Episode 207: M&A Talk with Leading RIA Aggregators and Integrators: David Canter of Bluespring Wealth Partners
Musician, Lawyer, and President of one of the nation’s premier RIA firms, David Canter, is focused on positioning Bluespring Wealth Partners as one of the premiere acquirers in the industry. He is very hands-on with operations, including overseeing day-to-day operations and identifying new areas of opportunity and growth. David has worked himself up the ladder in the space, previously serving as Executive Vice President and Head of the RIA segment for Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions and now serving as President of Bluespring Wealth Partners.
David has worked on many sides of the RIA space, including custody, and now acquiring, but, as most stories go, working in the RIA space wasn’t his life-long passion. Without question, he had his sights set on the entertainment industry. He based his life around going into the entertainment industry – training at one point as an actor – and has a love of music and playing his guitar. Breaking into the entertainment industry is hard; beyond acting as an extra, he found that the work just wasn’t there. He quickly had to realize that there were other avenues he could take to make money, while still keeping the arts as a deeply held passion.
Once he made the decision to focus himself elsewhere, David was drawn to law. The lure of the courtroom was undeniable to David, and he went on to pursue a Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore. He loved the courtroom and trial-work, and currently holds his FNRA Series 24 license and is a California State Bar member.
THE BLUESPRING ATTRACTION
David has been a jack of all trades in the best way possible, but what attracted him to Bluespring Wealth Partners after nearly three decades in the RIA space is simple: He wanted a new challenge. He wanted to find a place that met his self-evaluations for a new challenge after 12+ years at another firm. He found Bluespring’s platform very appealing. That platform is based on:
- Helping people, helping investors specifically
- Welcoming entrepreneurs
- Allowing entrepreneurs to continue to be entrepreneurs
- Doing good with the education and powers they have
For David, Bluespring Wealth Partners wasn’t just a challenge, but a fitting piece to the next chapter in his career. It allows him to be entrepreneurial, but simultaneously intrapreneurial. This balance allows David many freedoms he wouldn’t otherwise have, and a chance to build the company into something new. It is now a 29-firm platform spanning 16 states – and growing. The firm will do 9 acquisitions by the end of 2022, but not just for the sake of acquisitioning. Their acquisition plan is focused on solving the problems of their “partner firms”, as they call their network of firms.
AN INFORMED CHOICE
In the RIA space, there are many choices an investor can make just to get to the starting line. David believes in choice, and not merely having choice, but having informed choice. David understands that Bluespring Wealth Partners isn’t going to be the perfect choice for everyone, however he wants the DealQuest listeners to know what Bluespring does.
Bluespring Wealth Partners can be best described as a practice management consultancy at its core that happens to be in the strategic M&A space. It is the responsibility of practice management consultants to assist offices and firms with improving efficiency within their workplace and in their business operations. That’s the bulk of Bluespring Wealth Partners’ approach: Addressing problems with their acquired “partner firms” and problem-solving efficiency via the network of firms under Bluespring.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
Two of the most commonly used words in the RIA space are “aggregator” and “integrator”. Many firms operate either pure aggregator or pure integrator, however, there are a number of firms that pick elements of either model to formulate their perfect model. There is a reason all these models exist, and that’s simply because no singular model works for every firm, entrepreneur, client, or investor.
Again, choice plays a vital role in decision for the model under which Bluespring operates. The choices David lay out are:
- Choice 1: Do nothing. Keep on moving forward as you always have, and hopefully filling your career.
- Choice 2: De-risk. For example: A firm has a retiring partner, so to pull some capital, they find a minority interest. Not take control, but merely provide some capital.
- Choice 3: Find a pure capital partner. For example: They buy 50%+, and you obtain a capital partner that’s not going to provide other shared services or contributions aside from bulk capital.
- Choice 4: Entrepreneurial model (A.K.A.: aggregation model). Keep your brand and the acquiring company will take at minimum 51% interest in your firm and build a flexible deal structure. By doing this, the focus is preserving the entrepreneurial model and providing various services to help propel your firm forward into growth within the network of acquired firms.
- Choice 5: Subsume into another brand (more commonly known as integration model). You become the larger brand, forgoing your independent brand identity for the growth of the whole institution. The larger firm will guide the smaller acquired firms in their business activities, but the goal of the smaller firms is to continue looking after their clients.
- Choice 6: Internal succession to a G2. David notes that in their initial research for founding Bluespring, they found that founders mostly prefer this route;however, the biggest obstacle is finding the capital. G2s would say they would like to pay out of cash flow, but ultimately, it’s the entrepreneur taking the risk and it’s their cash flow that will fund that transition.
- Choice 7: A combination of all of the above. Choosing the aspects of all the available models to build a Frankenstein model that works best for your goals, your future, and what you want to do with your firm.
These seven choices on how to proceed is what allows a firm to formulate how they’re going to move forward with their M&A deals. Bluespring Wealth Partners primarily functions as Choice 4, the Entrepreneurial Model, while recognizing the benefits of all models, opting to borrow practices from other models to give their entrepreneurs the best of all worlds, and allowing over half of their firms to be standalone RIAs.
- Keep their brand (For example: Capital Planning, A Bluespring Wealth Partner)
- Keep their own ADV
- Keep their client experience
- Bluespring provides capital
- A sister company Kestra Financial wherein some of their firms they’ve bought it on that chasse
THE VALUE BLUESPRING BRINGS
David affirms there are about 90% of opportunities that cross their path that they do not take. Bluespring is very transparent with those opportunities as to why they pass. By being particular in the opportunities they take, Bluespring has built an elite and strong network of firms. Offering immense value to the firms that Bluespring acquires.
One attribute of Bluespring’s consultancy is that even when they pass on an opportunity, they’re offering their consultancy to these firms to help them better grow, irrespective of Bluespring choosing to bring them into their network or not. Bluespring’s consulting really begins long before they even decide to enter into a transaction.
If Bluespring does go forward with a transaction, there’s a lot of due diligence they do by way of taking a consultative approach to how they’re going to do business together, and how they’re going to structure transactions so the right benefits, incentives, and horizons can be found.
Once a firm enters their network, they provide an array of resources to help their community network grow:
- A business consulting group
- Marketing assessments
- Large technology infrastructure
- An M&A team to help with sub-acquisitions
- Access to capital, backed by two private equity firms -- majority-owned by Warburg Pincus, and Oak Hill Capital
- Offering a training program for G2s: The G2 Successor Academy, a simulated 2-year course wherein G2s are educated and trained through guest lecturers, peer study, etc.
CHOOSING WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR SUCCESS
There is a reason why there are so many various models and combinations of models. At the end of the day, choosing your model is about you and your goals. With Bluespring, David ultimately wants to operate as a culture-driven community. Allowing their acquisitions to remain primarily autonomous, while gaining the support of Bluespring and their resources.
There is no one superior model, however each firm will always believe they’ve found the key to making a successful business. That is true in a lot of ways because success is very abstract; they are successful because their model works for them, not because they have the superior model.
Reviewing choices, building a model for their needs and goals, and understanding what opportunities should be taken and those that shouldn’t, are all keys to making Bluespring’s model work successfully. They will be some of the keys to help build your success, as well.
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For my full discussion with David Canter, and more on the topic:
Listen to the Full DealQuest Podcast Episode Here
FOR MORE ON DAVID CANTER AND BLUESPRING WEALTH 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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