M&A Talk with Leading RIA Aggregators and Integrators: Stan Gregor of Summit Financial
Stan Gregor, CEO of Summit Financial, is a seasoned business leader with over 30 years of experience in various industries such as banking, wealth management, insurance, and investment banking. Throughout his career, Stan has been involved in the acquisition and integration of large and complex businesses in these industries and has a history of improving their performance, profitability, and returns for shareholders.
A UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
The independent advisor industry has undergone significant changes in recent years, with many options available for advisors seeking a firm that caters to their specific needs. With Summit Financial, Stan recognized this evolution and adapted his business strategy to stand out among other firms, while remaining current with the evolution of the industry.
Stan describes Summit's approach as one that combines independence, but with support. Advisors are given the autonomy to operate their own businesses, providing their clients with the level of service they desire, but they also have access to a team of support to assist them in their day-to-day operations. Moreover, Summit's partnership model is distinctive, with partners coming together on a regular basis to share their experiences and act as advisory committees to one another. This culture of collaboration is what sets Summit apart from other firms, and is a valuable benefit for advisors who have been with the firm for an extended period of time.
SUMMIT FINANCIAL: AGGREGATOR? INTEGRATOR?
In the RIA industry, there are two main business models: The aggregator model and the integrator model. The aggregator model is where a company acquires smaller businesses, but operates them separately and only focuses on generating profit and revenue without integrating them into the larger company. In contrast, the integrator model emphasizes on equipping advisors with the necessary tools and resources to work independently, while still having access to the regulatory compliance and technology infrastructure of the larger parent company. Many firms will operate as a hybrid, opting to pick the parts of both models to create an amalgamation that suits their firm’s needs.
Summit Financial would fall under the full integrator model, where they simplify the things that advisors don't want to do, such as having their own ADV, or dealing with technology and compliance. Summit Financial also provides:
- An investment team
- Insurance agency
- Servicing arm to take non-client-facing tasks off the advisor's plate, while still allowing them to use their own brand
The culture of the company is one of collaboration and partnership, and Stan firmly believes that if Summit Financial is not adding value to an advisor's business, the advisor should leave.
I appreciate the honesty in this approach, as often in business, the focus can become overly superficial, emphasizing solely on financial figures without considering how the team functions together as a cohesive unit. I agree that a positive company culture is vital, and making sure that everyone is content – so they can excel – should be a top priority.
FLEXIBILITY & COMPANY CULTURE
One of the key components to ensuring Summit Financial stands out from other firms is their approach to flexibility. Stan highlights that the company's business model is distinctive and adaptive, allowing firms to maintain their own branding, and for employees to come and go as they please. This approach allows for a more personalized experience for both firms and employees, as they have the ability to shape and adapt the company to their specific needs.
This approach contrasts greatly with other, larger companies that often make 100% acquisitions, absorbing all aspects of the acquired businesses. This method of acquisition often results in the loss of the acquired company's identity and culture, as they are absorbed into the larger company's system.
SUPPORTING GENERATIONAL GROWTH
There are a myriad of unique challenges and opportunities that arise when working with second (G2) and third (G3) generation business owners. Stan acknowledges that these individuals may have different goals and interests, with some looking to cash out sooner, while others are more interested in growth opportunities.
One of the ways that Summit addresses these challenges is through their business model of only buying a minority stake in a business. This allows G2 and G3 members to continue to run and grow the business, while still having the support and resources provided by Summit. Additionally, Summit has experience working with G2 members who are loyal to the business but may not have the means to take over the business on their own. In these cases, Summit will make an investment in the seller and also provide financing for the G2 member, allowing them to acquire the business without incurring a significant amount of debt.
Summit's primary focus is on helping G2 and G3 members grow their businesses organically. Stan explains that they don't aim to make money in the financing aspect of the deal and that their model is designed to be simple and fair. Stan is fervent in his disdain for the "nickel and dime" mentality that is prevalent in the industry, citing that Summit's approach is meant to be more transparent and beneficial for all parties involved.
THE SUMMIT FUNDING STRATEGY
All firms, regardless of their model, whether it be a full integrator, a full aggregator, or a hybrid, have their own unique funding strategies. Stan explains that all financing for Summit derives from the personal capital of its partners and that the company does not have any private equity or loans from banks. For larger transactions, Summit will utilize the services of Merchant Capital, of which he is a shareholder.
It is crucial that a firm is financially smart. Stan believes that the most intelligent way to run Summit is by:
- Limiting its funding to not include private equity
- Limiting its funding to not include loans from banks
- Keeping a healthy amount of cash on hand
- Avoiding taking excessive risks
This strategy has proven to be effective as Summit has been in business for 40 years, which Stan opines could only be achieved by being financially savvy.
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For my full discussion with Stan Gregor, and more on the topic:
Listen to the Full DealQuest Podcast Episode Here
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FOR MORE ON STAN GREGOR & SUMMIT FINANCIAL:
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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