An initial public offering, or IPO, is the very first sale of stock issued by a company to the public. Prior to an IPO the company is considered private.
A privately held company has some benefits that are forfeited once it goes public. For example, its owners do not have to disclose as much financial information about the company.
Going public raises a great deal of money for any business in order for it to grow, and to pay back early investors.
What is an IPO or public offering?
When a business reaches a certain point, it may require significant investment in order to make a step change. This may involve applying for a public listing of its shares. Whilst some very large companies choose to remain private, many are listed on the stock market.
The process of listing is time-consuming and involves a range of advisers, but it is an opportunity for a company to critically examine itself. The decision to launch an IPO (initial public offering) or flotation must be based on a realistic assessment of the business, its management, where it is in the stage of its development and its prospects.
When would a public offering be suitable?
A listing may be used to raise money to:
finance growth opportunities
rebalance the balance sheet
broaden the company’s shareholder base
provide liquidity at listing or when it comes
to trading shares in the company.
In addition, a public listing will increase the profile of the company with a wide range of stakeholders, including customers, suppliers and peers, and allow it to incentivise key employees through share option plans more easily.
If your business has a trading track record and further growth plans, it would be in a position to raise equity capital through an IPO (flotation). A proportion of its shares would then be listed on a stock exchange and traded in the secondary market. An IPO is the sale of shares to institutional and larger investors and, sometimes, the general public.
The run-up to a company seeking a listing can be broadly divided into two phases – pre-IPO preparation and the IPO process itself. Pre-IPO preparation includes the critical review of a company’s business plan and growth prospects, assessing the management team, appointing an appropriate board, tightening internal controls, improving operational efficiency and resolving issues that may adversely affect the listing early on.
Important factors to consider with a public offering
The management team will need to be able to explain the business, its strategy and prospects clearly to investors, and demonstrate knowledge of the market as well as its challenges.
A comprehensive business plan will be needed, which will set out the products, markets, competitive environment, strategy, capabilities and growth objectives.
The company’s financial performance should preferably be one of consistent top- and bottom-line growth, with a sound balance sheet post-IPO.
A financial model should demonstrate clearly the company’s growth prospects and associated risks to give investors confidence.
If the company is raising new capital, the use of proceeds should be clearly articulated and in line with strategy.
Proper financial controls need to be in place.
A publicly-listed company will need to articulate clearly its corporate governance arrangements to demonstrate it has a board capable of running a public company.
Starting life as a public company
The IPO is a step in a company’s growth cycle and the start of its life as a public company, which will make certain ongoing demands on the business. Financial statements must be produced and corporate governance codes adopted to provide a framework for long-term engagement with shareholders.
Once on market, the company will have access to further equity capital, through a further issue or placing, if it needs additional finance on its journey.
Access to the right kind of finance at every stage in your growth journey enables businesses like yours to invest, grow and create jobs. That’s why the British Business Bank and ICAEW’s Corporate Finance Faculty, and partner organisations representing finance and business, have created the business finance guide.
The Business Finance Guide
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