AMC-Managed vs. Standalone Organizations – ‘No brag, just facts’

Michael LoBue writes: In a soon to be published white paper, that I authored, comparing the profiles of AMC-managed and standalone organizations, two major conclusions are clear.

First, there is no difference between the types or organizations managed by AMCs and those that “own their resources”. An organization that owns its own resources is one that employs its own staff, leases (or owns) its own office space and spends its scarce revenue on capital goods (e.g., furniture, furnishings, IT resources, etc.).

Second, AMC-managed organizations out perform standalone organizations across conventional operating metrics like:

  • Operating Efficiency
  • Net Profitability
  • Leverage (a measure of risk)

Oh, and let’s not forget that standalone organizations pay, on average, almost a 50% premium to “own” those resources that, on average, produce lesser results! How this translates into “fiduciary responsibility” is lost on me…

The white paper will be posted on the AMC Institute website for downloading, but I would also be happy to email a copy of it to anyone that is interested. Just send me an email request at: LoBue@LM-Mgmt.com

This is not to suggest that all standalone organizations up to $5M in annual revenue, the threshold up to which the comparisons were done, are irresponsible for using the standalone model of management. But, we now have hard data that governing boards and management can use to ask: “Is the premium we’re paying for our management model providing the right return for our unique needs?”

The real value of the comparisons in the white paper is that organizations can begin to explore this question beyond half-truths or simply because the standalone model is what they’ve been use to.

The comparisons in the white paper do not give us the most important analysis all organizations need to conduct, which is how an organization’s programs connect to the impacts outside the organization that each was formed in the first place to have. But, it’s a start!

AMCs More Like Agents Than Partners

Michael LoBue writes: An all too common characterization of the relationship between an AMC and its client organizations is that of a “partnership”. As “feel good” a notion as this may be, I contend that it is fantasy more than anything else. There’s a danger being too literal when borrowing a concept — after a fashion we begin to believe our own spin. I admit that our firm has used it before, but always with some discomfort; we won’t make this mistake again.

Partnerships
A partnership is defined as:

“A partnership is a type of business entity in which partners (owners) share with each other the profits or losses of the business undertaking in which all have invested.”
(Wikipedia)

There’s nothing about the relationship between an AMC and its client organization that meets the above definition. AMCs don’t cover the risky ventures and bad debts of a client organization, anymore than a client organization co-signs on leases or capital improvement projects of its AMC. We certainly shouldn’t share in the earnings of client organizations.

Clearly both parties in the AMC-client relationship have risks and rewards resulting from the provider-client relationship, but aside from enhanced reputations, there isn’t anything they really share. And, shouldn’t that be enough? AMCs certainly value their reputations as much as any other business asset. An organization can grow, but there’s no guarantee that this growth represents expanded revenue for the AMC — it all depends on the nature of the growth and whether it increases demand for the AMC’s particular offerings.

Before someone interprets this position as: “he’s saying there’s nothing in the AMC-client relationship that leads to common goals”, let me be clear — there’s plenty to bind the two parties together for mutual benefit, but we should not kid ourselves into thinking it directly involves shared investments and returns. If I’m right and this relationship is not a partnership, characterizing it as such can lull both parties into thinking it is and inevitably lead to making lesser choices over the course of the relationship.

An Agent Relationship
A more likely candidate is that of an agent relationship. AMCs work on behalf of their client organizations to find and take advantage of opportunities for the clients. If the AMC is successful in this role the client benefits by having more impact in its profession or market, revenue continues to flow to the AMC, perhaps even increasing from the client’s successes, and the firm’s reputation is enhanced as a trustworthy and results-driven AMC.

There’s one other aspect of “agency” that I like; I think it’s more likely to focus on finding the client organization real successes — ones that make an impact in the organization’s profession or market segment, than merely generating busy work.

