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Merchant bolsters RIA reach with Matt Brinker hire

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Matt Brinker, the M&A mastermind who supervised 90 deals in his 13 years as a top executive at United Capital Partners, has joined Merchant Investment Management as a managing partner.

The move strengthens the New York-based holding company’s already formidable executive lineup and underscores the company’s bid to become a major player in the RIA M&A market.

Merchant brass already boasts alumni from Goldman Sachs (executive chairman Marc Spilker), Dynasty Financial Partners (managing partner Tim Bello and CFO Amit Grover) and Envestnet (Wealth Advisor Growth Network partners Jay Hummel and John Phoenix).

The firm owns minority stakes in 16 RIAs and an additional nine firms in advisory-related businesses including lending, outsourced finance and accounting services, practice management consulting and transitioning breakaway brokers.

Merchant has “an impressive team and strong momentum,” says David DeVoe, managing partner of RIA M&A specialists DeVoe & Co, and Bello says the firm views onboarding Brinker as an opportunity to boost the expansion of its advisory businesses.

After 13 years as top deal maker at United Capital, Matt Brinker is joining Merchant Investment Management as a managing partner.

“We’re very confident in the ability of our current investments to become enterprises and to expand the number of our partners,” Bello says. “We’re not pivoting from our business strategy but adding to our touch in the market and strengthening our team with Matt.”

For Brinker’s part, he envisions an eventual RIA market consisting of approximately 10 to 15 national wealth management firms — and he aims to see that Merchant has investments in about half the firms that achieve that status.

Acquisitions, tuck-ins and post-deal integration will all be part of his mandate. “Integrating for scale is just as important as the next three to seven deals,” Brinker says.

Merchant wants to invest in RIAs at a fair entry point.
Tim Bello, managing partner, Merchant Investment Management

As for today’s dealmaking landscape, Brinker and Bello say they are not daunted by the current seller’s market for RIAs or by the intense competition from well-capitalized strategic and financial buyers — one’s often backed by private equity.

Bello says Merchant is looking to invest, “at a fair entry point,” in firms that have a long-term time horizon and that want to grow and share a similar business philosophy.

According to Brinker, who left United last summer, shortly after the company was sold to Goldman Sachs for $750 million, Merchant can afford to be patient in a frothy market and “doesn’t have to be the highest bidder” to win deals.

Brinker’s track record should serve Merchant well, according to industry executives.

“Matt Brinker was the face of M&A at United Capital and the glue that made it all work,” says Matt Cooper, president of Beacon Pointe Wealth Advisors, who knew Brinker both as a competitor and a corporate neighbor in Newport Beach, California.

“And Merchant’s lending business means Matt will be able to be more creative while investing or solving capital-related issues for RIA,” Cooper adds.

DeVoe points out that Brinker, who will be based out of Newport Beach, “not only has an intimate understanding of RIA M&A, but also has the unique experience of being part of a private-equity backed organization — and has seen that journey through to a conclusion.”

Hiring someone with Brinker’s skill set meshes Merchant’s determination to expand its industry reach, says executive recruiter Louis Diamond, EVP at Diamond Consultants.

“Merchant’s strategy is pretty fascinating because they’ve made their mark in overlapping segments,” Diamond says. “They know that acquisitions and recruiting advisors only pay off if firms are able to grow organically as well as inorganically. And Brinker knows what it’s like to integrate firms.”

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