It is a matter for the board to decide whether to recommend a merger to its members. The overriding duty of the board is to reach a view having regard to what is in the best interests of the society, and its members as a whole, both present and future, borrowing members and shareholding members. The board may also reasonably consider the interests of customers who are not members, of the staff, suppliers of goods and services, and of the wider community.
A well planned and well matched merger can benefit both the shareholding and borrowing members and the staffs of both societies by producing a combined society with the financial strength and management expertise and experience needed to compete successfully in the market place. It must be recognised, however, that in many instances it will take time for economies of scale to be achieved and a careful assessment of projected costs is essential to a realistic view of whether such economies are likely to be achievable. On the other hand, a merger between two weak and over-extended societies may produce an even weaker one. It is better to negotiate a merger from a reasonably secure position than to be obliged to seek a merger when the society has become too weak to carry on as an independent entity.
This chapter cannot deal exhaustively with all the factors to be taken into account by a board when deciding whether to recommend a merger to its members. Moreover, there will be factors peculiar to particular cases. However, the following paragraphs draw attention to those matters which the Authorityexpects boards to consider in all cases.
Consideration of a merger can normally be expected to emerge from the board's regular consideration of the strategic options available to the society. That is not to say that merger as a transferor society should always figure as an option in every society's corporate plan. On the other hand, every board should be alive to business trends which point to, or which, if not altered, will point to, the need to consider options for merger. In short, a merger should be foreseen and planned. Alternatively, of course, a board which wishes its society to remain independent must have a clear strategic view of how that can be achieved in a variety of realistic planning scenarios. Whether or not a board is considering a merger, it should as a matter of prudence, know how it would respond to a proposal or counterproposal to merge or to transfer its business to a commercial company.
If a board foresees the possibility of a merger, then it should plan for that eventuality. Societies which see themselves as transferees will need to consider the desired characteristics of potential partners, including, for example, geographical presence, mortgage book quality, and product market share. Societies contemplating the transfer of their engagements will need to consider whether the interests of their members would best be served by a local or regional alliance or access to a national network of branches and services. The board may also reasonably consider the interests of customers who are not members, of the staff, suppliers of goods and services, and of the wider community. It is also reasonable, particularly for local and regional societies, to consider the implications for the local economy, where, for example, a regional or head office may eventually be closed to achieve economies of scale.
The range of issues which both boards have to consider will vary from case to case and is for the board to decide. At one end of the scale there will be the case where a small society merges with a large one and, at the other end, where two or more societies of broadly comparable size join to form one significantly larger. Whatever the proposal under consideration the board will necessarily have regard to this primary duty to reach a view on what is in the best interests of the society, and its members as a whole. It will also be conscious of the need to give an account of the boards rationale in recommending the merger to members, in particular if a statutory merger statement is included in the Merger Document (see paragraph BSOG 2.3.23 G).
The terms negotiated between the parties in a merger will be set out in a formal agreement. In the case of a transfer of engagements, Section 94(6) of the 1986 Act requires the extent of the transfer, and in practice the other agreed terms, to be recorded in an Instrument of Transfer. For an amalgamation, Section 93(2) of the 1986 Act requires the parties to agree on a Memorandum and Rules for the successor society, and each to approve the terms of the amalgamation by Merger Resolutions, so that there must be agreement on the terms. The Authority will expect the Instrument of Transfer or amalgamation agreement to be signed before the Authority approves the Schedule 16 statement, although it will be conditional on, among other things, approval by members and confirmation by the Authority. In both cases the boards of the societies will have approved the Instrument or agreement and the Schedule 16 statement and, in the case of an amalgamation, the Memorandum and Rules of the successor society. Before such approval by the boards, drafts of the proposed Memorandum and Rules should have been cleared with the registration team. The Rules of transferee societies should provide that members of transferor societies are not disenfranchised for any period after the merger is effected (see paragraphBSOG 2.3.16 G and rule 4(9) of the BSA Model Rules 5th edition).
