After making several acquisitions, revamping the wealth and asset management businesses, and focusing on North America’s wealthiest clients, CI Financial Corp. CEO Kurt MacAlpine says he’s still in the early days of implementing the firm’s new strategy.
CI will continue to look for acquisitions and invest in product innovation in 2022, he said, while not straying from its strategic principles.
MacAlpine said CI now offers services beyond the traditional wealth management space and can therefore materially improve its clients’ financial lives. “I think there are more opportunities for us to do so in the high- and ultra-high-net-worth space,” he said.
After taking over in September 2019, MacAlpine outlined a strategy of modernizing CI’s asset management business; expanding its wealth management platforms; and globalization, looking to turn around a firm beset by net fund redemptions and a lack of focus.
As of the third quarter of 2021, CI’s wealth management assets stood at more than $200 billion, about $50 billion more than its asset management business, historically the firm’s biggest business line. Net redemptions turned into net flows last year.
MacAlpine wouldn’t say whether CI will maintain its accelerated pace of acquisitions in the U.S. Last year the firm acquired 15 registered investment advisors (RIAs), growing its U.S. assets from US$23 billion to approximately US$115 billion.
Today, CI’s U.S. wealth management business represents the firm’s largest business, exceeding core asset management and Canadian wealth management.
MacAlpine also didn’t provide a target in terms of total assets CI is looking to acquire.
“If 2022 was just as busy as 2021, I’d be thrilled,” MacAlpine said. “If 2022 was a fraction as busy as 2021, I’d be just as thrilled, because we’re not compromising on quality.”
CI’s goal is to have the “leading high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth wealth management platform” in the U.S., he said.
Scott Chan, director of research for financials with Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. in Toronto, believes CI will remain active in the acquisition market, but not at the same pace. “My view is that the [RIA] consolidation is going to slow down, especially with the [equities market] volatility that we’re seeing and the number of deals CI has already closed.”
RIA valuation multiples remain high, Chan said.
CI has released few metrics related to its U.S. acquisitions so far, but Chan suggested CI faces at least a short-term risk of having overpaid for RIAs. “Transaction multiples did increase across the board, so CI would have probably participated in higher transaction multiples last year than the year before,” he said.
Daniel Gonzalez, research analyst and consultant with California-based Javelin Strategy & Research in Toronto, agreed: “The risk for CI is paying the highest valuation in every market and then the market drops by 10%, 20% or 30%.”
However, Gonzalez said CI’s U.S. long-term strategy remains sound as the firm is positioning to take advantage of an expected wealth transfer: “Ultimately, this is a good way to increase [assets under management (AUM)], while diversifying the business model for CI.”
MacAlpine said he also sees opportunity for CI’s U.S. wealth platform to work more closely with the Canadian wealth business, particularly when providing coordinated cross-border advice and services.
“The Canadian advisor is overseeing [a client’s] Canadian assets, and the U.S. advisor is overseeing U.S. assets, and you’re collectively working together,” MacAlpine said. “Through that shared approach to planning, we see and share and incorporate best practices overall, so I think it’s just made us better.”
MacAlpine said he’s just as interested in acquiring “high-quality, dynamic, well-run” Canadian wealth firms as he is those in the U.S. However, he doesn’t anticipate CI will make as many deals in Canada.
“In the U.S., you have a highly fragmented RIA marketplace with thousands of RIAs,” MacAlpine said. “In Canada, you have a concentrated market dominated by a handful of large financial services firms.”
Nonetheless, CI announced on Jan. 11 that it had struck a deal for Toronto-based Northwood Family Office, a multi-family office firm with $2.2 billion in AUM serving ultra-wealthy clients. Northwood will be added to the firm’s CI Private Wealth platform.
The deal for Northwood represents CI’s first acquisition of a Canadian wealth management firm since it took a majority stake in Aligned Capital Partners in August 2020.
After completing the transaction for Aligned late that year, the focus shifted in 2021 to incorporating the firm into CI’s broader Canadian wealth business alongside CI Assante Wealth Management, MacAlpine said. Both Christopher Enright, president and managing director of Aligned, and Sean Etherington, president of CI Assante, sit on CI’s Canadian wealth management committee.
“The [Aligned and Assante] businesses themselves are growing very, very nicely — independently,” MacAlpine said. “Over time, you’re going to see us sharing more knowledge, resources, support. We’re going to be tapping into the collective scale of Assante and of Aligned in a way we haven’t been able to.”
One way to take advantage of CI’s increased scale is by leveraging its distribution networks to market its products.
In the second quarter of 2021, CI finally broke its stubborn multi-year streak of net redemptions, posting $356 million in net asset management flows compared to $1.9 billion in net redemptions a year earlier. In the third quarter of 2021, CI’s net flows rose to $821 million, compared to $2 billion in net redemptions in the third quarter of 2020.
However, a banner year for the Canadian fund industry “was probably the main contributor to CI returning to positive net sales,” Chan said. In 2021, Canadian mutual fund net sales were $111.8 billion, as of Nov. 30, compared to $23.6 billion in the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, ETF sales were $53 billion as of Nov. 30, compared to $37.6 billion.
Nevertheless, Chan also credits CI’s asset management turnaround to changes the firm made to the business since MacAlpine took the reins, including consolidating its myriad fund families under one CI brand umbrella and the addition of investment management capabilities.
“Kurt has done a really good job at setting up partnerships [with third-party managers], specifically on the alternative [asset management] side,” Chan said.
In November, CI announced it had taken a minority stake in Ohio-based GLAS Funds LLC, an alternative investment platform and alternative asset management firm, with a long-term option to take majority ownership. “GLAS essentially allows us to seamlessly offer alternatives to our high- and ultra-high-net-worth clients,” MacAlpine said.
MacAlpine attributes the fund sales turnaround to a combination of factors, including incorporating data and analytics into the sales and marketing process; introducing new products in categories such as cryptocurrency and environmental, social and governance (ESG) to meet evolving client demand; adding talent in-house, including hiring Marc-André Lewis as the firm’s first-ever head of investment management in September; and improving fund performance. According to CI, as of Sept. 30, 67% of its mutual fund assets were outperforming peer averages on a three-year basis, compared to 39% in 2020.
CI’s consolidation of fund names under the CI brand may have given the firm an opportunity to re-introduce itself to advisors who had given up over the years on the firm’s legacy fund families, said Dan Hallett, vice-president and principal with Oakville, Ont.-based HighView Financial Group.
“If the results aren’t there, that’s going to put people off,” Hallett said. “When you start to take some action to remedy a situation, you can gain confidence back among advisors, and that’s what translates into sales.”
MacAlpine said that CI remains in the “first inning” of implementing its asset management strategy, with plans to be “first to market and pushing new innovation” in alternatives, fixed income, ESG, cryptocurrency and other thematic products.
“If there’s a demand for clients that need it, if we can solve that particular demand and do it in a more seamless way that’s linked to the advice they’re receiving, to me that’s a great outcome,” MacAlpine said.