How pandemic aided CI’s acquisition drive

Taking advantage of digital shift, CEO says technology has enabled him to be more time efficient with negotiations

How pandemic aided CI’s acquisition drive

Remote working and lack of travel were necessary restrictions given the horrors of COVID-19. From a pure business perspective, however, it's allowed one CEO to hone in on his firm’s ambitious growth plans.

In the first part of his interview with WP, CI Financial head Kurt MacAlpine reflected on the reasons and drivers behind its aggressive acquisition programme, which has included four deals in Canada and 13 RIAs in the U.S.

CI has taken its AUM from $176 billion to $231 billion over a 16-month period, while its RIA business south of the border went from zero to $22 billion in just nine months.

The majority of these negotiations have taken place during the pandemic and although the circumstances have been desperate for many, something the CEO lamented, the reliance on technology has sped up a number of these deals.

MacAlpine believes the wealth management industry has done better than most in terms of pivoting to tech. He insisted it hasn’t ushered in any new trends but that the circumstances have crammed 15 years of change into a 16-week period.

He said: “From my perspective, we've very quickly been able to take advantage of the shift. [It’s meant] less travel and more remote meetings, but because the reliance on travel has slowed, you're just able to do more things in your day.

“The amount of time you spend, essentially, at dinners and lunches and other types of things, is replaced by meetings. The capacity you have to focus on M&A is actually increased.

“The nature and type of M&A is different because a lot of it's done remotely but if you're being efficient with the time, it’s a pretty unique opportunity for people to take advantage of, despite the unfortunate circumstance, to really get a lot more done. That’s been evidenced through our volume.”

MacAlpine and CI’s ambitions are clear – to become the most modernized asset manager and wealth management platform in both Canada and the U.S. Happy with the progress made so far, he told WP there remains much work to do to hit that target and that there is an ambitious agenda in place for 2021.

There are many criteria used to highlight potential acquisitions but MacAlpine stressed that to achieve the firm’s objective, he needs to be acquiring “very high quality”, well run operations with exceptional management.

“Probably the most impressive part of [our growth] is the quality of firms that have chosen to partner with CI over, essentially, a limitless pool of alternatives,” he said.  “To me, the most flattering thing when I look at the portfolio of businesses we have acquired is the quality of the people who work there.”