That a deal should fall through during a pandemic is not a huge surprise. But that Goodbody's sale to a Chinese buyer has fallen through for a second time is something of an embarrassment to executives at the firm in any circumstances.
When the original sale to a consortium led by Zhong Ze Culture Investment Holdings fell through in early 2019, it was clear that Kerry-based financial services company Fexco, a majority shareholder in Goodbody, would still want an exit. It was less clear that Goodbody would bank on a Chinese buyer again.
A new sale process began in the spring of 2019 and by May three interested parties emerged: Bank of China, Irish Life owner Great-West Lifeco and Goodbody's long-time rival Davy.
It was a difficult line-up, each one presenting challenges.
Selling to a Chinese buyer carried risk, even when this bidder was a far more straightforward potential buyer than the complex Zhong Ze group.
Irish Life was not keen to buy the capital markets/investment banking division, according to market sources, and so Goodbody looked at ways of carving up the firm.
On paper the most suitable buyer was Davy, whose business mirrors the Goodbody model.
There is often folklore around industry rivalry in many sectors which boils down to harmless joking among competitors in reality. But there is a genuine and deep rivalry between Goodbody and Davy which goes back decades.
Goodbody is 51pc owned by Fexco and 49pc owned by senior managers and staff.
The staff know first-hand that some clients are loyal to Goodbody and would not be happy about a merger with Davy.
A culture clash was one factor against a Davy deal. Another was concern over jobs as Goodbody staff suspected duplication would be an issue in a merged entity.
With little appetite for a deal with Davy among Goodbody insiders and Irish Life fading out of the process, the Chinese once again emerged as the front runners.
Unlike the previous deal with the Zhong Ze consortium, the Central Bank had no issue with the sale to the Bank of China and approved the transaction in March of this year.
Obviously Covid-19 put pressure on all sorts of corporate activity, both in Ireland and globally, but with the Irish approval of the deal secured, it seemed there was no reason the €155m Goodbody sale should be delayed. However, suspicions about the likelihood of the deal going through began to intensify in recent weeks.
As revealed in these pages four weeks ago, Goodbody's managing director, Roy Barrett, addressed rumours that the deal might not go ahead in a company update with 300 staff. Although Barrett told staff that relations remained good between all the parties, doubts remained.
In fact, some well-placed observers of the company have always quietly doubted that a sale of Goodbody to a Chinese state entity would go ahead. There is a growing suspicion of Chinese business practices in the West, which has only intensified since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ireland has been very open to investment from China but in places such as Australia and much of Europe, there is growing scrutiny of any big deals involving China.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, Goodbody confirmed the suspicions of many close to the company - the deal was off. "Bank of China has now informed Goodbody that due to the unprecedented global impacts and uncertainty caused by Covid-19 it is not in a position to complete its proposed acquisition of Goodbody at this time," said the company.
Covid may have been a factor but it is understood that the deal was drifting, with no sign of officials in Beijing signing off on it. Goodbody made it clear that it needed a decision and, when that was not forthcoming, it was agreed by both sides that the deal should be halted.
On the June call with staff, Barrett was also asked if a sale to rival Davy may once again be a possibility. Such a deal might seem unsavoury to many in Goodbody, but it must surely be back in the frame.
Sunday Indo Business