Pros and Cons of Wholly-Owned Subsidiaries | Rapid

August 8, 2023
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In the realm of corporate strategy, wholly-owned subsidiaries have emerged as a powerful tool. 

A wholly-owned subsidiary is a company that is completely owned by another company, called the parent company. This means that the parent company has complete control over the subsidiary, including its operations, finances and management. 

Wholly-owned subsidiaries are often used by businesses to expand into new markets, to diversify their operations or to take advantage of tax benefits. They can provide significant advantages, but like any business decision, they also come with their challenges. 

This article provides a comprehensive overview of how a wholly-owned subsidiary operates, and the advantages and disadvantages associated with it.

How does a wholly-owned subsidiary work?

A wholly-owned subsidiary is a company whose entire share capital is owned by another company, known as the parent company. Because the parent company holds 100% of the subsidiary's shares, it has the right to appoint the subsidiary's board of directors, allowing it to exercise complete control over the subsidiary's operations and strategic direction.

While the subsidiary operates as a distinct legal entity, separate from the parent company, it is entirely under the parent company's control. This arrangement can help the parent company expand into new markets, mitigate risks or protect sensitive intellectual property. Wholly-owned subsidiaries can be in the same business line as the parent company or in a related or completely different industry. 

Examples of wholly-owned subsidiaries include Google's relationship with its subsidiary YouTube or the Walt Disney Company's relationship with its subsidiary Pixar.

Advantages of a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary

Advantages of a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary

Here are some advantages of a wholly-owned subsidiary:

Financial advantages

1. Easy reporting

A wholly-owned subsidiary allows for streamlined reporting as the parent company can consolidate its financial reports with those of the subsidiary.

2. Access to more resources

The subsidiary can tap into the parent company's resources, including capital, to fuel growth.

3. Reduces cost

By leveraging the parent company's infrastructure and resources, subsidiaries can often reduce operational and capital costs.

4. Low tax liability

In some jurisdictions, the use of subsidiaries can result in tax advantages for the parent company.

Operational Advantages

1. Easy operations

The parent company can directly control the subsidiary's operations, making coordination and execution of strategies easier.

2. Better negotiations

The weight of the parent company can be leveraged by the subsidiary to negotiate better terms with suppliers and customers.

3. Vertical integration

Subsidiaries allow for vertical integration of the supply chain, helping in cost reduction and better control over the product life cycle.

4. Access to parent company's resources

The subsidiary has direct access to the parent company's resources, including intellectual property, workforce and infrastructure.

Strategic advantages

1. Easy decision-making

With 100% ownership, the parent company can make quick strategic decisions without the need for consensus from other stakeholders.

2. Better synergy

By aligning strategies, the parent company and its subsidiary can create synergies and contribute to mutual growth.

3. Improved risk-taking ability

The parent company can use the subsidiary to test out risky but potentially rewarding strategies without putting the entire company at risk.

4. Limited liability of owners

Despite owning the subsidiary, the parent company’s liability is limited, protecting it from financial risk.

5. Better risk mitigation

The parent company can offset the risks faced by one subsidiary against the profits made by others, thereby effectively mitigating risks.

Disadvantages of a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary

Disadvantages of a Wholly-Owned Subsidiary

Here are some disadvantages of a wholly-owned subsidiary:

Financial disadvantages

1. More taxes on parent company

In some jurisdictions, the parent company may face higher tax liabilities due to the profits made by the subsidiary.

2. Complex documentation

The establishment and maintenance of a subsidiary involve complex and time-consuming documentation.

3. Increased cost for parent company

The cost of setting up, operating and maintaining a subsidiary can put a financial strain on the parent company.

4. Overvaluation

There is a risk that the parent company may overvalue the subsidiary, leading to inflated costs.

5. Higher reporting risk

The consolidation of financial reports can increase the risk of misstatements or inaccuracies.

Operational disadvantages

1. Increased impact of losses

Losses incurred by the subsidiary can directly impact the parent company's bottom line.

2. Onboarding additional resources

The creation of a subsidiary may require the parent company to onboard additional resources, increasing operational complexities.

3. Dependency

The subsidiary may become overly dependent on the parent company for resources, limiting its ability to operate independently.

4. Legal restrictions

Subsidiaries must comply with the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction they operate in, which can be a challenging task for the parent company.

5. Technological and Intellectual Risks

There's an inherent risk of intellectual property (IP) leakage, which could occur if there are not adequate safeguards in place to protect the parent company's proprietary information and technology.

Strategic disadvantages

1. Challenges in Diversification

Managing a diverse portfolio of businesses can be complex and time-consuming, and not all diversification strategies succeed.

2. Increased Cultural Differences

If the subsidiary operates in a different region or market, cultural differences can present a significant challenge in terms of management, communication and business practices.

3. Rise of Conflicts

Conflicts may arise between the parent company and subsidiary over strategic decisions, allocation of resources or differing business practices.

4. Reduced Privacy

The parent company may be required to disclose more information about its operations and financials due to its ownership of the subsidiary, leading to a reduction in privacy.

5. Impact of Dynamic Business Environment

As the business environment changes, so too can the advantages and disadvantages of owning a subsidiary. Economic, technological, political or industry changes can all impact the success of the subsidiary and, by extension, the parent company.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the advantages and disadvantages of a wholly-owned subsidiary need to be carefully weighed. Whether it's the financial, operational or strategic benefits, these must be assessed against the potential challenges. Ultimately, the decision should align with the company's overall goals, risk tolerance and strategic vision.

The decision to establish a wholly-owned subsidiary involves carefully balancing the potential advantages against the potential disadvantages. It necessitates an understanding of not just the immediate financial, operational and strategic implications but also an appreciation of the broader impact on the company's overall risk profile, compliance requirements and long-term strategic objectives. 

The importance of considering the unique characteristics and circumstances of each company cannot be overstated when exploring the establishment of a wholly-owned subsidiary. This ensures alignment with the company's strategic vision, its ability to manage potential challenges, and its capacity to exploit the potential advantages.

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