Tim Buckley Owen Bloomberg and Wolters Kluwer - two to watch?
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By Tim Buckley Owen

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When Bloomberg is the story, it’s not surprising to find it reporting on itself. Listing its main competitors when reporting its recent acquisition of the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), there was one provider in the legal, tax and regulatory field that it intriguingly missed out.

Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier were the competitors that the story (posted on the VIP Wire) mentioned. But as Bloomberg was engaged in purchasing this research and analysis company another competitor, Wolters Kluwer, was completing its acquisition of National Registered Agents Inc (NRAI), a provider of statutory representation services to companies.

Although the functions and expertise of the two purchases are different, the purchasers’ motives are similar. Bloomberg speaks of strengthening its offerings in the legal information market by providing complementary legal, tax and regulatory content, while Wolters Kluwer talks of strengthening its position as a leading provider of legal compliance and corporate governance solutions.

For both players, the subtext is “value-add”. Bloomberg explains how it deploys its premium content, subject expertise, proprietary data and technological capabilities to provide distinctive solutions for decision-makers – while Wolters Kluwer styles itself the “originator of the legal compliance services industry”.

Employee-owned BNA has an 80-plus year track record in its field, and Bloomberg isn’t about to spoil it, anticipating “gradual, modest consolidation over an extended period”. In NRAI, Wolters Kluwer has inherited a company committed to adding value to its core registered agent services for a less “exorbitant fee” than it implies some of its competitors charge.

Yet each purchaser suffers from its own Achilles’ heel. Bloomberg is a comparative newcomer to the fiercely competitive legal information market – albeit a potentially disruptive one (see earlier LiveWire coverage) – while Wolters Kluwer is still working through a three-year strategy to provide a greater range of workflow solutions to its customers (previous LiveWire coverage here).

Both companies have already been on the acquisition trail. Risk management specialist FRS Global and legal information provider LexisNexis Deutschland are among recent purchases by Wolters Kluwer.

Bloomberg on the other hand freely acknowledges that it prefers organic growth to acquisition. But it has previously bought the American government data publisher Eagle Eye (LiveWire comment here) – and its purchase of BusinessWeek in 2009 (LiveWire coverage by Penny Crossland) may have encouraged it since to diversify further from straight news coverage to expert editorialising through its newish Bloomberg View (more LiveWire comment).

But in the legal, tax and regulatory services hierarchy Wolters Kluwer and Bloomberg may have been regarded as numbers three and four up to now, compared with the Reed Elsevier - Thomson Reuters duopoly. However each of them may now be creeping up – and as such they deserve a watchful eye.

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