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Merit Financial Advisors CEO Rick Kent (left) and President Kay Lynn Mayhue

Merit Buys $542M AUM Viren & Associates

Previously affiliated with Mariner’s independent advisor platform, the Washington state firm brings 401(k), estate planning and insurance talent to Merit.

Merit Financial Advisors, a hybrid RIA affiliated with LPL overseeing $10 billion in client assets, has acquired a $542 million firm previously affiliated with Mariner Independent Advisor Network. 

Viren and Associates was founded in 2004 in Spokane, Wash., and provides financial and estate planning, 401(k) plan management and a range of insurance services for around 750 clients. Co-founder Beth Viren is moving into an informal support role as part of the transition, while her husband and co-founder Paul Viren joins Merit as a partner and wealth manager along with an eight-person team that includes two financial planners, two insurance professionals and four administrative assistants.  

“Paul Viren is particularly skilled at estate planning and has a passion around advanced estate planning strategies,” said Merit President Kay Lynn Mayhue. “We're looking forward to working with him and utilizing that along with our other team members in the financial planning department, and our JD on staff, to extend that knowledge base to our other advisors." 

Mayhue said corporate retirement, estate planning and insurance solutions are all areas of focus for Merit, noting the firm has built up support and technology that will also provide additional efficiencies and services for Viren’s clients. 

The deal creates Merit’s fourth Washington office and its first in the eastern part of the state. 

Founded by CEO Rick Kent in 2007, Merit has now completed 25 acquisitions since selling a minority stake in late 2020 to Wealth Partners Capital Group and HGGC. In that time, the firm has grown from 19 office locations and $4.8 billion in client assets to more than 40 locations and $10 billion in assets, reported at the end of 2023, including $2.7 billion held at LPL.  

In February, Merit debuted a new iteration of its pre-existing 1099 affiliation model for advisors seeking a support platform without a sale. The option had been available but wasn’t an area of focus until recently, according to Kent and Mayhue. They said a number of those firms eventually opted to be acquired, and the affiliation model provides a needed service while having the added benefit of serving as a warming ground for other potential deals.  

“If we can create an atmosphere where they can park for a while and learn from other successful advisors but still stay in control, this will allow them to download those things they don’t want to do anymore,” said Kent. “They can outsource to us, they can control their own time frame, and then they can also consider us as their succession plan when they’re ready to go.” 

“It’s a good way to date before you’re married,” said Mayhue. “We have a dozen or so conversations going on right now. And, in some cases, we quickly end up talking about acquiring and bringing them in as regional directors.” 

Merit’s growth strategy is predicated on finding good leaders and building regional hubs capable of above-average organic growth and inorganic expansion, she explained.  

“We have more than 250 team members now,” she said. “And we’re continuing to raise up leaders to help us manage the business as it grows. We feel confident we’ll be around $14 or $15 billion by the end of the year, and I don't see that kind of growth slowing anytime soon.” 

“The acquisitions and partnerships we’ve been able to establish have created a flywheel and there are a lot more people moving into leadership,” agreed Kent. “And that will give us a springboard into the next 3-5 years.” 

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