2021 has been a heightened year of M&A activity in the title insurance space, and the hot housing market has been a boon for everyone in the industry. While successful title businesses are an attractive acquisition for many buyers, owners may be wary of relinquishing their hard work or jeopardizing their employees’ livelihoods by choosing the wrong company.
Title Success Solutions was formed after a conversation between two friends and title professionals, Marcus Hunt and Patrick Smith, to help others in the title insurance industry navigate the process of mergers and acquisitions. Marcus and Pat know the care with which title professionals build their business and the complexities of not just the internal processes but the relationships as well.
While a lot of effort may go into crunching the numbers to determine if the merger or acquisition is a good financial fit, sometimes the integration of people and two different cultures is overlooked.
Here’s some advice on how to improve the outcomes of taking over existing businesses and smoothly bring together two businesses.
Preparing for a merger or acquisition
During my interview, Pat noted the shift in the industry from a “mom and pop” company to one driven more by an entrepreneurial mindset. This change means that owners looking to sell will need to understand their target buyers and the kind of businesses they are looking to acquire.
Defining your main goals is the first step to creating an M&A strategy. As an owner, it’s important to determine if you want to remain in a role at the company and in what capacity or whether you want to walk away. For acquiring companies, new leadership may see value in retaining former owners for some time until staff members and clients are comfortable with the transition.
After that self-examination, owners need to prepare for a close examination of the company. Pat suggests having the following information ready to hand over:
- financial statements from the last 3-5 years
- general ledger accounts
- tax returns
- organizational charts
- job descriptions
- cash flow statements
“You don’t have to do it all at once, but you have to start somewhere,” says Marcus.
It’s been one of the busiest years in title, so taking time from daily operations to prepare financial paperwork can feel overwhelming. If you’re struggling with the next steps, Pat suggests working with consultants or investment bankers to help guide you through the process.
Successful integration starts with the leaders
The previous owner plays a vital role in creating a smooth transition between outgoing and new leadership. Some owners may be wary about staying on after a deal is completed. As Pat and Marcus explain, they may become the lightning rod for staff complaints or disagreements and spark disruption.
Some questions that buyers may have as they assess your company could include:
- How involved is the current owner in the current day-to-day operations?
- Are they still the face of the company spending time with clients? What happens when they walk away?
- Will it affect the value of the company?
In order to avoid losing the interest of a buyer, owners should consider letting go of some responsibilities before beginning the M&A process.
“This could be one of the deal-making or breaking pieces… if this piece doesn’t fit then the trickle-down from ownership to former staff may make the post-acquisition process [more difficult], and things may start unraveling,” explains Marcus.
The leadership on the buyer side also can help ease uncertainties among staff. “Their biggest fear is that this is going to be a wholesale change… let them know that they are important and that they are part of the reason you are here,” says Pat.
Additionally, buyers should be aware of the reputation of their company culture before engaging in M&A activities. If the acquiring company is known for a work culture that clashes with the culture of the one being acquired, it’s likely to create more stress and discord. Pat encourages buyers to carefully and honestly examine what their culture looks like, how they can fuse the two cultures together, actively listen to staff, and set clear expectations for their vision of the newly formed company.
Where to make investments
Buyers should anticipate and plan for initial investments in communication, training, and technology updates. “In a transition, there may be as much as a 12-15% revenue cost and expense that comes out of poor planning and poor communication between the acquiring company and the employees of the acquired company,” Pat notes.
To avoid losses like this, buyers should make sure everyone feels welcome and has the tools and training to be successful. Investing in new headshots, business cards, and welcome kits with company swag is a great way to avoid the “new kid at school” syndrome that can creep in when mixing new groups of people together.
Create opportunities for mingling during work hours to encourage the development of a new company culture, like inviting everyone to a company-wide lunch or ordering a food truck.
If the newly acquired staff is accustomed to a different workflow, make investments in proper training, especially if new title production software or other technology is being introduced.
Oftentimes, the cost of maintaining a legacy system in order to retain important client data is overlooked, so careful consideration should be given to how the acquired company’s current technology stack will integrate with the purchasing company.
Communication is key when it comes to uncovering potential pitfalls and measuring success. Depending on the size of the companies, leaders should devise a strategy to get feedback from all employees to determine how well people are adjusting to the new environment.
Despite how helpful financial statements and spreadsheets may be in analyzing the monetary benefits and outcome of a merger or acquisition, it’s still people driving those metrics. To ensure success, both parties involved in the deal must plan ahead, hone their emotional intelligence, and look for qualitative information that won’t be found on a spreadsheet.