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RIA Roundup: Sequoia Financial Group to Add Special Needs Expertise with Affinia

Sequoia Financial Group is adding a team specializing in special needs families, while Wealth Enhancement Group announced its 10th acquisition of the year, a CPA practice has returned to Cetera and Kestra onboarded $1.6 billion in the second quarter. Some top hires and custodian moves were also announced.

Sequoia Financial Group is expected to complete its acquisition of Affinia Financial Group this month, adding around $418 million in client assets and a practice with expertise in serving special needs families.

At the same time, Wealth Enhancement Group has made its 10th acquisition of the year, David Sanford brought his $110 million CPA practice back to Cetera from Securities America, and Kestra Financial announced the addition of 23 financial professionals and more than $1.6 billion in assets during the second quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, Kestra Financial parent company Kestra Holdings has hired a veteran cybersecurity exec to lead those efforts for its portfolio of businesses, StraightLine Group recruited a former TIAA vice president to lead the growth of its retirement plan participant business and CG Financial Services is transitioning assets from TD Ameritrade/Schwab to LPL Financial and Axos Advisor Services.

Sequoia Financial Group to Add Special Needs Expertise with Affinia Acquisition

Sequoia Financial Group, an Akron, Ohio-based RIA with around $15.6 billion in assets under management, agreed to buy Affinia Financial Group in Burlington, Mass. The deal, expected to close this month, will add a team of 10 and about $418 million in client assets to employee-owned and private equity-backed Sequoia.

Led by Managing Partners Cynthia Haddad and John Nadworny, Affinia has a niche serving individuals, families, trusts and estates with special needs concerns—an area in which both Haddad and Nadworny have personal experience.

Haddad is one of about 800 financial services professionals to have earned the Chartered Special Needs Consultant designation, according to The American College of Financial Services. With stringent requirements, the ChSNC is considered “an advanced designation for experienced and dedicated planners,” said Joellen Meckley, executive director of the college’s Center for Special Needs.

“Affinia's work with families who have members with special needs is an important addition to our firm,” Sequoia founder and CEO Tom Haught said in a statement. “It supports Sequoia's 'built for you' strategy, which equips our advisors with the resources they need to have a deep and personal effect on our clients' lives."

“This is one of the most gratifying deals we have ever worked on,” said Peter Nesvold, partner at Republic Capital, which advised Affinia on the deal. “Never has the saying, ‘doing well by doing good,’ felt more appropriate than it does here. The work Affinia does for special needs families is truly invaluable.”

Founded in 1991, Sequoia had done a handful of small acquisitions before selling a minority stake to Kudu Investment Management in July 2020. The following year, the firm completed two deals that added around $4 billion in assets. After taking a beat in 2022, Sequoia announced in the fall that it was selling another piece to Valeas Capital Partners but would remain majority-owned by employees.

Affinia represents Sequoia’s third acquisition in 2023, for a cumulative $5.8 billion in assets acquired this year.

WEG Announces 10th Acquisition of 2023

Wealth Enhancement Group, a Minneapolis-based hybrid RIA with more than $70.8 billion in total client assets, acquired First Capital Advisors Group in its 10th deal of the year.

With locations in Little Silver, N.J. and Blue Bell, Pa., First Capital is led by Managing Partners Jim Hiles and Jeff Schulte. The 10-person team provides wealth, investment, retirement and estate planning services to around 230 individuals, business owners, executives and medical professionals with some $341 in managed assets.

Notably, Schulte was a founding member of eMoney Advisor in 2000 and integral to its eventual acquisition by Fidelity in 2015, according to an announcement.

"In today's wealth management space, being independent is a major advantage but having state-of-the-art resources and a deep bench of experience to draw upon is vital to provide the optimum service for our client,” Hiles said in a statement, saying that joining WEG “will allow us to be extremely competitive in our marketplace.”

Founded in 1997, WEG has become one of the most prolific acquirers in the RIA space after taking on private equity partners TA Associates in 2019, Onex in 2021 and Stone Point Capital this year. In 2023 alone, the firm has added around $4 billion in assets through acquisition.

David Sanford Returns to Cetera Financial Group 

David Sanford, an advisor and CPA with more than $110 million in client assets, has returned to Cetera Financial Group after three years with Securities America. He has joined Cetera’s Financial Specialists broker/dealer, which is focused on the intersection of tax and wealth management. 

Sanford founded his CPA and wealth management practice, Sanford and Associates, in 1997. He used Hochman and Banker Securities for brokerage services for a couple of years before jumping to Cetera in 2002 and affiliating with its RIA in 2005. Sanford left for Securities America in 2020 and his return this year comes on the heels of a massive reorganization undertaken by its parent company Osaic (formerly Advisor Group) that will unify and centralize services across a network of eight subsidiaries, hundreds of practices and more than 10,000 advisors.  

Calling Sanford “a true master in the industry,” Cetera Financial Specialists President Ron Kruger welcomed him back on Tuesday.

