Savant Capital Management, the Rockford, Ill., financial advisory giant that has seen rapid growth in the last few years by switching from organic growth to acquisitions, has made what some might see as a left turn, purchasing a Chicago-area accounting firm serving mainly doctors and dentists.
Savant is buying Green, Plagge & Shaw in St. Charles, Ill., and bringing on principals Chris Plagge and Rene Shaw. GPS, as it’s known, will bring with it a clientele of 130 medical and dental practices. (Savant is also known for its large clientele of doctors.) Savant had $4.2 billion in assets at the end of 2014.
“I think this transaction is pretty unique in our industry,” says Brent Brodeski, who joined Savant founder Thomas Muldowney in 1993, when the two started off in a bungalow house in a residential neighborhood. “It is pretty common for CPA firms to try to get in the RIA business. However, when they do so, investments and planning are typically an afterthought and a sidecar part of their business.”
About 15 years ago, Savant started a “Mayo Clinic” type approach, using teams of specialists and experts to attend to each client rather than one “doctor.” "Purchasing a highly regarded Chicago area tax and accounting firm allows us to add deep tax expertise to better advise our clients and add value to our client relationships that goes well beyond investments,” Brodeski says. The accounting, tax and payroll service allows the firm to expand its holistic approach to wealth management and corporate retirement plans, he says.
The two firms got familiar with each other through shared clients.
Plagge and Shaw said this in a press release: “Having seen Savant at work and having done extensive review and due diligence, we decided that this was the right fit, at the right time.”
The two firms’ work with doctors will allow Savant to differentiate itself, Brodeski says. GPS also brings along accounting and payroll expertise for family office and qualified plan clients.
The deal might look strange to some, since accounting firms are often seen as lower-margin businesses and often more labor intensive (many RIAs are often seen doing a reverse migration out of such work). It might especially seem to cramp the style of Savant, which, after its assimilation of several other firms, including the Monitor Group in 2012, boasted last year that it had margins of almost 40%. (See Financial Advisor’s cover story for September 2014, "Checking Egos At The Door.") But Brodeski says that GPS’s margins are better because of its specialty focus, and furthermore, diversified revenue streams are just what the doctor is ordering in this age of wildly oscillating markets.
“As it pertains to growth, while accounting firms are traditionally known to have smaller margins than RIAs,” he says, “specialized accounting firms like GPS benefit from higher margins. In addition, they provide a revenue stream that is not correlated with stock market cycles. This is a nice complement to RIAs that have far more volatile earnings based on the financial markets.
“Finally,” he says, “all accounting and tax firms are not created equally. We were attracted to GPS because their culture was very compatible with Savant and because they focus on more highly compensated professionals (physicians, dentists and law practices).”