Gunner & Co., the UK’s leading M&A brokerage and consultancy business have found that the number of IFA business owners considering selling or planning their succession in the next 2 years has increased notably to 50% in 2024, up from 42% in the prior year, suggesting a more rapid move towards executing exit strategies. Meanwhile, 73% of advisers indicate that succession planning is integrated into their annual business planning.

These statistics come from Gunner & Co’s annual survey to understand the motivations driving IFA business sales, now in its fourth year. The key driver for sale remains retirement at 56%. This however has dropped 10 points from last year and regulatory changes is emerging as a significant factor, representing 8% of motivations to sell in the market. “This reflects the increasing concern over the operational impact of regulatory changes including Consumer Duty and the potential introduction of capital and liquidity adequacy.” Louise Jeffreys, managing director of Gunner & Co. said.

In terms of the preferred exit route, business sales continue to be the preferred succession route, with 75% of respondents favouring this option, up from 74% in 2023. Management buy-outs remain the second most popular choice at 9%. Jeffreys commented on the recent regulatory changes on the buyer market “The regulator is taking a more active stance in all transactions, especially relating to responsibility for past-advice liability. However, the rate of consolidation in the sector has not abated. With the development of the consolidation market, we are likely to witness consolidation among the actual buyers themselves, which to a degree will reduce the buyer market and change the supply and demand curve.”

“Coming to 2024, a more stable and positive stock market reduces the risk of returns on transactions, and in turn make acquisitions more attractive to buyers. While some smaller, debt-backed buyers have chosen to pause acquisitions and focus on integration, the major players currently remain as active as ever.” Jeffreys added.

The survey data revealed that the most popular choice of buyer was large regional businesses, with 66% of respondents stating they would prefer to sell to them. Small local businesses (52%) has overtaken large national consolidators (45%) as the second preferred choice this year.

“Many large regional businesses have been acquired over the last 3 years. These businesses often remain more culturally aligned to the business seller, with the added advantage of more proven access to funding.” Commented Jeffreys.

The importance of independence has evolved significantly over the past few years. This year, 76.42% of respondents prefer to remain independent, up from 70.3% last year. This shift indicates a strategic choice to maintain business models and client relationships aligned with the core values of independence.

When assessing a potential deal, client proposition remains the most important factor in assessing potential deals, with 61% of respondents identifying it as a top priority, with deal price being the second most important factor.

In 2023, the biggest macroeconomic factor impacting the M&A market was the rapid rise in interest rates, with 14 rate rises since December 2022. We expect the calmer macroeconomic environment of 2024 to see more acquirers return to the M&A market. Meanwhile, regulatory changes will become a major factor influencing the market if poorly applied.