City Wire, Exclusive: $750m team launches RIA backed by ex-Envestnet execs, March 20, 2020

Merchant Investment Management and Wealth Advisor Growth Network are backing Chris Freimuth’s Elk River Wealth Management.

Wealth Advisor Growth Network (WAGN) has launched its first-ever RIA.

The fledgling RIA consultancy is backing Elk River Wealth Management, a new Denver and Phoenix-based firm which launched late Friday.

Elk River is helmed by chief executive Chris Freimuth (pictured), a former BOK Financial managing director. Freimuth is joined by ex-BOK advisor Rita Koch Day ( who is coming out of retirement to join the firm ) and Brooks Merrifield, who merged his existing independent RIA, Merrifield & Company, into Elk River.

The team managed a combined $750m in assets at their most recent destinations.

Former Envestnet executives Jay Hummel and John Phoenix launched Denver-based WAGN in September of 2019. Hummel was formerly the tech firm’s head of strategic initiatives; Phoenix its head of institutional sales. The company is backed by Merchant Investment Management, a serial investor in RIAs and RIA-adjacent businesses.

Elk River is the first RIA that WAGN has launched, but Hummel does not intend for it be the last.

“We’re really, really excited,” Hummel said. “This is hopefully one of many and we think it’s a great example of what we’ve built.”

Merchant Investment Management and WAGN will split a minority stake in Elk River Wealth Management, though Hummel declined to comment on the specific size of the firms’ stakes. Elk River Wealth Management will also use the services of other Merchant-backed companies in the RIA ecosystem, such as outsourced CFO and accounting firm Compass CFO Solutions.

Hummel will help manage Elk River’s relationships with outsourced vendors, while Phoenix will aid the firm’s marketing and advisor recruiting efforts.

Phoenix and Freimuth have deep ties. Phoenix was formerly a partner at Alexander Capital Management Group, which merged with CoBiz Inc. in 2003. Freimuth spent 15 years at Alexander Capital Management Group before the sale and remained with the firm under the CoBiz Wealth brand name through its 2018 acquisition by BOK Financial.

“John Phoenix has worked with Chris, he’s worked with Rita,” Hummel said. “In a sense, it’s putting the band back together.”

Freimuth is launching his RIA at a time when the industry is facing an uncertain few months due to the coronavirus pandemic’s roiling effect on markets and the economy. As launch day approached, both Phoenix and Hummel had a chance to reflect on their time at Envestnet and that company’s founding story.

Envestnet’s founder, the late Jud Bergman, started the company amidst the dot-com bubble in 1999, which meant that its formative years were spent in especially tough market conditions for tech companies.

“We’ve joked this week we’ll have effectively the same story with this [launch],” Phoenix said.