The Deal D.A. Davidson Hooks FinTech Specialist Marlin
EXCLUSIVE with The Deal
By Michael Brown
June 14, 2021
A deal for the middle market investment bank will enhance and increase Davidson's exposure and expertise in the technology, specifically around financial technology research and investment banking.
Amid a steady stream of deal making in financial technology, D.A. Davidson & Co. has agreed to acquire Marlin & Associates Holding LLC, a middle-market investment bank with a focus on the highly fragmented sector.
"There’s tremendous growth prospects for the space," Rory A. McKinney, head of investment banking at D.A. Davidson, told The Deal. "The Marlin team are specialists. That specialism leads to better outcomes for our clients and for us.“
The Monday, June 14, deal will grow D.A. Davidson’s technology equity capital markets group to 60 professionals. The firm will have 40 tech bankers, globally.
For the target’s founder Ken Marlin and team, the deal marks the next step in an almost 20 year journey for the investment bank that started on the kitchen table of Marlin’s New York apartment. Since its founding in 2002, Marlin & Associates has built a book of business focused on buying and selling middle market technology companies. Over the years, he said, there’s been no shortage of interested suitors, but none that struck a chord with the team in quite the same way as Davidson.
"For the past 10 years we’ve been approached once or twice a year by people that were interested in merging with us in one form or another," Marlin said. "My philosophy has always been ‘I’m happy to have lunch with anyone’ but prior to the conversation with Davidson I had always said ‘I totally get what we do for them, but I don’t get what they add for us.’“
Teaming up with Davidson, "puts us in a position to win more global mandates and win other types of business," Marlin said.
Marlin works with founder-owned and PE-backed companies, venture capital firms and other institutional investors on buy- and sell-side investment banking. It has always been a firm focus on financial technology, Marlin said, though the mix of buyers and the lean of the technology in the industry has evolved over the years.
"In a 1,000 ways it hasn’t changed but in a 1,000 ways the industry has changed," he said. "We deal with far more active financial sponsors than when we did 20 years ago... If in 2002 there were five strategics for every financial buyer, now there’s one strategic for every five financial buyers and the number of interest bidders has only increased.“
He said the industry has shifted from data collection to data analytics, software and applications. Wealthtech, insurtech, banktech, legaltech and market intelligence, have also come further into the foreground.
Among its recent mandates, Marlin advised Marlin Equity Partners LLC (no relation) on a growth equity investment in Insight Partners-backed trading tech companies Exegy Inc. and Vela Trading Systems LLC on May 20; option pricing and analytics company OptionMetrics LLC in a growth equity deal with Leeds Equity Partners LLC on April 30; and consumer goods marketing company TABS Analytics in its sale to Strattam Capital LLC portfolio company Blacksmith Applications
Inc. on Dec. 15.
"There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of players and innovation going on and there is a constant inflow of companies backed by many of the companies that are doing the acquiring," Marlin said. "That’s the nature of tech. There’s innovation and consolidation and then more innovation.“
It’s that cycle of innovation that gives Davidson such confidence that the Marlin acquisition will continue to bear fruit.
The 86-year-old, Great Falls, Mont.-based investment bank has been steadily investing in its technology team and the Marlin deal helps further accelerate that enhancement, McKinney said.
"We’ve been making these investments in this space and I firmly believe that our team, collectively within the tech vertical with 40-plus bankers, have the skills to handle any mandate," he added.
Employee-owned D.A. Davidson offers services in wealth management, trust advisory, investment management, capital markets, a municipal investment management business and investment banking. The firm operates across sectors including consumer, retail, energy, industrials, financial services and technology, globally. In March 2018, it announced the formation of a partnership with Hamburg, Germany-based MCF Corporate Finance GmbH, to better broker trans-Atlantic deals and cater to a growing appetite for cross-border middle-market deals.
Following completion of the deal in the third quarter, Marlin, will serve as vice chairman of D.A. Davidson’s technology platform. Marlin & Associate’s co-founder Michael Maxworthy will serve as co-head of technology investment banking along with Davidson’s head of technology investment banking Joe Morgan.
D.A. Davidson, whose president of equity capital markets Monte Giese also worked on the deal, looked to Dorsey & Whitney LLP for legal advice.
Marlin, meanwhile, tapped Raleigh, N.C.’s Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP for counsel.