Cetera to buy tax specialist firm for $1.2 billion

As the wealth management acquisition binges rolls on, Cetera Holdings on Monday morning said it was buying Avantax Inc., with close to 3,000 financial advisors who focus on clients’ taxes, for $1.2 billion in an all-cash deal.

Cetera Holdings is the parent of Cetera Financial Group, a giant network of broker-dealers with 9,000 financial advisors and $341 billion in client assets. The acquisition price is $26 per share of stock of Avantax, which has been overhauling its various business lines recently to become focused on financial advisors and the wealth management industry.

Avantax’s advisors work with $83.8 billion in client assets. The $26 per share includes Avantax’s net debt and the purchase price represents a premium of approximately 30% to the closing price of shares of Avantax common stock on Friday, according to the companies.

Avantax Inc. was formerly Blucora Inc. The company saw a spike in its share price over the summer after activist investor Engine Capital sent a letter to the Avantax board asking it to consider a strategic review of the firm, including a potential sale.

The firm made two broker-dealer acquisitions, one in 2015 and the other four years later, spending a combined $760 million for the former HD Vest Financial Services Inc. and 1st Global Inc.

It appears that the focus solely on tax-oriented financial advisors wasn’t enough to sustain the firm going forward. Financial advisors who concentrate on taxes often are on the lower end of annual revenues when measured against the rest of industry, since their focus is taxes, rather than gathering client assets.

Avantax has been wheeling and dealing. Last year, it sold TaxAct, its software business, for $720 million, turning the company into a “pure play” independent broker-dealer and RIA wealth management company, it said at the time.

Cetera has also been busy. In May, Cetera Holdings said that Fidelity veteran Mike Durbin had joined the firm as CEO of Cetera Holdings. Last month, Cetera Financial Group said it completed its deal for the wealth business of insurer Securian Financial Group, bringing on board more than 91% of Securian’s advisors and nearly $50 billion in client assets.

“As we explored expanding Cetera’s capabilities into wealth management and tax expertise as a core component of our growth strategy, it quickly became clear that Avantax was an ideal target and a powerful fit for our business,” Durbin said in a statement.

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