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2020 Business And Professional Services Sector Update

Business and professional services (BPS) firms are facing increased uncertainty amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. This climate is resulting in less investment and more reliance on revolving credit to maintain access to cash for operating expenses, and keeping priorities on payroll and workforce decisions. Companies with strong liquidity will shift to growth strategies and digital transformation. Also, with a greater need for mobility in a more remote-working world, there is a greater emphasis on cybersecurity, especially for government contractors and law firms.

Government Contracting: A Hot Market for Acquisitions

Government contracting is a significant moneymaker, especially in the United States. These firms rely on the needs of the government and the availability of financial resources for public investments. Government spending is often used to stimulate the economy during a slump. Through the first two quarters of 2020, government spending held steady, with health spending peaking along with the COVID-19 response, with billions going to national interest agencies and programs related to the pandemic.

The middle market in government contracting is comprised of several small, technically specialized service providers that offer high growth opportunities for larger companies that are seeking more capabilities and specific contract access. The pandemic slowed deal flow in the first half of 2020, but deals still happened with transactions expected to continue in the second half of the year. Private equity firms are seeking stable streams of cash flow and government contractors are relatively insulated from recession, making them a solid target for strategic investment and bolt-on acquisitions. M&A activity in the government contracting space is forecast to continue into 2021 as the sector (with the exception of aerospace) has been less impacted by the coronavirus and there is a need for more consolidation in the market.

 

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Cybersecurity is paramount for government contractors for obvious national security reasons. In July of 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense issued the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) to build upon cybersecurity best practices from established industry standards with the goal of reducing cyber-risk among its contractors. Other departments of the government will likely do the same, prompting contractors to prepare for it in advance.

The big commercial tech companies typically draw the top tech and cybersecurity talent, making it challenging for government and its contractors to attract talent and offer competitive salaries. During times of increased unemployment due to a pandemic, many skilled workers are seeking out less risky positions. Government contractors should jump on this opportunity to attract young, tech savvy talent.

Law Firms: Challenges and Opportunities

Due to the pandemic, law firms have had to deal with furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts and reducing expenses while finding new ways to boost revenues while working remotely. Liquidity equals agility in uncertain times, so firms should seek to expand their credit lines while making the most of government assistance options.

Human capital remains the single biggest asset for law firms. Working remotely has brought about new challenges for attorneys and staff as they juggle the demands of working, parenting and caregiving. Investing in programs, technology, and other ways to support staff is more important than ever. Amid cutbacks and a lack of contact with colleagues, talent needs to know they are still valued and connected to the firm’s success. Firms also need to take this time to assess what lessons have been learned from remote working regarding obstacles, delays and infrastructure needs and how they can address needs, especially in regard to digital support.

Security and privacy are major issues for law firms operating remotely as they need their files and records to be accessible from outside the office. A digital security strategy is key even once the pandemic has passed, as no one knows for sure what the new normal will look like. Once security is implemented and established, focus can shift to maintaining client relationships and creating revenue growth into the future. Investment in mentoring programs and empowerment of staff can help grow the business and identify new opportunities to support the firm once the pandemic is over and the economy is ready to bounce back.

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If you are thinking about a merger or acquisition for your business, please reach out to our M&A dream team at Benchmark International to discuss how we can help you accomplish great things.

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Global Government Contractors And M&A

Mergers and acquisitions in global government contracting (specifically the technology, aerospace, defense, and government services industries) is a market that tends to remain stable and ripe with opportunity. This sector offers many positive qualities such as revenue transparency and predictability. Strategic buyers seek products, services, sales channels, and geographical presences that broaden capabilities and make them more competitive. Companies with advanced technologies are in an especially advantageous position for acquisition.

Yet, even in an environment that consistently sees a strong flow of defense M&A deals, there is a heightened level of risk with plenty of opportunity for errors and setbacks. The business of government contracting is highly regulated and can be extremely complex, with a great deal of challenges. It is also subject to the effects of government spending budgets—and budget cuts.

Governments enforce intricate legal and regulatory requirements. Failure to adhere to these requirements can result in government actions that include contract termination, suspension, debarment, damages and penalties. Suspension and debarment, which means that a company can no longer conduct business with the government, can be a result of unfair trade practices, fraud, commission of crimes, and even a lack of business integrity or honesty. There is also a great deal of emphasis placed on conflicts of interest.

 

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With so many possible risks, careful planning is imperative when considering a transaction in this space. It is recommended that sellers engage M&A experts with a strong reputation, transaction experience in their sector, and strong connections within the global buyer community.

It is also recommended that sellers prepare for a sale from the perspective of the buyer.  

  • Determine areas of exposureDue diligence is always important in determining an accurate valuation of a company, and this is even more so in the case of government contractors. It demands a meticulous level of scrutiny. The company’s level of compliance can directly impact the valuation. Often, many contracting companies also run commercial businesses and have less strict compliance programs versus pure government contractors, yet carry the same risks.
  • Assess risk and successor liabilitySerious risk mitigation strategies are necessary when it comes to proper recordkeeping regarding compliance, including cyber-security and socio-economic topics, as well as a lack of negative factors such as prior suspensions or debarments, tax violations, investigations, and claims. Additionally, what is the exit strategy that is in place, and how can it improve the quality of buyer conversations and increase valuation?
  • File regulatory notices and approvalsBe prepared for the filing of government notices, regulatory approval prerequisites, and post-M&A integration. These filings should be identified in the agreement, and the parties should preemptively agree to a process for securing government approvals.

Other important considerations regarding government contracts mergers and acquisitions that any seller should anticipate include:

  • Analysis of existing and prospective government contracts held by the entity to be acquired and assignment of contracts to the buyer
  • Any potential socio-economic impacts as a result of the transaction
  • The transfer of facility and top-secret clearances, as well as intellectual property rights
  • Assessment of conflicts of interest that could exclude the buyer from future contracts
  • Whether the target company is compliant with specific government regulations
  • Any existing subcontracts and teaming agreements
  • Past performance of the target company and its impact on the buyer’s ability to win other government contracts

 

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Foreign transactions may face additional challenges in completing M&A transactions in the government-contracting sector. These include more stringent due diligence processes, export law compliance, security clearances, cultural differences, and foreign investment scrutiny. This applies even further regarding higher risk regions, such as Africa.

In the case of cross-border deals, there are key concerns as to:

  • Whether the seller is considered an inverted domestic corporation and no longer eligible for future government contracts
  • If there should be inclusion of a board of directors as part of a mitigation plan to allow continuation of the seller’s facility clearance

Proper due diligence can identify risks in a transaction, create accurate representation and certifications, confirm that the adequate disclosures and indemnifications are obtained, and secure necessary government approvals, resulting in a successful and profitable acquisition.

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If you are interested in making a move in this sector, please consult with our international M&A specialists, as we have the desired experience in transactions involving government contractors and companies that support them.

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