The number of insurance agency mergers and acquisitions fell in 2013, with 248 reported transactions in the United States and Canada, down from a record 299 transactions in 2012, according to OPTIS Partners’ new semi-annual survey.

Higher capital gains taxes kicked in in 2013, prompting a flurry of sales in 2012.

Private-equity backed agencies were 2013’s biggest buyers, making 94 acquisitions compared to 88 in 2012, the survey found.

“Last year marked a return to normal levels as buyers assimilated all their 2012 deals and began to refill the pipeline of potential target sellers,” says Timothy J. Cunningham, managing director of OPTIS, an investment banking and financial consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

“It was a seminal shift in the landscape, as private-equity-backed acquirers topped the chart for the largest number of transactions for the first time,” he says. The top private-equity-backed buyer was Hub International, which made 25 acquisitions.

Private-equity-backed buyers were followed privately owned insurance agencies (85), public brokers (33), banks (27) and all others, including carriers (9).

On the seller side, sales of property-and-casualty-focused agencies dominated, with 42% of all sales. Deals for agencies selling both P&C and employee benefits accounted for 22% of transactions. Employee benefits agencies accounted for 24% of sales and other sales accounted for 12%.

January 2014 was one of the most active months on record for closed deals, Cunningham says. “The January flurry follows the very robust fourth quarter of 2013. Such momentum seems to indicate 2014 will be a very active year,” he predicts.

The full report, Agent-Broker Mergers & Acquisitions Statistics 2013 – A Year In Transition can be read online at http://optisins.com/articles_and_thought_pieces/read.php?id=19

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