Creative Planning, Mariner Wealth Top Candidates for RIA ‘Mega-merger’: Reports

The top contenders for an imminent “mega-merger” in the registered investment advisor firm space are Creative Planning, Mariner Wealth and Mercer Global Advisors, according to news reports.

Industry executives tell Barron’s that a mega-merger in the industry will likely take place in the next one to three years.

Savant Wealth Management Chief Executive Officer Brent Brodeski, for example, believes it’s “inevitable” that “two of the largest wealth management firms” join forces, the publication writes.

“Right now, there is so much private equity available, dozens of consolidators have arisen. But someday, those PE owners will seek to grow faster and/or exit, and want faster scale, and that will lead to a major deal,” he told Barron’s.

A mega-merger would address concerns about scale and reach and would solve “some succession planning for firms like Creative Planning or Mariner,” said Karl Heckenberg, the former CEO of Emigrant Partners and Fiduciary Network and a “veteran deal maker,” according to the publication.

Creative Planning and Mariner, both based in Overland Park, Kansas, were the two firms most mentioned by the executives Barron’s asked about contenders for such a merger.

Creative Planning has more than $130 billion in assets under management and Mariner has around $66 billion, according to the most recent forms filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Barron’s reports.

Both firms have also been on a decade-long acquisitions spree, according to the publication.

“The size and profile are a good fit. It’s not a pipe dream. I could absolutely see it happening,” said Jay Hummel, a partner at Wealth Advisor Growth Network who is also based in Overland Park, according to Barron’s.

The CEOs of Creative Planning and Mariner indicate that they’re open to a merger, but neither seems willing to play second fiddle to the other, according to the publication.

“We’re interested in being the leading national wealth management firm,” Creative Planning CEO Peter Mallouk said, according to Barron’s.

“The number of firms that would be a fit [for a mega-merger] is very, very small, but if the opportunity presents itself, we’d be very interested,” he added, according to the publication.

Mallouk also said that his firm is “the only RIA that could acquire [another very large firm] without additional funds,” according to Barron’s.

Mallouk added that “everything’s on the table all the time,” according to the publication.

Mariner CEO Marty Bicknell, on the other hand, said that his firm continues acquiring other firms and will consider “all opportunities,” but also that “nothing is on the table at the moment,” according to Barron’s.

Bicknell added that “the rewards could be out of sight,” given reasonable debt and a successful integration, according to the publication.

At the same time, the CEO said he “can’t envision” his firm being on “the receiving end” of a mega-merger, according to Barron’s.

“We would want to position ourselves as the buyer and operator,” Bicknell said, according to the publication.

Mercer, which has made 80 acquisitions over the past eight years, is also frequently mentioned as another possible candidate for a large merger, according to Barron’s.

Dave Barton, the firm’s vice chair and head of M&A said that joining forces with another massive RIA “is not out of the question” but also not anything pressing, as he doesn’t believe the firm has “a true peer,” according to the publication.