Markman: Performant Collects

The term "recovery services" sounds so benign. Who doesn't want to recover, after all?

But if you are a student who has not paid back your college loan, or a homeowner behind on your taxes, you know companies in the recovery services industry by another name: bill collectors.

It's not the most glamorous business in the world, but, unfortunately, it is booming. And one of the leaders in the space is newly public Performant Financial Corp. ( PFMT), which leverages a proprietary technology platform to provide audit and recovery services to government, healthcare and financial services markets around the country.

The company is broken into two business units: Performant Recovery and Performant Technologies. The recovery division has been operating since the company's start in 1976 as Diversified Collection Services, collecting delinquent receivables and auditing medical records. An example of where the recovery unit excels is the student loan marketplace.

It's one of the largest service providers in the industry, providing management and recovery of delinquent and defaulted student loans. The rate of student loans under default have been growing at a rate of 11% annually, and Performant has been analyzing and communicating with borrowers for 22 years, providing portfolio management and case management processing to both government and private student loan organizations.

The Livermore, Calif., company received its first contract with the U.S. Department of Education in 1990, followed by the rights to provide nationwide collection and account resolution services to the U.S. Treasury Department seven years later. It's one of the few companies that meet stringent government regulations and has been approved by these agencies.

Another focus for Performant is cost containment, specifically in the health care industry. Its solutions provide financial oversight for the accuracy and appropriateness of health care payments by detecting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse. It has been serving the health care industry for more than 16 years, working in both the public and private sector.

Meanwhile, the technologies division has customizable processing systems that can help clients address huge data sets and any complex workflow issues. In many cases, Performant's technology can replace multiple servers, reducing costs and the overall data center infrastructure.

CEO Lisa Im took over in 2004 after serving as managing director of the predecessor firm for two years. She came to Performant from the food products industry. The company currently has 1,300 employees in five states around the country.

Performant's services are provided on an outsourced basis, in which it handles a portion or even all of a client's recovery processes. Most of its clients operate in regulated industries and look to third parties for these operations, rather than taking on additional personnel and expenses.

Another benefit to clients is Performant's success-based revenue model, which doesn't require any significant upfront investments. It earns revenue based on the success it has recovering payments from delinquent accounts.

The company went public on Aug. 10 at $9 per share and has largely traded above $10 since then. Private equity sponsor Parthenon Capital received more than 80% of the proceeds, in addition to a $1 million management termination fee. Parthenon led a $167 million recapitalization of the company in 2004, and has held its stake through the public offering.

Revenue has climbed 48% in the past three years while net income has risen 147% during that same span. As I said, it is a fast-growing field.

The company is now trading at a market cap of $456 million with a relatively clean post-IPO balance sheet fortified with $154 million cash. Consider purchasing around $9.50 to $10, and prepare to collect. At the time of publication, Markman had no positions in the stocks mentioned.
Jon Markman is editor of the independent investment newsletter The Daily Advantage.