What legal preparations are necessary for UK businesses before undergoing an IPO?

As a UK business, if you're considering going public with an initial public offering (IPO), you might be excited by the prospect of raising significant capital, expanding your brand's visibility or providing a profitable exit for early investors. However, it is crucial to understand that the process is not without its complexities and legal obligations. In this article, we aim to elucidate the key legal steps that a UK company should undertake before embarking on an IPO.

1. Understand the Regulatory Landscape

Before your company starts the IPO process, having a solid understanding of the UK regulatory landscape is key. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) oversees the listing regime in the UK. It is responsible for making sure that companies meet the eligibility requirements and adhere to the rules and regulations during and after the listing process.

The FCA listing regime involves two segments: the Premium and the Standard segment. The Premium segment is geared towards larger companies able to meet higher regulatory standards, while the Standard segment is for companies that meet EU minimum standards. Your company will need to decide which segment to list on based on its size, shareholder structure and strategic objectives.

2. Preparing the Prospectus

Drafting a prospectus is another vital step in the IPO process. The prospectus is a legal document that provides detailed information about your company, its business, the proposed IPO, and the shares to be issued. It is used by potential investors to make informed decisions about whether to invest in your company.

The document must be approved by the FCA and should contain information such as the details of the business, financial information, details of the directors and key personnel, details of the company’s assets and liabilities, and the risks associated with investing in the company. The prospectus will also need to include the proposed price of the shares.

3. Financial Auditing

Transparency in financial reporting is a fundamental requirement for an IPO. Your company will need to prepare financial statements that comply with international financial reporting standards. These statements will need to cover at least three years of financial history.

In addition, your company will need to undergo an audit by an independent auditor. The auditor's report will be included in the prospectus, and their findings can significantly impact the share price and overall success of the IPO.

4. Assembling the Right Team

As you've probably gathered by now, undergoing an IPO is a complex process that requires expertise in various areas. You will need to assemble a team that includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, and public relations professionals.

This team should be put together early in the process to ensure that all legal and financial requirements are met, and the IPO is managed effectively. They will help guide the company through the FCA regulatory regime, prepare the prospectus, handle the financial auditing process, and manage communications with potential investors.

5. Corporate Governance Measures

Finally, before listing, your company will need to have in place a robust corporate governance structure. This includes establishing a board of directors, setting up board committees, and implementing internal controls and procedures.

For companies listing on the Premium segment, there are additional requirements. These include complying with the UK Corporate Governance Code, which sets out standards for board composition, directors' responsibilities, remuneration, accountability, and relations with shareholders.

To sum up, while the idea of going public might be exciting, it's essential to be fully prepared for the journey. This involves understanding the regulatory landscape, preparing a prospectus, ensuring your financials are in order, assembling the right team, and putting in place a robust corporate governance structure. The legal preparations may seem daunting, but with proper planning and the right support, your company can smoothly navigate the IPO process and reap its benefits.

6. Deciding the Listing Segment

An essential part of the preparation process for an IPO is deciding the most suitable listing segment for your company. The FCA’s listing regime consists of two main segments: the Premium segment and the Standard segment. The Premium segment, often the choice of larger companies, involves meeting higher regulatory standards. On the other hand, the Standard segment is designed for businesses that satisfy the EU minimum standards.

Your choice of segment should be based on several considerations, such as the size of the company, the structure of your shareholders, and your overarching strategic objectives. If your company has a controlling shareholder, it's worth noting that Premium listings require additional safeguards to protect the interests of minority shareholders.

Furthermore, it's important to bear in mind that the prestige associated with a Premium listing can often lead to a higher share price. However, it also comes with more stringent regulation and an obligation to adhere to the UK Corporate Governance Code on a comply or explain basis.

7. Preparation for the Main Market

The Main Market is the London Stock Exchange’s principal market for larger, more established companies. If a company is aiming to be listed on the Main Market, it has to meet various eligibility requirements laid out in the Listing Rules.

Firstly, your company must be able to issue enough equity shares to the public to ensure that there will be an adequate market for the shares following the IPO. Moreover, the company should have a trading history of at least three years.

Your private company must also be willing and able to become a public company. This transformation involves changes in areas such as share transferability, the number of shareholders, and the distribution of annual accounts and reports.

Additionally, a company must obtain shareholder approval for specific transactions after the IPO. This is to ensure that the interests of the shareholders are protected and that they have a say in significant corporate decisions.


In conclusion, the process of going public is a significant milestone for a company. However, it does involve a complex series of steps that require careful planning and preparation. It is crucial to have a solid understanding of the regulatory landscape, decide on the appropriate listing segment, prepare a comprehensive prospectus, undergo financial auditing, assemble the right team and establish strong corporate governance measures.

Moreover, if your company aims to be listed on the Main Market, it has to meet additional eligibility requirements. In essence, the process of taking a company public involves a transformation from a private entity into a listed issuer on the official list of the London Stock Exchange.

The legal preparations involved in undergoing an IPO may seem daunting. However, with the right support and careful planning, your company can successfully navigate the process. The journey to becoming a public company can certainly be complex, but the benefits – from raising significant capital to increasing your brand's visibility – can make it a rewarding endeavour.