Although vesting of the property, rights and liabilities of the transferor society in the transferee society on completion of a transfer of engagements is a statutory process by virtue of Section 94(8) of the 1986 Act, the Instrument of Transfer performs an important function. Not only is it required by the 1986 Act, but it is required to identify the extent of the transfer (Section 94(6)), since a transfer can be of all or part of the engagements of the transferor society. Thus, on a transfer of all the engagements of a society, the Instrument of Transfer should include a specific statement that all are included. If the transfer is of part only, then the instrument should specify precisely what is being transferred. As explained, an amalgamation agreement is required in practice for all amalgamations, but again the actual process of transferring the assets of the societies to, and vesting them in, the new society is by operation of the 1986 Act. Section 93(4) of the 1986 Act, which does this, does not allow for exceptions to the vesting since the nature of an amalgamation is that all the assets of all the societies are vested in the successor society.
The Instrument of Transfer, or amalgamation agreement, will also allow matters of detail to be recorded. So it will contain, for example, provision for:
any changes to the terms and conditions of PIBS and share and deposit accounts, including the integration of the product lines of the transferor society(ies) into those of the transferee or successor society;
any changes to the terms and conditions of mortgage accounts and other loans;
any bonus to be paid to members;
the terms and conditions on which staff will be employed or made redundant;
pension scheme arrangements;
integration of operations;
the terms and conditions on which directors and other officers are to continue in office or cease to hold office, including the posts they will hold and any extra-contractual compensation to be paid for loss of office or reduction in emoluments;
the specified target date for completion of the merger, bearing in mind that the actual date is a product of the 1986 Act (Sections 93(3)(b) & (4) and 94(8)), and for action if that date is not achieved;
any conditions precedent, such as members votes and the Authoritysconfirmation, and for the circumstances in which the Instrument or amalgamation agreement might be terminated.
Whether any bonus is to be paid to members and, if so, its amount and distribution, are matters to be agreed by the boards of the societies concerned and to be approved by their members, subject to the discretion described in paragraphs 4.41 and 4.42. However, the Authoritywill wish to be satisfied that the combined society will maintain a prudent level of capital resources after the bonus is paid. A bonus may, for example, be paid to the members of a transferor society with a higher capital ratio than the transferee society so as to equalise the reserves which both bring to the combined society. If it is thought desirable also to pay a bonus to the members of the transferee society, then the reserves of the combined society may be equalised at a level below the capital ratio of the transferee society, but only if it is prudent to do so. The statutory requirements for approval of bonus payments are described in paragraphBSOG 2.4.4 G.
A bonus is a distribution of the funds of either or both societies, and may be paid by a number of methods, or some combination of them, including, for example: a flat rate lump sum; a sum calculated as a percentage of balances; or an increase or (for mortgage accounts) a decrease in the interest rates paid or charged for a limited period. Maintenance of interest rate differentials existing before the date of completion of the merger between those offered by (say) the transferor society and the transferee society would not normally be characterised as a bonus. However, each society, and the Authority, will wish to be satisfied that any differential is consistent with its established pricing policy and is not the result of a change adopted, for example, when the society decided to seek a merger. Each case where interest rate differentials are to be maintained, for whatever period, will need to be considered to determine whether or not it constitutes a bonus, and societies may wish to take professional advice on the matter.
Any compensation proposed to be paid to directors or other officers must be disclosed in the Schedule 16 Statement and approved by a separate special resolution of the members (see paragraphsBSOG 2.3.11 G and BSOG 2.4.3 G). Compensation is not defined in the 1986 Act, except to the extent that section 96(8) says that it includes benefits in kind. In the Authoritysopinion, compensation does not include statutory redundancy payments, damages for breach of contract or other payments, for example, falling due under the terms of a pre-existing contract of employment, or a pre-existing arrangement giving rise to a reasonable expectation. However, it does include any proposed ex-gratia payments in money or moneys worth. Societies should consider very carefully the extent to which any proposed payment may exceed the amount provided for by statute or contract. In view of the requirement in Section 96(3) of the 1986 Act that unauthorised payments must be repaid by the recipient, societies are advised to take legal advice on any payments which are not specifically authorised by the terms of a resolution passed by the members in accordance with Section 96(1) of the 1986 Act. All proposed payments requiring approval by such special resolution should be disclosed in the Schedule 16 Statement under the power in paragraph 1(4)(f) of that Schedule. In addition, the Schedule 16 Statement should disclose any other payments to directors or other officers arising directly from the merger. So that members are aware of the direct interest of the directors or other officers in a merger, societies should consider whether the amount, as distinct from the fact, of statutory or contractual payments should be disclosed where these arise directly from the merger.
