Ask the right questions

There's generally a great deal of focus on getting a business ready for sale in order to maximise its value, but too often there's a lack of emphasis on making sure the process runs smoothly for the IFA firm selling, as well as the clients.

The smooth transitioning of clients is one of the most important element of any sale, without which the value of the business being acquired could be reduced going forward. Key to this is keeping clients happy during the sales process as failure to do so could result in disengaging clients or, worse, see them moving to another firm.

So what should IFAs planning to sell their business be doing to ensure a smooth sales process? Being clear why you are selling and taking time to understand the sales' process is an important element, but the real key to getting it right is asking the right questions. For example, what level of experience does an acquirer have in transitioning clients? Equally important, will the transition result in a good and appropriate service for clients?

The answer to this will depend on how effective you have been at implementing a fee structure that takes into account the net cost of servicing clients, as this will impact the smooth transition of clients and ultimately the level of service received. For example, if you have a client bank that is used to a high level of service based on fees that have not been net costed, it presents a problem for the acquirer who then has to transition those clients to a more profitable model, while at the same time keeping client outcomes on track.

Culture will be a further consideration. The important thing here is to look for a comfortable fit. Will your clients be happy with the culture of a chartered financial planning firm or will they be looking for a relationship that is more low key?

With the right questions being asked, necessary client communication pre and post acquisition will not only be improved, but can become a critical part of the transition process.

For IFAs planning to sell their business and who are looking to continue to work for the acquiring firm either for a transitional period or for the long term, the right choice of acquiring firm is crucial. But asking the right questions will be the true measure of success.

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