Conflicts of interest—and low cost or automated solutions—plague all the valuation disciplines

BVWire–UKIssue #11-2
February 18, 2020

practice management and growth
business valuation marketing, business valuation profession, practice management, valuation engagement

Business valuers are required (under the Red Book and IVS standards, for instance) to maintain objectivity. It’s often one of the most challenging parts of the profession, since nearly every engagement comes with pressure from clients or third parties to either raise or lower the conclusion.

Meanwhile, there’s always a sense that a low-priced or less independent practitioner will jump at the opportunity to provide the exact number the client demands. Most BVWire—UK subscribers have lost business to low-priced competitors or the many ‘£99 business valuation’ websites. It’s frustrating when a business turns to a tainted provider knowing they can get the number they want.

The real property valuers are currently receiving backlash for lack of independence—and perhaps observers of the negative coverage in the Times and elsewhere can help us all focus on the strength and independence of our best work. This isn’t a new problem—RICS, of course, was founded by royal charter in an effort to reduce speculating on land related to the railway system. However, conflicts are more plausible when the biggest property valuers (Savills, CBRE, Knight Frank, JLL) are also engaged in development and ownership on a grand scale. Combine this concentration with the fact that the Big Four audit essentially 100% of Britain’s listed companies, and any casual observer can see possible threats to independence. It gets worse when there’s an economic downturn.

Meanwhile, the real property market is controlled at the low end by ‘free’ and ‘instant’ property valuations from listing services like Zoopla. Their free valuation tool offers estimates, and then passes the names of owners who use it on to agents and surveyors as a lead source. Many have commented (here’s one example complaining that automated valuation tools are misleading) that the Zoopla estimate and the value provided by the full property valuation frequently have little in common.

Obviously, business valuers face these same problems, whether their work is for commercial, fiscal, contentious, financial reporting, transactional, or other purposes. For the most part, the small business valuation profession in the UK should be commended for ‘taking the high road’ despite pressures from the top—and from the bottom—of the market. There will always be someone willing to provide a business valuation for less money, but neither the clients, the public, nor the profession benefit.

Please let us know if you have any comments about this article or enhancements you would like to see.