Acquisitions director Gordon Kerr joined Ascot Lloyd from Deloitte less than two years ago, but has already set his sights high.
While Ascot Lloyd has 21,000 clients, more than 500 employees and £10bn in assets under administration, Kerr is looking beyond the numbers.
Explaining his goals for the consolidator, he says: “I would like us to become a household name. There aren’t many household names in the [independent financial adviser] space, and I think this is the journey we would like to go on.”
In the meantime, the numbers look likely to rise, as he explains: “I’m seeing a lot more businesses come to market. Around 70 potential opportunities have landed on my desk in the last quarter.”
There is a lot of competition for these businesses, with Kerr counting around 15 to 20 private equity businesses and platforms on the acquisition trail, but he is upbeat about it:
“We’ve been doing this since 2013, so it’s validating to see all this activity. It confirms we are doing the right thing.”
And while there are more buyers, they are not necessarily chasing the same opportunities: “We primarily get our inbound enquiries from brokers and we know that there are more interested parties for every opportunity that is presented to us,” says Kerr. “Brokers definitely have more ‘mouths to feed’ in the buying community.”
But the filtering process undertaken by their brokers picks out those that specifically match both Ascot Lloyd and the seller’s criteria: “It means we’re not all ‘bun-fighting’ over the same assets,” Kerr confirms.
So, what is generating all this activity in the market at the moment? Kerr observes a range of factors, including the pandemic: “The drivers for people to sell their firms at the moment are largely what they were previously – rising regulatory and [professional indemnity] costs, succession planning and difficulties in hiring staff.
"Adapting to technology and the post-Covid environment are also factors causing more owners to consider selling their business, as is the possibility of changes to capital gains tax.”
Some factors are more front-of-mind than others, however: “Conversations about increased regulatory and PI costs crop up repeatedly, particularly when advisers see their PI costs double or if they struggle to get a new quote.
"Succession planning comes up a lot too. Some individuals are further along that path than others, though. While some are years away from wanting to retire, others are thinking they want to retire in six months and that this is the right opportunity to do so.”
The increased number of buyers is having an encouraging effect on sellers too: “It’s a fact of this competitive market that they can get a little bit more for their business at the moment, simply due to the number of buyers out there,” he reflects.
Nevertheless, Ascot Lloyd has completed 12 acquisitions in the past 12 months. But they do not happen overnight, says Kerr: “Due diligence takes two to three months usually, depending on whether it’s an asset or a share purchase.