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Clearstead Advisors Picks Up $5B Virginia Firm

The acquisition of Wilbanks Smith and Thomas in Norfolk, Va., brings Clearstead to $20 billion under management.

Clearstead Advisors, a Cleveland-based RIA providing wealth and investment management for more than 1,100 private clients and 245 institutions, has reached $20 billion in managed assets with the acquisition of Wilbanks Smith and Thomas Asset Management (WST) in Virginia. 

WST was founded in 1990 by Wayne Wilbanks, who will continue to lead the regional division, and includes a team of 45 managing $5 billion in client assets for individual households, institutions and other financial services firms.  

The deal, which closed Monday, brings Clearstead to approximately $44 billion in client assets, including $20 billion under management. WST will rebrand as Clearstead Advisory Solutions, a division of Clearstead Advisors, serving clients from offices in Norfolk and Roanoke, Va., as well as Raleigh, N.C. Six WST partners are joining Clearstead as shareholders, bringing its employee-owner count to 65. 

“We are philosophically similar to Clearstead in our client approach and a strong complement geographically, given our presence in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states,” Wilbanks said in an announcement Monday. “Most importantly, our clients will benefit from Clearstead’s family office planning capabilities, alternative investments platform, in-house research, and wealth management capabilities.” 

The acquisition represents Clearstead’s largest yet. Founded in 1989, Clearstead was overseeing about $29 billion in assets when private equity investor Flexpoint Ford bought a 60% stake in 2021. The firm has since added a New Mexico trust company, its second trust acquisition, and completed a handful of other acquisitions. According to CEO Dave Fulton, Clearstead is pursuing a deliberate and measured approach to inorganic growth. 

"Our growth strategy is two-pronged," he said. "The first, of course, is organic growth and we emphasize that. Secondly, we are looking for culturally compatible acquisitions, and we do that from time to time."

Fulton said this latest deal, which was the only one in the pipeline for early 2023, "launches us into the top the ranks of leading financial advisory firms. We're extremely excited about that and the geographies work, their capabilities help us, and our capabilities compliment what they're doing. So, this was just a terrific opportunity for both of us."

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