Ascensus Said to Draw Takeover Interest From Manulife, SS&C

Ascensus Inc., a retirement-plan services provider that’s weighing an initial public offering, has also drawn takeover interest from companies including Manulife Financial Corp. and SS&C Technologies Holdings Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said.

Blackstone Group LP is also among potential bidders for Ascensus, which is is working with Deutsche Bank AG to consider its options, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Ascensus, which is owned by JC Flowers & Co., could be valued at as much as $1 billion in a sale, one person said.

Ascensus, which describes itself as the largest independent retirement-plan and college savings services provider in the U.S., may fetch the highest value in public markets because of the rapid growth of retirement services, this person said.

Exploring both options, in what’s known as a dual-track process, is a way to pressure potential buyers to act before a target becomes public. The sale process is at an early stage and Ascensus could file for the IPO later this summer, the people said.

As a third alternative, it could refinance its debt and pay J.C. Flowers a dividend, they said.

Representatives for Deutsche Bank, Manulife and Ascensus declined to comment, while spokespeople for Blackstone, JC Flowers and SS&C didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. Reuters earlier reported that Ascensus was exploring a sale or IPO.

IPO Plan

Ascensus initially set out to prepare a public offering, but decided to also explore a sale after getting unsolicited interest from a number of financial services companies and private equity firms, one person said. Management is leaning toward a public offering or sale to private equity because it sees an opportunity to keep expanding the company through acquisitions, this person said.

The company is in the process of asking as many as ten potential bidders to sign non-disclosure agreements before it solicits formal offers, another person said.

Ascensus generates about $80 million in annual earnings before interest, taxes, appreciation and amortization, the people said. J.C. Flowers bought Ascensus in 2007, as part of its former parent Bisys Group Inc.’s sale to Citigroup Inc.

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