Saskatoon-based Sentinel Financial Group has been acquired by a Calgary-based holding company that plans to expand Sentinel aggressively, the companies announced on Monday.

Connect Financial Services, a holding company representing the purchasers Kang Family Assets Ltd., has acquired Sentinel through a share acquisition. Connect Financial plans to maintain the Sentinel brand, as well as the head office in Saskatoon.

“I have had many, many opportunities to sell Sentinel Financial Group over the past 10 years, but I never could find the perfect fit as to what I wanted,” says Merlin Chouinard, Sentinel’s president and owner, in an interview with Investment Executive.

Specifically, Chouinard says he wanted to ensure that the firm’s staff would be looked after and that the acquiring firm would keep the Sentinel brand in tact. “This particular sale was perfect for that.”

Sentinel is made up of three companies: Sentinel Life Management Corp., an insurance brokerage incorporated in 1981; Sentinel Financial Management Corp., a mutual fund dealership established in 1995; and Sentinel Mortgage Corp., which was established in 2001.

Sentinel is licenced in life insurance in all provinces west of Quebec and is licenced in mutual funds in all provinces west of Ontario. The company has 290 independent advisors.

The deal marks the first acquisition for Connect Financial, which has a mandate of conducting strategic acquisitions. The company plans to grow the Sentinel business both organically and through other acquisitions, says Fredric Wing, chief operating officer of Connect Financial and newly appointed CEO of Sentinel.

“We’re going to maintain the brand Sentinel Financial Group and all the three companies, and we’re not changing the head office or the staff or the focus,” Wing says. “Any other organizations that are appropriate to acquire or partner with, we will then merge that under Sentinel.”

The company will focus its growth efforts initially in the Prairies, where Sentinel’s operations are currently concentrated, followed by growth in Ontario and British Columbia.

Finding an acquisition partner committed to growth was crucial for Sentinel, Chouinard says.

“Critical mass is becoming desperately important in our industry, especially on the mutual fund side,” he says. “Unless you have $1 billion in assets under management, you’re not going to survive as a dealership — not with the regulatory oversight and costs.”

Sentinel is aiming to add 250 advisors in the next three years and it expects to hire between five and seven staff members to the head office to support those growth plans.

Chouinard plans to stay on board as president for three years, to assist with the transition. He has been in the financial services sector for 47 years and has been actively involved in the industry through various associations, including having served as president of Independent Financial Brokers of Canada.

Wing has worked at senior levels with insurance and financial services companies across Canada, including Maritime Life Assurance Co. and Mississauga, Ont.-based IDC Worldsource Insurance Network Inc.

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