January 31, 2018 / 4:44 PM / in 24 days

Bertelsmann seeks buyer for Arvato CRM unit

GUETERSLOH, Germany (Reuters) - German publishing house Bertelsmann (BTGGg.F) plans to seek a buyer for its customer relationship management (CRM) operation to exit a business that requires heavy investment to keep pace with advances in technology.

Arvato CRM provides services such as live chat, video identification procedures and content moderation for Facebook (FB.O), which is stepping up efforts to remove fake news and hate speech from its platform.

Such operations are increasingly deploying automation and artificial intelligence, said Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe.

“These technological changes require significant investments in new capabilities,” he told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday.

Speaking after Bertelsmann’s executive and supervisory boards approved a process to seek a buyer or partner for Arvato CRM, Rabe said he would prefer to concentrate his investments on the group’s growth portfolio.

Bertelsmann generated 17 billion euros ($21.1 billion) in revenue in 2016 and employs 166,000 staff across eight units spanning book, music, magazine and digital publishing, as well as TV, education and printing.

The move follows the resignation last July of the head of Arvato, which was then placed under the direct control of Rabe and his management team.

Arvato CRM is one of four Arvato businesses. The others cover supply chain solutions, financial services and IT services. Its operations in French-speaking countries will be excluded from the process, Bertelsmann said.

The business that would be offered for partnership or sale employs 36,000 staff and generated revenues of about 1 billion euros ($1.25 billion) last year.

    A sale is the most likely outcome, Rabe said. He declined to say what price he was seeking for Arvato CRM, but added that similar businesses are typically valued at up to 10 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA).

    “We are open on outcomes. A partnership does come into the question but you would be right to say that a disposal is our primary consideration,” he said, adding that he could not imagine that Facebook would be interested.

    On Tuesday SAP (SAPG.DE), Europe’s biggest technology company, said it had bought U.S. sales software company Callidus (CALD.O) for $2.4 billion in what CEO Bill McDermott called a move from the back to the front office.

    Bertelsmann expects the search for a partner or buyer for Arvato CRM to take several months. It plans to mandate banking advisers but has yet to do so.

    Including the operations in French-speaking countries that Bertelsmann wants to keep, Arvato CRM employs 48,000 people and has revenues of 1.4 billion euros.

    Bertelsmann did not indicate whether its decision would result in job losses but said it was aware of its responsibilities toward employees as well as clients.

    Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by David Goodman

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