Monday, February 9, 2009

The Rise of the Internal Transfers

So . . . what the corner office producer at Merrill Lynch knew, that few others were focusing on while the equities markets were in turmoil was rather simple and rather easy to share with those who would listen. He simply said 'buy bonds' (i.e. instead of fixating on the stock market which was a mess). It was that simple.

In a market environment where there was more risk in doing nothing, than in taking definite action, this experienced advisor simply said 'buy bonds'. What was behind this message was the notion that as advisors, we should not get too caught up in all the mess of the marketplace . . . simply 'buy bonds' - offer alternative solutions that are appropriate for the current market conditions.

What are appropriate exit planning recommendations for today's business owners? Well, instead of 'buying bonds' for their liquid assets - let's discuss an examination of 'internal transfers', instead of 'external transfers' as a viable (alternative) exit plan from the business.

First, let's take a look at why advice, such as 'buy bonds', is so difficult for advisors to hear? Well, I believe that many advisors believe it to be their role to get their clients as much return as they can . . . even if they are assuming the risks of the market. Buying bonds was not exciting and it did not require great analysis.

Investors, however, during those turbulent times were becoming less interested in a conversation regarding a return on their investment and were simply more interested in a conversation that focused on the return of their investment.

Now, panicky investors should not, necessarily, drive the investment decisions in a portfolio of liquid assets.

But, think about whether you are working with any business owners who - in this environment - are simply wondering whether they will get any return on their investment. Many are clearly asking where 'the bottom' will be.

If this is the case, and it appears as though 'outside' buyers will be absent from the marketplace for awhile, these owners should begin to consider 'internal' transfer strategies for their eventual exit.

Just like 'buying bonds' was not as exciting as stock purchases, the end result was that this alternative approach - when measured correctly - had a better chance of getting many investors to their goals.

I believe that this analogy rings true for today's exit planning marketplace. Where most advisors, since 2003, were focused on the 'outside' sale of a business (i.e. to an industry buyer or to a private equity group), today's exit planners need to be proficient in 'internal' transfer strategies as well. There are strong comparisons between 'external' and 'internal' transfers and 'stock' and 'bond' markets, let me explain.

Stock investments carry a bit more risk, but potential for a greater return. 'External' transfers - i.e. sales to outsiders - carry the same dynamics . . . finding a buyer, getting financing, negotiating the transaction, and navigating the legal agreements and tax provisions. If you can do all of this, the sales price (i.e. the return) can be greater. But today's environment makes these transactions more difficult than in the past.

By contrast, bond investments carry a bit less risk (at least they did before the sub-prime mess tainted much of the fixed-income marketplace). In any event, bonds are less volatile and have a more predictale return to the investor. And, most importantly, if bond investing gets an investor to their goals, then the question becomes 'why take the extra risk'? 'Internal' transfers - i.e. Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), Management Buyouts, and Gifting Programs are similar to bond investing-in this scenario. There can be more control over the transfer and, if the owner can be assured that an 'internal' transfer will get them to their goals, then - like bond investing - why take the additional risk?

So, the rise of internal transfer strategies is likely to be with exit strategy planners for quite some time. With the credit crunch continuing to restrict access to capital, and buyers becoming more cautious about preserving their profitability, rather than expanding through acquisition, the marketplace for exiting owners to sell to 'outsiders' may remain considerably depressed for some time. Therefore, given the sheer number of Baby Boomer who need to begin planning their exits to protect their illiquid wealth, it makes a lot of sense to talk to these owners about 'buying bonds' - or, in this case, examining an internal transfer.

We will be covering internal transfers in depth at Pinnacle's 2-day Workshop in Las Vegas next month. Feel free to join us - and enjoy a FREE month of Membership until that point in time.

And be sure to join us for our preview call with special guest Bill Losey to hear more about how we will also focus your advisory practice on getting and staying in front of these exiting business owners.

Click here to register for our Workshop Preview Call, with speical guest Bill Losey, Wed Feb 11 at 3pm EST.

Specializing in Business Exit Strategies, John M. Leonetti, Esq., M.S. Finance, CM&AA founded Pinnacle Equity Solutions to provide exit strategy planning services to business owners as well as education and training programs for professional advisors. To learn more about John's Exit Strategy Services and his recently published book, "Exiting Your Business, Protecting Your Wealth", visit

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