How Mergers and Acquisitions can be transformed using Artificial Intelligence
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) typically involve many complex activities across various phases that, due to the short time frame and competitive environment, require coherent cooperation of the disciplines involved. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics are an increasingly decisive driver to successfully execute M&A transactions, significantly accelerating all process phases from preparation to post-merger integration.
Here we look at the four typical phases of the M&A process: target screening, due diligence, business valuation, and post-merger integration, where AI can create competitive advantages. However, AI can be applied more broadly to provide deal advantages in every phase of the M&A lifecycle as explained below.
The most important target-screening criterion is the probability of success, i.e., identifying acquisition opportunities that promise the highest return on investment (ROI). When selecting acquisition candidates with potentially value-added synergies based on their overall company objectives, AI is a game-changer for traditional opportunity sourcing. Through machine learning, AI allows stakeholders to explore potential acquisition targets and the impact of transactions on strategy and financial performance.
Multiple sources of correlated and uncorrelated data sets can be combined and compared, using complex algorithms to identify patterns imperceptible to humans. By analysing these patterns, market insights and trends can be gained, and predictions can be made much faster than any human, making the target screening process scalable. These algorithm-based evaluations can significantly bolster decision-making, with dynamic real-time visualisations allowing decision-makers to grasp complex relationships more efficiently. There is no doubt that this is a big data era and dealing with such a massive amount of information in order to turn it into real knowledge is a challenge. Putting AI at the service of M&A will allow a holistic perspective of the targets, in addition to the speed of the process.
In recent years, cloud-based virtual data rooms (VDRs) have almost entirely replaced physical ones, transforming M&A due diligence processes. This development has improved the efficiency of testing and examining key assumptions regarding the planned transaction’s projected growth. Automation, AI-based analysis methods, and dynamic visualisation techniques can mine ever greater value from the data collected and consolidated in VDRs, allowing the buy- and the sell-side to make faster and more informed decisions through clearer guidance and better insights. Sooner than expected dedicated platforms will scan thousands of documents, reports and spreadsheets and produce preliminary conclusions in no time. This will shrink the execution of a mandate to several weeks or even months. But this also means that dealmakers will have more annual deal capacity, as they can complete more projects per year. Or simply dedicate more creative time to the hardest ones, adding thus more value.
When valuing a business, at least one of three different approaches is generally used: cost approach, market approach, and income approach. The cost approach derives value from the cost of rebuilding or replacing a business or asset. While the market approach is a relative valuation method where various multiples (e.g., EBITDA multiple) are extracted through comparable analysis (i.e., peer group analysis) and/or precedent transactions, which are applied to the target company’s financials. Since both methods extract and analyse data, AI can be used to develop real-time databases serving as the valuation basis or to create valuation adjustment formulas tailored to the target and specific criteria to improve calculation quality.
In contrast, income-based valuation approaches are generally intrinsic valuation methods. For example, in the discounted cash flow method, the enterprise value is calculated from the company’s expected future earnings, discounted to the present value using an appropriate discount rate.
Consequently, AI can be leveraged to collect and extract discount factors and cash-flow forecasts from market-based benchmarks based on the company’s risk indication. Its powerful data processing capabilities enable on-demand scenario analysis and multi-variable sensitivities. Improved insights can be gleaned from the analytics, transforming the customer experience with faster responsiveness, click-through functions, and more. All this helps clarify the valuation process and provides insights for informed strategic business decisions.
But independent of the method adopted AI capacity will allow access to millions of valuations, learn from them and bring the best knowledge/tips/benchmarks into the process. Particularly in greenfield projects, having access to bespoke information will be always a must-have.
In the M&A environment, mistakes can have serious consequences. One mis-step can leave thousands of bills unpaid for months or delivery delays that drive sceptical customers to explore other options, allowing competitors to capitalise on the uncertainty. To avoid these surprises and effectively manage the transaction while maintaining business continuity, a set of preparations, known as day one readiness, is vital.
When a deal is closed, the PMI phase begins, where both companies’ assets, personnel, and related business activities are merged. PMI can also leverage AI, especially in labour-intensive manual processes, e.g., contract management. Data and AI-driven solutions can optimise business activities and identify further value-creation opportunities by analysing the merged companies’ synergy potentials and risks to uncover the most efficient integration method.
To ensure a successful day one readiness and integration, an innovative blueprint should be implemented that allows the organisational structure and business processes to be aligned and the internal complexity reduced.
In conclusion by boosting the value creation, effectiveness, insights, and decision-making of M&A transactions across all industries, the use of data analytics and AI-based activities in the M&A process is likely to increase in the future and become a game changer.
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