Ascensus auction goes into final round

A handful of bidders remains for the retirement plan provider, two of the sources said. They include Advent InternationalGenstar Capital and Aquiline Capital Partners, the persons said. Genstar and Aquiline have teamed up for a proposal, said one of the sources, a banker. The Carlyle Group is not involved. It’s unclear whether the Blackstone Groupis still in the running.

“It’s a pretty tight race,” a second banker said.

Ascensus, which is based in Dresher, Pennsylvania, produces $80 million in EBITDA.

J.C. Flowers & Co put Ascensus up for sale in May, seeking bids of $1 billion. It hiredDeutsche Bank to find a buyer. High price expectations caused many bidders to drop out, one of the sources said. “[Ascensus] is not a simple story,” the person said. “There is a price for everything.”

This isn’t the first time J.C. Flowers has sought a buyer for Ascensus. The PE firm tried to sell the company in 2012. At the time, the much smaller Ascensus, which produced about $25 million to $35 million in EBITDA, was expected to fetch $300 million. The firm was in talks with a PE firm, but pulled the deal.

Ascensus subsequently bought two companies in 2013: ExpertPlan, a provider of micro and small plan record keeping and administrative services; and Upromise Investments, Sallie Mae’s 529 college savings plan administrator.

In January, Ascensus paid a $100 million dividend to its shareholders, which included J.C. Flowers.

Executives for J.C. Flowers, Deutsche Bank, Advent and Genstar declined comment.