Willem van Aalst, Ansarada: ‘2023 was a good year, 2024 is expected to be even better’

Highlights from the Trend Survey 2024 by M&A and Ansarada.

Dutch M&A professionals are largely positive about next year’s acquisition market, according to the Trend Research by M&A NL and Ansarada. What about in Belgium? A conversation with Willem van Aalst from Ansarada.

At the end of 2023, the Dutch M&A Community, in collaboration with Ansarada, released the M&A Trend Research containing the vision of the Dutch M&A sector on the market in 2024. The 2024 trend research – with predictions and insights from Dutch top deal makers – can be read here for free and without logging in.

A number of highlights from the research:

• Dutch M&A professionals are largely positive about next year’s acquisition market. 55 percent expect an increase in deal volume.

• More distressed deals will take place in Europe in the near future (according to 81 percent of M&A professionals).

• Reaching agreement on price and valuation will be the most difficult part of the acquisition process in 2024.

• According to 92 percent of dealmakers, ESG performance is becoming increasingly important in transactions. However, ESG due diligence is not yet fully developed due to the difficulty of measurement and reporting.

The editors of MandA.be discussed the results with Willem van Aalst, who represents Ansarada in the Belgian market. Van Aalst also involved Kevin Defour, M&A Manager at Deloitte Belgium.

Willem, let’s get straight to the heart of the matter. Can you tell us how you see the current state of affairs on the Belgian market?

Willem van Aalst: “Of course. What is striking in Belgium is the prominent role of family businesses and private equity, which results in higher deal volumes compared to the Netherlands. The past year was particularly good for us, especially in the mid-market segment. However, just like in the Netherlands, we see similar macroeconomic trends, with moderate interest rates and some uncertainty due to geopolitical developments. However, a slight increase is expected in 2024, as also predicted by Deloitte and other advisors. We are currently seeing a significant increase in new requests for new data rooms: the start of a series of new sales processes and desinvestments. That is an indication that 2024 promises to be a positive deal year.

What I also discussed with Kevin is that it is very sector-dependent. There are currently some sectors where it is difficult to sell your company. And on the other hand, there are sectors where they fight for companies, for example insurance brokers. A very popular market at the moment. What I also see is that there is a lot of activity in the market for renewables.”

Interesting. Can you tell us more about the challenges buyers and sellers currently face in the acquisition process in Belgium?

Willem van Aalst: “Uncertainty always remains a major concern, especially given the geopolitical tensions and upcoming elections. In addition, there is an interesting dynamic among sellers, especially family businesses and private equity, who are struggling to accept the new reality of lower transaction values and more expensive financing. This not only delays the transactions, but also the preparatory processes, leading to longer lead times from an average of six to nine months.”

Understandable. Now, looking at the outlook for the near future, what trends do you expect to dominate the M&A market?

Willem van Aalst: “We see that banks remain reluctant to provide acquisition financing, and geopolitical tensions are expected to influence deal volumes. An interesting trend is private equity’s renewed interest in acquisitions, which is a positive sign. In addition, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is becoming increasingly important, including in due diligence processes, adding a new dimension to acquisitions.

The fact that ESG is becoming increasingly important is certainly reflected in the due diligence processes. Companies need to look at this seriously, not only from an ethical perspective, but also because of regulations and investor expectations. Although it is not always top of mind, it is increasingly integrated into acquisition processes, especially with a view to future expansion into the SME segment.”

Finally, what are the latest developments in data rooms at Ansarada?

Willem van Aalst: “At Ansarada we see a shift towards more online options and self-management of data rooms, as well as innovations such as AI Redaction and Bulk Redaction, which are highly appreciated by our customers. Moreover, we notice a more positive sentiment towards private equity, which is a promising development for the market. Overall, I am optimistic about the year ahead, although we still see challenges, especially around financing and valuations.”

Thank you very much for your insights, Willem. This was very valuable.

Willem van Aalst: “You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.”

Read also: Financing in M&A: challenges and opportunities for 2024

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