Creative Planning Acquires Berno Financial Management

One of the first adviser industry acquisition deals of 2022 underscores the trend of retirement plan-focused firms and wealth management firms joining forces.

By DJ Shaw

Registered investment adviser (RIA) Creative Planning Inc. has announced the acquisition of Berno Financial Management, which has a total of more than $300 million in assets under management (AUM).

Berno was founded by Bruce Berno in 1993 and has helped families and individuals in the greater Cincinnati area, as well as over 20 other states across the country, pursue financial peace of mind. The firm is an independent, fee-only financial planner, offering advice that focuses on the client’s complete financial picture.

“Bruce has built a great practice and his planning-led, tailored investment approach fits in well with our offering,” says Peter Mallouk, Creative Planning CEO. “Bruce and the entire Berno team will be joining our Cincinnati practice as we continue to expand in this important market.”

The character of this acquisition is in line with broader industry trends of increasing retirement and wealth advisory firm consolidation. Likewise, the early-in-the-year announcement of the deal continues the rapid pace of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity seen in 2021, with experts anticipating accelerating year-over-year dealmaking activity to continue into 2022 and beyond.

While notable, this is not Creative Planning’s first deal. Last November, Lockton and Creative Planning said they would be combining forces, with the goal of creating a “best-in-class advisory offering designed to serve corporate retirement plans and the plans’ participants.” The partnership itself is named “Lockton Retirement Services, an Offering of Creative Planning,” with Lockton taking an equity position in Creative Planning meant to underscore the firms’ “mutual commitment” to “forge an aligned, tangible and differentiated partnership.”

Speaking last year on the Creative Planning and Lockton deal, Dick Darian, CEO of Wise Rhino Group, said the partnership represents a significant milestone in the broader M&A action that has been remaking the plan adviser and recordkeeper industry for some time now. The idea is that, by combining the insurance/brokerage resources of Lockton with the independent wealth management capabilities of Creative Planning, the partnership should be well positioned to compete with the likes of CAPTRUST, Hub International, SageView, OneDigital and other firms, all of which have engaged in meaningful M&A activity.

In its latest update, Fidelity found that RIA M&A activity continued to accelerate as 2021 came to a close. RIA deals during the month of November totaled $42 billion in AUM, and year-to-date, there had been 182 RIA transactions, totaling $304 billion. These figures were up 61% and 78%, respectively, compared with the year-to-date figure for November 2020.

As Fidelity’s analysis shows, large deals are driving much of the activity, with 75 deals registering more than $1 billion during 2021. This is nearly double the number of deals of this size or greater reached in all of 2020.