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Ray Soudah: the M&A outlook for UK wealth management

Ray Soudah: the M&A outlook for UK wealth management

How the world has changed since 2008 and the onset of an ever-deepening financial crisis.  

This is particularly evident in the UK and other similar jurisdictions which host a significant number of financial services firms, many of them private banks and wealth managers  serving retail, affluent and high net worth individuals.

It used to be that whenever there was a half decent business for sale, dozens of potential purchasers would express buying interest simultaneously and submit sensible offers in an effort to grow their franchises and/or enhance their own brands, with industry participants crowding out private equity backed management teams and wealth funds. S

Since then, however, the profitability of these market participants has fallen dramatically with many of them only being rescued from crippling losses by global and sovereign state quantitative easing, whilst much needed liquidity has supported stock markets and revenue based asset prices since the G20 April 2009 London summit brought the market back from the valuation brink.

More recently, several firms have changed ownership, such as Williams de Broe, absorbed by Investec in a takeover of the brokerage parent firm, Evolution Group. This transaction, whilst embracing integration into the new owners’ existing wealth division, was in fact a clear sign of a distressed seller exiting the financial industry.

Another recent example is the sale of Quilter to European private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital, the third time in ten years that Quilter’s banking parents, (this time Morgan Stanley) have abandoned it due to seemingly ever-changing strategic commitments to remote domestic markets.

More disposals

We anticipate several more disposals in the months and years ahead, a number of which will be a direct result of vendors’ untenable positions within the marketplace; be they foreign owned firms which need to focus on their own brands rather than UK-centric subsidiaries or foreign owned firms whose parents need the capital as part of a retrenchment of their international operations.

Likewise some domestic firms suffering from subscale volumes and succession issues will potentially seek to trade their shares for someone else’s providing them with upside through a synergy based merger.

The outlook is clear, there will be a number of disposals, some of which are currently underway, but we believe most of these will be seller inspired rather than buyer instigated. But who will be looking to buy?

Private Equity firms will be seeking to take maximum advantage from the fact that there are fewer than normal industry buyers. They may be tempted to release their underinvested funds, seeking suitable opportunities for investment on the basis that the current low valuations are temporary and that there are likely to be a number of consolidation opportunities ahead.

Some foreign buyers will also try to upgrade their London presence, but these are likely to be few and far between; sovereign wealth funds will only be tempted by large firms with a strong brand such as Coutts, should they ever formally be put up for sale, meaning that most transactions will be modest, largely benefiting key client facing personnel who will need to be well incentivised in order to protect the client assets being acquired.

Expect a few businesses to be sold following shareholder abandonment of the UK market - considered a key centre not long ago by most global firms - how times have changed!

For shareholders, now is not really the best time to sell, whilst for key personnel, they will be indifferent as they will be rewarded whatever the outcome. Ultimately clients and/or new acquirers are financing their stubbornly high compensation and retention costs.

Soudah has a long background in global financial services. Prior to founding MilleniumAssociates in 2000 he held various positions at Citigroup between 1970 and 1984, lastly as head of Asia Pacific Treasury and Capital Markets. His career has also seen him have spells as CEO of Midland Montagu Securities and CIO for the National Bank of Bahrain including head of international banking and private banking.

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