More on ‘AMC Clients Measuring Up…’

Michael LoBue writes: Last month I shared the comparative analysis between AMC-managed clients and standalone organizations in terms of key performance indicators. This post contains a slightly more refined grouping of the standalone organizations — the following will be included in a soon-to-be released white paper discussing about 13 different comparisons.

Net Profitability
Figure 5 below reveals that in the case of organizations up to $1M in annual revenue, AMC-managed organizations enjoyed a nearly 10-fold increase in their profitability vs. organizations under the standalone model, which was barely profitable at a half of a percent. This gap closes considerably for organizations between $1M and $5M in annual revenue, but AMC-managed organizations still enjoy a 33% greater rate of profitability at 8.4% vs. standalone organizations at 6.3%.

Operating Efficiency
Operating Efficiency is charted in Figure 6 below. According to the ASAE Operating Ratio 13th Edition, this ratio “tell us how many dollars in revenue are being generated by each dollar of assets employed in running the organization.” This comparison reveals that in the case of organizations up to $1M in annual revenue, the operating efficiency ratios are comparable between the two management models. However, in the case of for organizations between $1M and $5M in annual revenue, AMC-managed organizations at 1.3% are enjoying a 38% better level of efficiency than standalone organizations at .94%.

Leverage
The last metric in this series of key performance ratios is Leverage. This is often used when evaluating an organization’s need and/or ability to borrow funds. Given that most associations would not seek to acquire debt to support operations, like a profit-driven organization might, leverage then can be a useful proxy for general operating risk. In this case, a lower ratio is probably more desirable. This ratio is derived from dividing total liabilities by total fund balance; thus, the higher the ratio, the less able the organization is cover its commitments.

Figure 7 below reveals that for organizations between $1M and $5M in annual revenue, those AMC-managed organizations enjoy a slight, but probably insignificant edge over standalone organizations. Whereas, for organizations under $1M in annual revenue, those managed by AMCs appear to operate with 25% lower risk profile than organizations using the standalone model (.25% vs. .40%).

Clients of AMCs Measure Up Just Fine

Michael LoBue writes: Recently I’ve been comparing the “performance indicators” between AMC-managed organizations to standalone organizations. The comparison is between certain common indicators found in the ASAE’s 13th Edition of the Operating Ratio Report (ORR — 2006-2007 data) and the AMC Institute’s Client Operating and Financial Benchmarking Survey Report of 2007. While not all of the data are in complete alignment across the two studies, I think three of the indicators do lend themselves to valid comparisons.

The Data:
Those familiar with ASAE’s ORR know the organizations were studied by type (e.g., trades vs. societies — as were the AMC-managed organizations) and by revenue size (e.g., <$1M, $1M – $2M, $2M – $5M, etc.). The Institute’s study involving 311 AMC-managed organizations is divided into smaller ranges. The comparisons below are between the 71 >$1M AMC-managed organizations to the 73 standalone organizations between $1M and $2M in annual revenue.

Key Performance Ratios ASAE
$1M – $2M (73)
AMCI
> $1M (71)
Net Profitability
(Total Revenue minus Total Expenses as a % of Total Revenue)
4.8% 8.4%
Operating Efficiency Ratio
(Total Revenue divided by Total Assets)
1.3% 1.3%
Leverage
(Total Liabilities divided by Total Fund Balance)
0.8 0.3

 

Conclusion:

  • Net Profitability — AMC-managed organizations are almost twice as profitable as standalone organizations (also more profitable for AMC-managed organizations <$1M in annual revenue);
  • Operating Efficiency Ratio — AMC-managed organizations are just as efficient as standalone organizations across all revenue sizes compared;
  • Leverage — Standalone organizations are almost twice as leveraged as AMC-managed organizations for all revenue sizes compared (leverage in this sense translates into operating risks).

Why Does This Matter?
This matters because it brings into focus for association leaders real data that they can use to determine if they are being as prudent as possible in the governance and stewardship of their organizations. This data support what so many of the thousands of association leaders with direct experience using the AMC-model already know — that the model is not just cost efficient,it’s also effective!