Takeaway: Accountants are a vital part of business functions, but are likely not the best choice for business valuation.
Over here at S2 Investments, most of the job requests we have can be broken down into two main categories:- transactional advisory services and business valuations.
In our firm’s transactional advisory practice, it is astounding the number of times clients have come knocking on my door to discuss the sale or divestment of their business and present me with a “Valuation Report” that has been prepared by their accountant or auditor.
What’s wrong with this, you say? Surely your accountant, given their knowledge of businesses along with their accounting skills backed by professional qualifications such as an ACCA or CPA, should be perfectly suited to valuing a business? Further to that, you might say that your accountant or auditor has innate knowledge of your business over the years, so who better to value your business than someone that has been running the numbers for you over the years?
The answer to the above questions based on the many “Valuation Reports” that I have perused over the years that have been produced by accountants and auditors is :- I would strongly disagree.
They are simply a bunch of numbers neatly presented according to commonly accepted accounting standards (IFRS or GAAP) and sometimes they are accompanied by unsubstantiated calculations (e.g., 5X EBITDA = asking price). If your accountant or auditor has charged you for preparing a valuation report like this before, ask for a refund!
Your Accountant Doesn’t Sell Businesses
I am of the strong opinion that one of the most important pieces of knowledge a valuer should have is a keen understanding of the current marketplace conditions which are ever changing. A good valuer will have strong knowledge about what are the viable range of prices a buyer will pay for each corresponding business. In the end, a valuation report is useless if only the person the valuer and the client which is commissioning the report accepts the valuation stated.
As a case in point, I recall a recent accountant-produced valuation report for sale of a business, which stated that the valuation based on the book value of a particular printing company with all their assets was roughly 12M USD and the client was looking to us to help us find a buyer at that valuation. The client was absolutely convinced that 12M USD was a fair valuation. However, on further due diligence, we noted that the main asset which was valued at book value by the accountant was a leasehold building that had very restrictive covenants, amongst them one being on the change of ownership.
The valuation that the accountant produced and which the client paid a healthy five-figure sum for as there was many man hours spent on taking stock of the printing inventory was ultimately worthless. The accountant failed to distill the key values in the business and I can assure you that a business of this type would never transact in the marketplace for anything close to this — hence, the valuation report was a complete waste of money.
Your Accountant Most Likely Doesn’t Complete Valuations Very Often
Trust your accountant to do what they’re good at — let them calculate your EBITDA , or take stock of your present inventory value as in the former example, etc. Most accountants in Asia are also closely linked to company secretarial and book keeping work which is a specialty in itself, so unless your accountant is a specialist in business valuations, you should engage someone else to value your business. We would never offer to do book keeping and company secretarial services to our clients!
Unfortunately, many accountants in the hunt for fee revenue will take on engagements to complete business valuations, even though it is not their area of expertise, and not something they do very often.
This means a great deal of the accountant-produced valuation reports I’ve seen clearly demonstrate that the accountants responsible for them didn’t even pass Valuations 101. Just because an accountant promises that they can give you a high or low valuation for your business depending on your motivations, does not mean that this would be accepted by any other third party or in legal or arbitration proceedings. Why waste your money?
Your Accountant Is Not Independent
Many businesses and individuals have used the same accountant for years and years. Given the length of the relationship between client and accountant, accountants cease to be an independent, arm’s length advisor and instead become an advocate for their client. Most times, this works exceedingly well to the benefit of the client. However, when it comes to valuing your business, you should engage someone who can act at arm’s length and provide independent advice.
So Who Should You Engage to Value Your Business?
I’ve found the best business valuations are produced by practitioners who specialize in completing valuations. These practitioners have specialist knowledge and expertise in the field of business valuations, meaning their advice is grounded in experience and logic. If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t use your GP — you’d go to a specialist. The same applies to business valuations!
This is also why over here at S2 Investments, we tap on our network within GAO Group to staff specialists alongside our core execution team. If we are valuing a coal or iron mine, we will have a natural resource expert on the team who has transacted multiple deals before and are familiar with likely counterparties they might deal with such as SRK or SNC-Lavalin. Likewise, if we are valuing a consumer business, we will use a different expert to give deep insights and who understand the nuances of the consumer landscape. This ensures that the client gets the right information in a timely cost-efficient manner versus getting charged lots of man-hours for research.
Our sector experts alongside our core execution team, which has a well-rounded knowledge on the current state of the business sales marketplace, we know how different businesses are transacting in the marketplace, and on what prices and terms business buyers and sellers are completing transactions. Understanding the business sales marketplace is vital to producing logical and defensible valuations that stand up in the face of current market conditions.
So ask yourself this question: does your accountant or auditor tick all those boxes?
Contact us right away for our basic valuation package which will allow you to take a “health check for your company” to enable you to take stock, and assess opportunities today!
Footnote: To see the other options you have in getting your business valued, read this well-written article over at entrepreuner.com. I would strongly recommend not going along the barbeque route!