Business & Financial Services
|Sector||Business & Financial Services|
|Investment date||October 2006|
|Exit method||Sale to B2Holding (August 2014)|
Ultimo is Poland’s leading debt purchase and collection business. Since its founding in 2002, the company has contacted over two million debtors and offered them tailor-made repayment solutions, ultimately recovering more than PLN 1.5 billion ($456 million) of debt as of December 2014.
A GROWING BUSINESS
Ultimo was established by two consumer finance executives who saw significant market opportunity in Poland’s debt collection space. Globally, the debt purchasing market was expanding, and Ultimo became one of the first companies to capitalize on the domestic opportunity.
Advent International became aware of Ultimo’s potential in 2006 and purchased a 90% stake from the co-founders (who retained minority shares) and AIG Capital Partners in October of that year. “What we found at Ultimo was a savvy, fast-growing company that offered a sophisticated debt management solution,” recalls Monika Morali-Efinowicz, a managing director at Advent International in Poland. “We believed we could help it grow even faster by providing access to capital, bolstering the management team and strengthening operating systems and processes.”
At a high level, the business model is simple: Ultimo purchases consumer debt portfolios at auction and then, as owner of the debt, collects it. This acquisition process is capital-intensive, and securing adequate financing is the greatest barrier to growth. As a result, early on in our investment we provided a bridge loan for Ultimo to purchase a significant debt portfolio from a Polish bank.
Following that process, we continued to assist the company with its debt-purchasing activity. Anna Gawęska, CEO of Ultimo, emphasizes, “Throughout our relationship, Advent gave us a strong hand against our competitors. By supporting our efforts to arrange bank funding for the acquisition of debt portfolios, Advent helped us increase the value of the business.”
To advise the management team, we recruited Geoffrey Ognall, a 40-year veteran of the credit and debt management industry, and Ken Maynard, ex-CEO of Cabot Financial. Other changes included building out the middle-management team and strengthening the finance function.
Together with management, we focused on operational improvements, including upgrading the IT infrastructure. Thanks to the implementation of a new predictive dialer, an automated queuing system and other support tools for call-center staff, employee downtime plummeted, calls per operator doubled and overall collection efficiency increased significantly. In addition to optimizing call-center resources, we invested in advanced scoring systems and technology and launched a consumer lending business.
TO INDUSTRY LEADER
In our seven years as an investor, Ultimo grew considerably and emerged as Poland’s market leader. In 2013, the business closed the largest nonperforming consumer loan transaction in the Polish market, reinforcing its No. 1 position. With a strong balance sheet and efficient collections engine in place at the company, we began to look for the right long-term owner.
Our dialogue with B2Holding began in early 2014, and the deal, announced in June, was a clear fit for all parties. "B2Holding's strategy is to be the pre-eminent debt purchase and loan servicing platform in the Nordics and CEE," said Jon Nordbrekken, Chairman of B2Holding. "We are looking to grow our operations in CEE, and the acquisition of Ultimo, with its strong financial position, efficient operational platform and experienced management, will enable us to significantly enhance our presence in the region.”
“This is a great growth story,” said Morali-Efinowicz. “In a decade, the company transformed from a start-up to an industry leader.” During Advent’s ownership, debt under management increased by five and half times to more than PLN 10.5 billion (US$3.2 billion). Revenue grew more than four times, EBITDA over five times and employment doubled. In 2013 alone, Ultimo’s revenue and EBITDA increased 30% and 70%, respectively, over the prior year.