.

As a consequence, sellers need a real reason – a non-financial strategic reason – to sell. Maybe you are selling because you want or need to retire. Maybe you are selling because you want to consolidate with a larger organization to reduce the day-to-day headache of running a business, or need to bring in a financial partner to diversify your own net worth and provide ownership transition to the next generation. Whatever the case, you need a real reason to sell other than trading future cash flow for a check today. The financial trade won’t be enough to sustain you through the twists and turns of a transaction.

3. Get Your Books in Order Today To Maximize Proceeds Tomorrow

As Zach Milam, mentioned last week, in his post on bridging valuation gaps between RIA buyers and sellers, the best time to address a potential buyer’s concerns about your firm is before you start the process.

In advance of transactions, sellers should consider an outsider’s perspective on their firm and take action to address the perceived risk factors that lower value. For example, distinguishing owner compensation and regular distributions of excess capital prior to a sale will decrease the buyer’s concern about liquidity and marketability of the investment and increase the perceived value of equity ownership.

Similarly, focusing on staff development in client-facing roles, increasing the number of client contacts with the firm, and creating an internal pipeline of talent to manage the business will all serve to reduce key person risk from the perspective of a buyer, thereby increasing the value that the buyer ascribes to the firm.

4. Consider the Tax Implications

When considering the potential proceeds from a transaction, you should contemplate the tax implications. A large number of RIAs are S-corporations and C-corporations, which is no longer the preferred structure as they constrain a company’s ability to easily grow and transfer equity. We recommend consulting with a tax attorney prior to a transaction on the tax implication of different transaction structures. Before selling your business, you should also be aware of the pros and cons of a stock versus an asset sale as well as an all cash transaction versus a combination of cash and stock consideration.

How Can We Help?

At Mercer Capital, we routinely perform valuations and financial analysis for buy-sell agreements and internal transactions as well as offer fairness opinions for proposed transactions. We can help you better understand the potential risks to your business model and the opportunities for growth, as well as help you establish reasonable pricing expectations so that when you are ready to sell, the process is more seamless.