Mississauga, Ont.-based Knowledge First Financial has entered into a binding agreement to acquire Toronto-based Heritage Education Funds. The transaction creates a major RESP provider in Canada with approximately $6.2 billion in assets under management, the firms announced Wednesday.

Both the not-for-profit foundation Knowledge First and the privately held Heritage have more than 50 years of experience helping Canadians save for post-secondary education via RESPs. Together, the firms wish to achieve the common goal of helping Canadians prepare for the rising cost of education.

“We believe the combined size and scale of these two organizations will enable us to meet a growing need for RESP specialists who are dedicated to helping families maximize their education savings,” says George Hopkinson, president and CEO of Knowledge First Financial, in a statement. “RESPs make a huge difference to Canadian students and this is our single focus.”

Adds Scott McIndless, board chairman of Heritage Education Funds, in a statement: “Only 50% of Canadians have an RESP and the majority of those families do not save enough to benefit fully from the government grants that an RESP provides. A strong national presence is an important strategy to raise awareness of the benefits of an RESP.”

In the past, Knowledge First Financial was known for selling group plans, but the firm took a new direction in 2012 with the introduction of the First Flex individual plan.

The Flex First RESP is a flexible dollar-based investment that provides an individual versus pooled approach for education assistance payments.

The firms hope that with their combined efforts they can expand the distribution of the First Flex RESP across Canada with a sales force of more than 1,600 licensed representatives.

The Heritage Plans will still be distributed and managed as they typically have been. The combined businesses will operate under the name Knowledge First Financial Inc., and the firm will continue to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Knowledge First Foundation.

George Hopkinson will remain president and CEO and will oversee the integration of the two businesses. Jason Maguire, the current president and CEO of Heritage, will join Knowledge First as managing director and assist in the integration.

The acquisition, which closed Jan 2., is not expected to have an impact on subscribers or beneficiaries to either the Heritage Plans or Knowledge First Plans.