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Leading conveyancing firm spends £27m on referral business

Scaife: Growing market share

Leading conveyancing firm O’Neill Patient (ONP) – which was last year bought by a private equity firm – has spent £27m to buy a platform providing conveyancing services to mortgage brokers and estate agents.

Conveyancing Alliance Ltd (CAL) gives brokers and agents access to a panel of leading law firms – ONP is the largest – and will continue to operate the same way.

ONP stressed that it would continue to work with broker panel managers as well.

CAL was sold by ULS Technology, the listed company that owns home moving platforms as well as legal regulation business Legal Eye, for £27.3m, having bought it four years ago for £12.5m, including earn-outs.

Since then, it has generated £6.5m in dividends for ULS, and in the year to 31 March 2020 recorded £8.9m in revenue and £2.4m of pre-tax profits.

According to the CAL website, agents receive a referral fee for every completed matter introduced, with a vendor who is also buying counting double.

It said the best-earning referring office earned more than £65,000 from referral fees last year.

This is ONP’s second acquisition this year, having bought London-based Cavendish Legal Group [1] in March, and it says it has ambitious expansion plans, with further acquisitions planned for next year.

Inflexion bought [2] ONP, which is based in Stockport and is one of the top five conveyancing firms in the UK, in July 2019 and helped it immediately acquire Stoke firm Grindeys, another major player in the market.

Andy Scaife, ONP’s chief executive, said: “Conveyancing Alliance is an exciting acquisition for ONP. It is a great business which we intend to continue to operate as it currently does.

“We have consistently grown our market share by providing the very best service along with the very best technology platform, making our service one of the fastest and most comprehensive in the country.”

Mark Snape, chief executive of Conveyancing Alliance, added: “Being a part of ONP is a perfect partnership for us. We have very successfully worked with ONP for a number of years.

“Their approach to conveyancing and to high quality, personal service, while using market leading technology to achieve a quick turnaround mirrors our own.

“With the ambitions of the ONP Group to invest and grow, we will be able to continue to expand and enhance our services to both brokers and estate agents”

ULS said the proceeds would be used to repay all of the group’s debt facilities. Its main operating brand is eConveyancer, a comparison platform, while it has also been investing heavily in DigitalMove, an online conveyancing platform.

In a statement to the stock market, the company said: “Over the last six months, the board has broadened its ambitions to disrupt and transform the home moving and home owning experience for consumers.

“The board’s vision is to create a platform that will provide consumers with a seamless digital journey for moving house, remortgaging and managing their home.

“It has become increasingly clear to the board that CAL, which provides an effective but simple conveyancing comparison site to individual mortgage brokers, does not support the group’s vision.

“In contrast, eConveyancer’s technology and B2B relationships provide a more comprehensive conveyancing panel management service to large mortgage broker networks, and to mainstream and specialist lenders.”

ULS said it has already processed over 20,000 home sale, purchase and re-mortgage instructions through the DigitalMove platform, none of which were introduced via CAL.

It is also working on an accelerated plan to develop a platform from which consumers can arrange the finance necessary to complete their house purchase, obtain legal support on it, and select the insurance, utilities and other providers of services they need to run their home.

ULS chairman Martin Rowland said: “This is a pivotal moment for ULS, with the disposal enabling us to accelerate our growth strategy.

“We believe that the consideration represents an attractive valuation, unlocking value for shareholders, whilst at the same time providing the capital to achieve our vision of building a digital platform that will transform the entire home moving and home owning process for consumers.”