Reflections on a year in Transaction Services: Jacob Maitland
My career in finance started in audit at one of the Big Four firms in my home city of Norwich. After a few years with all of my ACA exams completed, I was presented with the opportunity to move to Manchester to be a part of a new specialised audit team and I jumped at the chance. It was here that I finished my training contract and progressed to a managerial role.
The move from audit to deal advisory is a path well-trodden. A search on google quickly provides a list of typical motivations including things such as work being project based and dealing with the more commercial “so-what?” questions of a business.
My catalyst for moving was in fact a LinkedIn post noting that in your job/role you need to be earning or learning. It said you can have one without the other, and of course having both would be even better, but fundamentally, you can not have neither. At that time I didn’t feel like I was able to get the exposure I was looking for in my specialised role and I didn’t feel the remuneration was worth the hours given that fact. I have no doubt that a role in audit can offer both learning and earning opportunities to many people at various different grades, but for me at the time, I needed to move on.
Why Deal Advisory?
My decision to move into Deal Advisory and specifically Transaction Services (TS) had a few key points that I have noted below. However, these do not take into consideration the benefits of the company I moved to, of which there are a few that particularly appealed to my circumstances and what I was looking for:
- Deal advisory roles are not typically sector specific when you’re starting out, which provides a greater breadth of experience across different companies of different industries, sectors and sizes. Note as you move up the chain this may change – this is particularly the case at larger advisory firms where there are enough advisors to warrant the need to specialise
- Deal advisory offered more senior team member and partner exposure. Typically deal teams can be a little smaller and in my experience, senior team members are far more involved from start right through to finish
- Transaction Services is arguably the most akin to audit compared to other areas of deal advisory and therefore gave me the best chance to hit the ground running
- Transaction Services provides a great platform for future options should I ever want to move into any of the above as well as private equity – you develop a lot of useful and desirable skills & experience
- Transaction Services provides experience in both buy-side and sell-side transactions i.e. Buy side due diligence, vendor assist and vendor due diligence and therefore giving me the opportunity for more experience
So, what do I do in Transaction Services?
Depending on where we are in a project (or projects), the nature of my day will change. For example, if we are in the analysis stage then my day will be heavily excel based working through data that has been provided from the target and understanding what impact this has on the transaction and our conclusions. At a high level I am usually in excel working through data or in PowerPoint writing a report or proposal – this forms the bulk of the day. The rest of the day is filled with BD opportunities, which includes meeting new prospective clients and touching base with fellow professionals in the market/industry and various internal or client meetings. Personally I have really enjoyed the encouragement to get out into the market and meet new people and companies.
What are some of the key things I have learnt during my first year in Transaction Services?
- Have a more comprehensive understanding of how the business makes money and be able to communicate this clearly. This is fundamental to any project. How does the business generate revenue, how effective are they are converting revenue to cash
- Excel & PowerPoint skills are tested a lot more, particularly for PowerPoint and how to pull a report together. Sounds simple, but the structure of a report, the tone and the look all take a lot more time than you’d initially think and each is equally important
- Accounting skills require real life application, and you are not ticking boxes. My audit experience was somewhat siloed, only working on the FSLI(s) assigned to me, and I was less aware of the impact to other areas of the accounts. In TS, the understanding is far more pervasive across all three financial statements, how they interact and how they tell the story of a business’ operations
- Commercial thinking – this is a no-brainer and clear positive of the role in my eyes. As noted, commercial thinking is a necessity, how does the business operate and what impact does this have on value. e.g. a new revenue stream is introduced, which has a longer billing cycle, that in turn, increases the net working capital requirement of the business. This may have an impact on a buyer’s view of value given if they were to purchase they would require more cash to fund the business day-to-day
- Further to this point, gaining experience into what matters to both buyers and sellers – what motivates them and what the key issues and concerns of the transaction are for their businesses and why? You are forced to think more commercially as a result
Advice to you if you’re interested in Transaction Services
As mentioned, TS is arguably the area of deal advisory that is most akin to audit. However, the learning curve has been steep. Knowing what I know now, the following would be my advice to anyone seeking a role in TS, particularly assuming a move away from audit or if you are just starting your finance career.
- In your current role, can you ask more commercial questions? Do you understand what your client or the business you work for does? Do you understand how it makes money and what products or services are offered, how these are billed and accounted for? Can you articulate and explain what the key drivers of the business are and why?
- Get any exposure you can to engagement letters, the terms and conditions, how they are worded and why certain sections are included
- Stay up-to-date with the macro-economic picture and have an opinion about what is happening, what the drivers are and what the impacts are. You don’t need to read the economist every day or have an economics degree to have a basic understanding of the current environment and the impact it may have on deal activity
- Excel skills – make sure you understand how to use the following functions sumifs, countifs, sum, if statements, and statements, xlookups, pivot tables
- Make sure you understand the interaction between the income statement, the balance sheet and cash flow statement – how do these interact, what do they tell you about a business, what checks are needed to ensure they are all aligned and agreed?
- Research the different players in your region e.g. advisory firms, private equity houses, investment banks, and even large very active corporates. What do each of them do, what is their investment criteria, what do they typically invest in, at what values. Up-skilling yourself with general market knowledge will always be helpful and make for good talking points
- Last but certainly not least – NETWORK. Go to social events, business events, speak with colleagues internally in different areas, talk to and get to know as many people as possible. You do not need to be everyone’s best friend, but I would highly advise engaging with as many people as possible, whether directly involved in what you do or not. You never know who you might be working with in the future and saying hello for a second time is much easier than the first time – trust me
I hope this proves useful to you if you’re curious about a move into Transaction Services. When I was doing my research I found there was some information out there, i.e. useful bits and bobs, but nothing as comprehensive as I had hoped – hopefully this gives a bit more depth and colour to your questions.
The information was correct at time of publishing but may now be out of date.