M&A Talk with Leading RIA Aggregators and Integrators: Claire O’Keefe of Cerity Partners
Claire O'Keefe has an impressive resume in the wealth management industry. As Partner and the Head of Partner Development in Cerity Partners’ Chicago office, she also serves as a member of the company’s Executive Committee. Prior to her roles at Cerity Partners, Claire held leadership positions at two wealth management firms, where she was responsible for:
- Strategic planning
- Client Development
- Advisory services to affluent individuals, business owners, executives, and nonprofit organizations.
Claire is a strong advocate for philanthropy and has served on the Henry Viscardi School Board of Trustees, as well as being involved with other charitable organizations.
A PHILOSOPHY TO DOING MERGERS
Cerity Partners view themselves as a partner and not an aggregator and believe in bringing together like-minded professionals to benefit clients and colleagues. Their vision is to build a global professional services firm for wealth management, both for high-net-worth clients and workplace wealth management for executives.
When considering potential new partners, they look for key areas of alignment, including:
- Target clientele
- Value proposition
- Business model
BUILDING A NATIONAL FOOTPRINT
In order to build a national footprint and brand recognition, the distinction of integrator or aggregator is important in terms of their growth, exit, and funding strategy. Cerity Partners is an integrated firm, meaning they have:
- One brand
- One technology stack
- Equal payroll and benefits for all colleagues
They use this model in order to build a national footprint and brand recognition. They integrate technology, data, and operations when they acquire other firms, but they do not force or accelerate integration, prioritizing a consistent client and colleague experience. The assimilation of colleagues is a day-one priority, while technology integration can take longer as they make sure to map data and user requirements.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A VISION, MISSION, AND VALUE PROPOSITION
Part of building recognition for your firm is having a vision, a mission, and a value proposition:
- Vision: Setting your vision is effectively the blueprint for how you want your firm to approach business and allows for you to set a clear mission.
- Mission: By having a solid mission, your firm and clients are aware of what you can do for their business, and exactly how you will achieve that for them.
- Value Proposition: This is arguably the most important aspect to set in order to attract clients. Value proposition offers customers what distinguishes you from competitors.
With over 800 colleagues and serving about 15,000 clients across 20 markets, Cerity Partners manages about $65 billion in assets. While these are impressive numbers, Cerity Partners prioritizes forming relationships with exceptional people over the number of deals it has completed. This aligns with their vision, mission, and value proposition.
All of this combined allows Cerity Partners to be very attractive to specifically G2 advisors.
FACING A MARKET DOWNTURN
I’ve said many times, market fluctuations are one of the truths in business. We’ve discussed in the past how it’s important to not rely solely on the market or the news cycle to dictate your deals. (For more: listen to Episode 220, “The Art of Balancing Market Conditions and Client Motivations in Deals.”)
For Cerity Partners, Claire emphasizes that they are looking for a full merger, and not partial investments. They are flexible on the mix of cash and equity in the deal, and they allow partners to take equity as part of the merger. They are transparent with the valuation structure and consider expenses that would be eliminated after the merger to increase the EBITDA and apply a multiple to it. They believe in the growth opportunity of coming together.
Despite the market downturn, their firm's interest continues to be at an all-time high because of this approach to mergers. Cerity Partners continues to invest in the resources and infrastructure required to optimize their pillars and is agile in experimenting and changing things to continue growth.
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For my full discussion with Claire O’Keefe, and more on the topic:
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FOR MORE ON CLAIRE O’KEEFE AND CERITY PARTNERS:
Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator, and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author, and professional speaker. He is deeply passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.
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