More generally, societies need to consider whether any facts relevant to any director or other officer, or to any person(s) connected with them, should be disclosed where these are material to the interests of the members who are to be asked to vote on the proposed merger. In determining the amount of compensation which might be justified, the board must strike a balance between fairness to the individuals who will suffer a loss of income and the interests of the members, bearing in mind that the compensation will be at a cost either to any bonus to the members or to the reserves to be transferred to the combined society
Boards of both societies may wish to announce a merger proposal as soon as agreement in principle has been reached between them and, in particular, to inform their members and staff of the proposed terms. However, boards will often wish to delay an announcement for as long as possible, perhaps for prudential or commercial reasons, or because they first wish to settle all the details of the proposed terms. Societies with listed PIBS will need to have regard to the Authority'srequirement concerning early disclosure of information affecting the price of securities. Subject to this, there is no objection to delay, in principle, and there may be good reasons for it. Unfortunately, experience shows that every days delay after agreement in principle has been reached carries an increasing risk of premature leak. Indeed, the very reasons for delay may make the merger a subject for intense speculation and increase the risks of a leak. In these circumstances then, boards must have contingency plans to make an early announcement to deal with any potentially damaging rumours and to avoid members being misled or left in a state of uncertainty.
The announcement, particularly information provided directly to members and staff, should make it clear that the merger proposal is subject to approval by the members and completion of the statutory procedures. Boards should be careful to avoid giving even the impression that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, and should indicate any matters of substance on which the proposed terms of the merger remain to be settled. Briefing of staff who will be responsible for responding to enquiries from members and the press should be considered carefully and prepared in advance of the announcement to avoid any risk of members being unintentionally misled.
Before a firm proposal is agreed, the participating societies should consult with the Authoritysstaff to discover whether there is any prudential objection to the proposal. The Authoritywill need to be satisfied that the combined society will be managed prudently from the date of completion of the merger and comply with the Principles for Businesses and with all the relevant rules made by the Authority. The Authoritywill also wish to know that post-merger arrangements and agreements provide for the proper integration or rationalisation of the operations of the combined society, and of its connected undertakings, joint ventures or arrangements with third parties (for example, for the provision of unsecured loans, insurance and investment services) and that any commercial conflicts of interest have been resolved.
In all cases, prudential information should be provided, but the amount of information will depend upon the circumstances of each case. For example, if a merger involves societies of much the same total asset size, or where the merger will result in a significant increase in the transferee society's assets, or involves a change of strategy, new kinds of business or carrying on business in a new geographical area, the Authoritywill expect substantial prudential information and societies should also expect this to form the basis of more detailed discussions with the Authoritys staff. On the other hand, in a merger where a small society is transferring its engagements to a very much larger one, the prudential information to be provided is likely to be that much less. In all cases the Authoritywill ask for the prudential information at an early stage so that there is adequate time for discussion before it is asked formally to approve the Schedule 16 Statement.
Current and future senior management and structure, indicating spans of responsibility (which may most easily be presented in chart form) and any areas where there may be a need for additional expertise or experience to be acquired by the combined society with plans and timescale for acquiring such expertise.
Generally, outline plans and timetables for the integration of accounting, control and inspection systems, including the linking or harmonisation of computer systems. This may usefully be divided between initial or short term arrangements and foreseen longer term developments. More particularly, the information should include arrangements to ensure continuity and the integration of:
systems of internal control, including management information systems and IT systems; and
systems of inspection (internal audit)
For all significant mergers the Authoritywill wish to receive, prior to the effective date of the merger, a letter from the transferee society's external auditors stating whether, in their opinion, the accounting records and systems of control and of inspection established for the merged society will be effective from the effective date.
The rationale for the merger will need to be explained and justified in full, including existing and potential future business and marketing opportunities, the benefits of geographical concentration or diversification of business, economies of scale (particularly administrative), and future funding and lending strategies. Proposals for rationalisation or integration of administrative offices and branches will need to be set out in full, including the implications of the proposed merger for the terms and conditions of staff employment and their future job prospects with the combined society.
Information on the financial prospects for the combined society will need to include:
estimates, broken down to an appropriate level of detail, of short term additional costs and long term savings (if any) anticipated from the merger; and
revenue account, balance sheet and solvency ratio projections for the first three to five years of operation.
This information must be supported by statements of the assumptions on which it has been based. In addition, the effect of changes on those assumptions should be illustrated, from a best case to a worst case scenario.