The Fry Group is a global financial advisory firm, first established in 1898. It was recently acquired by multi-disciplinary professional services group Progeny, marking the latter’s expansion into international territories. The deal was announced in June last year, with completion in April 2023.
Huw Wedlock, director of The Fry Group’s Singapore operation, shares some thoughts on the acquisition process and some of the lessons learned along the way.
Understanding the why
The Fry Group’s success over the years can be attributed to a unique combination of heritage, reputation, a multi-service offering and its international reach, so the thought of being acquired via a private equity backed business can certainly prompt some initial mixed feelings.
However, whilst The Fry Group had been very successful in growing its revenue and assets under management, accessing working capital remained a perennial challenge. Any investment made had to wash its face very quickly or be forfeited, so it was clear to us as a management team that higher levels of working capital were needed to take advantage of the growth opportunities available, particularly in the international space.
Becoming part of Progeny via a private equity acquisition therefore felt like a logical next step. Importantly, the cultural fit was good, and this was echoed in how quickly things progressed from initial discussions to announcement. Private equity can have a mixed reputation, but it was clear from the outset that the nature of Progeny’s investment was one where any capital is invested patiently, with a long-term view.
Whilst there’s an element of trepidation to any acquisition, the anticipation of a new chapter and the opportunities that this can bring far outweighed any concerns for The Fry Group’s business leaders. Ultimately, it’s vital to keep the ‘why’ front of mind throughout the resulting twists and turns of the acquisition process, to help ensure that everyone keeps looking forwards and not back.
Communicate to integrate
Sharing the acquisition news with the wider team was the next significant step. As a management team, we spent time preparing for this, pulling together some anticipated frequently asked questions ahead of the internal announcement and ensuring that our messaging was aligned with Progeny’s.
We’re used to sharing company news with our teams around the world simultaneously, and we were able to announce our plans collectively in a virtual space, ensuring everyone found out at the same time, with managers able to pick up individual queries on a one-to-one basis. This feedback then gave us scope to reconnect with everyone a few days later and cover off resulting areas of interest.
Transparency and honesty are key and in line with this, we found that it was fine to say that you don’t always have all the answers to hand.
Following this, we shared timely updates on the process, as part of our usual communication flow to our team, but we were also conscious of getting the balance right, as over-communication or a running commentary can be distracting and annoying.
Impact on day to day
Managing an acquisition draws on people’s time and so resource allocation was a key consideration once the process began in earnest. Being an international business also meant there was more than one change of control required, and multiple regulators to deal with, which we again needed time to manage.
It quickly became clear that the way through this was to keep client-facing teams focused on delivering our high standards and levels of service and maintaining KPIs, while letting those steering the process focus on supporting the completion and integration. That’s not to say client-facing employees weren’t involved, but we tried to lessen any impact on their day-to-day.
Adopting this approach worked well for us and certainly helped minimise impact on clients.
Clients at the core
Many clients have worked with us for years, sometimes over generations, and therefore it was imperative that we got our strategy for communicating with them right. The acquisition was announced to clients ahead of the news becoming public and queries were then managed promptly, with advisers following up with their clients individually.
Again, having a standard core communication for teams to refer to that explained the benefits of the acquisition and the additional services which it would bring, along with standard FAQs, was important, as it ensured a consistency of message across our client base.
Unsurprisingly, there were a handful of unsettled clients, but assurances that the team they were dealing with wouldn’t change, and that the customary high personal service levels would continue, helped to alleviate concerns.
As the process progressed, we aimed for timely communications with clients, sending updates when UK authorities approved the deal, and when we had confirmation from overseas regulators. In the interim, advisers answered queries on a case-by-case basis and we carefully monitored reactions, using our third party feedback tool, to ensure messages were landing well and that clients felt included in the process.
With any acquisition, it’s critical to find a synergy between both firms. If your core purpose aligns then, as in our experience, the rest really will find a way to fall into place. Choosing a like-minded firm with a similar culture, values, business model, ethical standpoint and focus on positive client outcomes has been crucial to the success and smooth running of our own acquisition and integration process.
If I had to offer one key takeaway it would be not to go into an acquisition expecting everything to fall into place as soon as you sign. A healthy dose of reality is essential.
There will be challenges but these can be navigated if you keep focused on what’s at the heart of the role and the collective purpose of both firms – great client outcomes.
This article was written for International Adviser by Huw Wedlock, director of The Fry Group’s Singapore operation.