The number of mergers and acquisitions among insurance agencies has increased compared to the first quarter of 2016, OPTIS Partners, an investment banking and financial consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry, found through its M&A database.

OPTIS reported that within the first three months of 2017, 178 transactions took place, an increase of 63 over 2016, which saw 115 transactions at the beginning of that year.

“By all measures, 2017 will likely be another banner year for M&A,” says Timothy J. Cunningham, managing director of OPTIS Partners. “Buyers are still being very aggressive in their valuations of prospective acquisition partners.”

The data gathered by OPTIS consisted of agencies from both the U.S. and Canada primarily dealing with employee benefits, employee benefits and P&C, as well as just property and casualty firms.

The report breaks down buyers into five groups: private-equity backed brokers, privately held brokers, publicly held brokers, banks and all others.

Also see:11 benefits workers want.”

Out of the employee benefit transactions, Alera Group was a top buyer. A new entrant, the company closed 24 deals.

Privately held brokers were the second largest group, completing 49 deals, up from 35 in the first quarter of 2015. Publicly traded brokers completed 17 deals, up from 10. Insurance companies bought 11 agencies versus four a year ago.

Sales of employee benefit agencies surged to 58 deals from 13 in 2016, while agencies dealing in both employee benefits and P&C settled at 28 deals.

Overall, “the actual number of sales was undoubtedly greater than the 178 reported during the quarter, since many buyers and sellers do not announce transactions,” says Daniel P. Menzer, CPA, partner with OPTIS Partners. “However, because our database tracks a consistent pool of the most active acquirers, it’s a fairly accurate barometer of activity.”

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