The country’s most aggressive acquirer of U.S. registered investment advisers is Canadian and has no intention of slowing its acquisition pace.
Less than a week after notching its 15th deal in as many months, Toronto-based CI Financial announced Monday the acquisition of Brightworth LLC, an Atlanta-based RIA with $4.7 billion in client assets.
Brightworth provides comprehensive investment advisory and financial planning services to high-net-worth individuals, families, business owners, trusts, estates, charitable organizations, pensions, and profit-sharing plans from offices in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The firm also has a niche focus on dental industry professionals.
The deal puts CI’s U.S. assets under management at $55 billion, $30 billion of which has been added this year.
CI chief executive officer Kurt MacAlpine admits to leading an enterprise that is unapologetically invading the U.S. RIA market, but said the strategy is more deliberate than it might appear to casual observers.
“We’re buying, growing and integrating, and we have a very different vision for the wealth management industry,” he said, adding that in addition to all the acquisitions, CI experienced 9% organic growth last year.
“We’re trying to build the leading integrated wealth platform in the United States, period,” he added. “We’re buying great firms and empowering the leaders to continue to grow those firms. Unlike an aggregator model, where people convert to the model of the acquirer, we’re empowering people.”
While CI is part of a $215 billion financial services conglomerate in Canada, it’s move into the U.S. market in January 2020 has been setting the pace for merger and acquisition activity in an already white-hot market.
The Brightworth deal is unique in that it involved buying a firm that was minority-owned by private equity firm Emigrant Partners.
Part of MacAlpine’s pitch to potential RIA sellers is that being part of CI means not having to worry about new owners every few years, which is the typical private equity investor model.
Daniel Seivert, CEO of Echelon Partners, described the deal as good for both Brightworth and Emigrant.
“It allows both firms to achieve a liquidity event for their work together and at the same time gain a new partner for their next leg of growth,” he said. “For CI, the transaction continues their streak of one deal a month for the past 15 months and makes a statement given the transaction size, as CI has made a number of $1 billion-plus transactions and this is yet another one.”
Despite the record-level pace of acquisitions, MacAlpine said he doesn’t have a specific target for the number of deals he plans to make this year. And he said the size of his recent deals doesn’t mean CI is only looking to buy multi-billion-dollar RIAs.
“You could be big or small, because we would absolutely buy a well-run small firm,” he said.
CI has built a model that is designed for expansion into the U.S. market, including listing on the New York Stock Exchange in November and issuing debt to U.S. bondholder in December.
One of the upsides of doing 16 deals in just over a year is that CI is no longer viewed as a foreign concept to the U.S. RIA market, MacAlpine said.
“We had a great year last year, and the next 16 deals will be easier than the first 16 deals because we’re selling a concept now,” he said. “This year people are doing due diligence on what CI Financial is.”
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