California-based Experian acquires Carmel-based Baker Hill

Carmel-based banking software-maker Baker Hill has been acquired by Costa Mesa, Calif.-based financial information services provider Experian in a deal that closed this morning.

Both Baker Hill and Experian declined to share terms of the deal. But Baker Hill President Mark Hill said negotiations began about five months ago.

"It was a tough decision after 22 years. We've had offers over and over again, but the time came where it was really the right company and the right number, the right thing for our people and clients," Hill said. "We were very pleased with it."

Baker Hill employs 180 people, all but 15 of which work in its Carmel office, and is one of the area's largest IT firms. Experian plans to keep the company in Carmel and double its size over the next three years. Experian will retain all Baker Hills employees and keep its current management team intact. Baker Hill clients are not expected to be affected. Employees were informed of the acquisition 10 days ago.

Baker Hill was closely held by about 60 people, Hill said. It was originally staked two decades ago by friends and family. Since then, about 50 longtime employees earned stock options, which they exercised in the sale. Little Rock, Arkansas-based Stephens Inc. served as investment banker for the deal. Locally-based Ice Miller was Baker Hill's legal counsel.

Mark Zablan, president of Experian's Business Information Solutions, said his company first approached Baker Hill about two years ago, and has kept it on the radar screen ever since. Zablan said Baker Hill's software will become Experian's technology platform in the financial services sector.

Baker Hill had already penetrated the small- and mid-sized market for banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. Backed by the Experian brand name, Baker Hill might find it easier to penetrate much larger financial operations. The company's new formal title is Baker Hill, an Experian Company. Experian is a subsidiary of Nottingham, UK-based GUS plc, with 12,000 employees in 28 countries and annual sales of more than $2.5 billion.

Experian's goal is to provide a single source of data management for financial institutions. Currently, financial institutions must cobble together services from multiple vendors. Zablan confirmed that Experian plans to keep the company in Carmel and augment its operations there in the days to come.

"Our intent is not to break them apart," he said. "Our intent is to help them grow as Baker Hill."

Hill described the sale as "bittersweet."

"I have a boss now," he joked. "You work to build something that has value, but then you close a chapter. That's the bitter part of it. [At the same time] I'm kind of pinching myself. It's worked out really well."

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