Kestra Financial Added $1.6B in Q2

Austin-based Kestra Financial announced this week the addition of 13 practices, including 23 professionals and $1.6 billion in assets, during the second quarter of the year. The announcement follows a first quarter in which the company added 26 professionals and $3 billion in assets.

Three practices joined Kestra’s turnkey business management platform for independent advisors, Kestra Private Wealth Services, during the quarter, including Inspired Wealth Planning, Kaizen Wealth Planning and California Wealth Transitions.

Kestra added a dozen practices to its partnership platform, Kestra Advisory Services, including Templar Financial Services, Black Diamond Financial, and Hill Wealth Management, to name a few.

Kestra Holdings Hires Veteran Tech Exec to Run Cybersecurity

Kestra Holdings, the parent company of Kestra Financial, Bluespring Wealth Partners, Grove Point Financial and Arden Trust Company, has brought in Jean-Luc Dupont as vice president, chief information security officer and head of cybersecurity and technology risk for Kestra and its subsidiaries.

Dupont will report to Kestra Holdings’ Chief Information Officer Nick Harness and “collaborate across departments and teams to define cybersecurity policies, procedures, and tooling, ensure sound development practices, and oversee the maintenance of a secure architecture and robust monitoring protocols,” according to an announcement.

Prior to Kestra, Dupont was a vice president and chief information security officer for American Credit Acceptance for a little over a year, following five years as global head of IT security with IDEMIA.   

“Jean-Luc is a proven expert with global experience fortifying firms’ infrastructure and safeguarding systems,” said Harness.

Dupont will chair Kestra’s cybersecurity governance committee and play a significant role in the company’s “compliance and risk organization,” according to the company. He will also oversee education initiatives for employees and affiliates.  

Kestra Holdings’ companies collectively oversee around $122 billion in advisory, brokerage and trust assets across more than 2,400 independent financial professionals nationwide.

StraightLine Taps Former TIAA Exec to Grow Retirement Plan Business

StraightLine Group, a Troy, Mich.-based RIA managing around $1 billion in assets for some 2,600 clients, hired Rob Rickey to head up the firm’s strategic growth initiatives as chief growth officer.

Prior to joining StraightLine, Rickey spent a quarter century with TIAA, most recently as managing director and head of advisor services, working to bring financial education and advice to retirement plan participants. He began his career as an investment representative and then financial advisor for Dreyfus Service Corporation in the 1990s.

Rickey developed a relationship with StraightLine in 2008, when he helped the firm expand services to higher education sponsored plan participants. He left TIAA a year ago and began working with StraightLine as a strategic consultant in October, joining full-time in July.

In his new role, Rickey will work to continue expanding education, communication and retirement planning outreach to individuals in employer-sponsored plans, according to the firm.

StraightLine offers discretionary investment services and financial planning for individuals and participants of both retail and retirement accounts. The firm has a niche focus on managing held-away retirement accounts and maintains relationships with Schwab, TIAA and Fidelity that grant access to their clients’ retirement plan accounts.

“Access to independent registered investment advisors for holistic advice is a continuation of the advice spectrum that plan sponsors should consider making available to their employees,” Rickey said in a statement. “I look forward to further improving retirement outcomes by ensuring individuals, plans, and plan participants have access to quality advice delivered by a fiduciary advisor.”

Rickey has become the 13th member of the StraightLine team.

CG Financial Services Adds Axos, LPL as Custodians

Michigan-based CG Financial Services, a $2.7 billion RIA platform offering W-2 and 1099 affiliation options, is moving assets from TD Ameritrade/Schwab over to LPL Financial and Axos Advisor Services in a bid to increase custodial options and systems integration.

The firm will keep a small amount of assets with Fidelity, according to CG CEO Tony Mazzali.

“The big thing was the belief in the future strategy that we heard from, not only LPL, but primarily Axos,” Mazzali said. “Them wanting to be supportive to advisors, them wanting to help advisors build their business model, their brand, represent the advisors as their true client, and we see where the industry's going in that respect. As far as our strategic plan, that was the best fit for us.”

Mazzali explained CG has put a lot of time, effort and capital into creating a curated client experience through its technology platform and wants to partner with custodians and technology providers that offer plenty of API connectivity and are willing to work with the firm to keep existing components that are working. The firm has been working toward the multi-custodial model for the last few years, developing internal capabilities to communicate and integrate with multiple providers.   

“Quite frankly, many of what I'll call legacy providers ... haven't necessarily built that bridge to the advisor shops,” said Mazzali. “It makes it almost impossible for us to have those custodial relationships with our internal systems. With some of the other custodians we’re looking at, there’s more of a willingness to recognize that firms like ours have built the infrastructure to communicate directly with them versus, as I mentioned before, having not built their side of the bridge.

“Especially with Axos, they have been willing to talk to us about how we communicate our systems together to preserve our technology footprint to our client,” he said. “That's different because what we're seeing with some firms­—not all—but essentially, they’re trying to provide us their technology backbone, which always doesn't match what we're trying to do for our clients.”

The firm is shifting assets previously held with TD Ameritrade and now at Charles Schwab as a merger between the custodians nears completion on Labor Day weekend.

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