In the first day of July 2017, I was excited to announce that McGill Advisors Inc. had become a division of our Atlanta-based firm Brightworth. McGill Advisors was a well-known Charlotte, N.C.-based independent registered investment advisory, one primarily serving the dental industry nationally. The transaction nearly doubled Brightworth’s number of clients to more than 1,200 and doubled assets under management to more than $3 billion while further expanding our footprint in the Southeastern United States.

The process leading up to this announcement was complex, testing both parties’ resolve, but it also helped us grow stronger as an organization. As merger and acquisition activity increases, I believe our experience offers lessons to other wealth management firms, including those advising their small and medium-size business clients considering similar steps.

Deciding We Were Ready

When I first announced to staff we were pursuing a significant acquisition, I was asked a direct question: “What makes us [meaning you!] think we are ready to do this?”

It was a fair question. But I have been involved in two mergers over my career and led a few small acquisitions, so I felt our leadership team was ready for the commitment the deal would require. Brightworth had recently purchased a retiring practitioner’s book and rolled in a team of advisors from another RIA.

But it was also true that these experiences, while valuable, paled in comparison to this new challenge.

Our strategic financial partner, the Fiduciary Network, provides us with the necessary capital for mergers and acquisitions. We are also 10 years into a formal succession plan, and our next-generation partners now own more than 50% of our firm. We have been dedicated to building our firm through both organic and inorganic growth, and our M&A strategy means seeking firms with the following qualities:

1. Strategic location: We want to move into areas with advantageous demographics, the right distance from our Atlanta location, with the right population growth rates, per capita millionaires and advisor density.

2. Strategic talent: The firms we look at should not only have good leaders in place but leaders in place to succeed them, because our professional staff is not large enough that we can ask individuals to relocate after an acquisition.

3. Strategic market segments: We want the firms we look at to be able to add new business segments not yet served by Brightworth. That immediately gives us expertise in more than one office.

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