Q&A with Julie Doyle: Buyer Activity Reaches Record High at KBS
The past year has been a challenge to us all on many fronts, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives and businesses in many ways, with many companies making the unexpected transition to remote working where possible, and navigating the logistical challenges that inevitably follow.
We spoke with Julie Doyle, head of the KBS Corporate Research team – whose primary role is to source and attract potential acquirers, on how our Research Analysts still managed to attract record buyer levels amidst these unprecedented circumstances.
Last year presented a number of unique challenges, such as remote working, how easy did you and your team find it to adapt to these?
Whilst this wasn’t without its immediate challenges, myself and all our research and admin staff who are able to, are now working remotely and more productive than ever. For me, overcoming challenges around staff engagement in this environment was an absolute priority and our successful work as a team in this area sets us up for success every day. Maintaining this engagement and morale within the team means we are well equipped to handle whatever comes our way; even integrating new staff into the team in a fully remote setting and pitching in to support teammates wherever and whenever necessary.
I am extremely proud of how the team have adapted throughout the past year!
Did you find that KBS Corporate’s investment into technology, such as the Buyer Matching Engine (BME), made that transition smoother?
Yes. The work we have done throughout the past few years in moving our Research and Administration functions to become 100% technology-based, through investment into electronic enquiry forms, online buyer qualification assessments and NDA forms, and our own Mandate Portal meant there was no interruption to our processing of enquiries. Investment into proprietary technology such as the BME and KBS Globe allowed up to adapt all other processes to paperless straight away, and utilise our strong data reach to make sure the research team still had access to everything they needed to target the right buyers at the right time without disruption.
How did 2020 buyer activity compare to 2019 buyer activity?
We saw a total increase of 12% in the number of enquiries we received from buyers over the year. This was particularly prevalent in the latter months of the year with December 2020 showing an 82% increase in enquiries on December 2019. Following on from this, we have seen this translate into an extremely strong Q1 for 2021, with Key Performance Indicators across the board increasing in all areas. This has had a direct impact in the recent announcement by Refinitiv that our Group was the UK’s, and Europe’s, leading sell-side adviser, completing 96 deals in the first 90 days of the year.
Was there a particular month when you noticed significant differences in interested parties?
With the announcement of lockdown in March 2020, we noticed an expected dip in interest levels as people adjusted to the “new normal” and acclimatised to any changes they needed to make. We then very quickly saw the number raise back to a normal level and through the summer an increase was starting to show itself. November 2020 however was when activity really began to take off, as we received over 600 more enquiries than November 2019 and an overall record-breaking month in terms of buyer interest.
Have you seen these high levels of interest continue into 2021?
Buyer interest has only continued to rise in recent months, with each becoming a “record-breaking month” at KBS in terms of the number of the volume of enquiries we are generating for our clients and the overall interest levels we are seeing across the Group – with March 2021 almost reaching 3,000 new buyer enquiries alone.
What do you think KBS Corporate does differently that has resulted in a rise in interest despite the uncertainty over the past year?
I think the main goal for all departments at KBS was to adapt where necessary and carry on as normal where possible in terms of the service levels given to our clients. I believe this attitude of resilience is why we are seeing this rise in interest and why we have been able to complete so many transactions – more than one per day in Q1 2021. Our team is talented, and where we saw areas that needed support or change to adapt to our new working conditions, we had the right people to put in the right places and make the changes necessary. For example, some key efficiencies on our Admin Team over the second half of 2020 meant that turnaround for enquiries is faster. We made adjustments to support the Deal Team that ensured buyers and clients weren’t seeing a difference in service and we monitored the market very closely from a research perspective so we could assign the right resources where needed in order to keep reaching out to buyers and pro-actively getting the interest our clients were looking for.
What do you think has been the main motivations of buyers?
In terms of trade buyers, I think the pandemic has really highlighted the need to “future-proof” their businesses and this is something that can be achieved through a synergistic acquisition. We are also seeing a similar story play out in the Private Equity arena as funds are looking to expand the offering of their portfolio via bolt-on acquisitions. We have also seen a substantial increase in the interest from Private Investors and Investment Firms as now is a great time to acquire with the view to a more substantial return on investment.
Do you think that these high levels of interest will continue?
Yes. I think certain aspects of the impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt for some time as businesses look for increased security in the future, and the motivations above will continue to show for some time and we expect buyers and investors to continue to look for better deals and more attractive ROIs.