When the goal of a financially distressed business owner is to sell with minimum publicity, free of unsecured debt and potential liability for directors and management, the most advantageous exit path may be an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors (ABC). Most buyers won’t acquire the assets of an insolvent entity unless the assets are “cleansed” through an ABC or bankruptcy process. Typically, the board of the troubled entity has decided that a rapid sale is in the best interests of the company and its creditors, and it is aware of a handful of likely strategic buyers. This article briefly explains how an ABC works and its advantages and disadvantages.
How does an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors work?
In an ABC, the shareholders of a troubled company (the “Assignor”) voluntarily assign the title, custody and control of its assets to an independent third party (“Assignee”) of their choosing who acts as a fiduciary to the creditors of the business. The Assignee’s role is to similar to that of a bankruptcy trustee. They are responsible for selling the assets of the business and distributing proceeds to creditors. The business may continue to operate and can be sold as a going concern if the Assignee believes that will maximize value to creditors. If creditors are paid in full, any surplus proceeds will go to the shareholders.
Advantages of an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors
- Faster than a bankruptcy process, which preserves business value.
- More flexible, efficient and cost-effective than bankruptcy.
- Company management can select an Assignee with appropriate experience and expertise.
- A sale is less likely to be challenged since the Assignee acts on behalf of creditors.
- The business can continue to operate to maximize value.
- Not secret, but much quieter than a bankruptcy case.
An ABC often involves an auction sale process, which maximizes sale proceeds and protects buyers. They can even be prepackaged, which means there is a 3-way negotiation between a seller, a proposed assignee, and a buyer or buyers. The ABC happens and is immediately followed by the sale closing.
ABC’s do have some disadvantages. Because, in California at least, the ABC process is nonjudicial, there is no court supervision and no court order, so there is less certainty for buyers. Also, relative to bankruptcy, an ABC requires the cooperation of secured creditors and counterparties to leases and contracts.
This is the fifth in a recent series of articles from Exit Strategies’ senior team with insights on valuing and selling distressed businesses. See Insights.
Al Statz is President and founder of Exit Strategies Group, a leading California-based M&A advisory firm with decades of experience selling companies in all conditions. For further information, or if you are interested in exploring the potential sale or acquisition of a financially troubled business, contact Al Statz at 707-781-8580 to discuss your needs, circumstances and options, confidentially.