Thun Financial Advisors, a Madison, Wisconsin-based advisory firm that over the past 12 years has managed to build a business servicing some 500 clients in more than 50 countries around the world, is planning to grow its business catering to U.S. expats and international clients of other nationalities, after it’s acquired over the next few months by Creative Planning, one of the largest Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms in the U.S.
The deal is expected to complete in the third quarter of this year, and will see Thun founder and sole owner David Kuenzi, pictured left, give up his entire stake in the business he founded in 2008, while continuing to head it up as Creative Planning’s new, and first, overseas division.
Kuenzi’s staff of around 12 financial advisers and other wealth management specialists will also remain in place, and the company will remain in Madison and retain the Thun branding, Kuenzi said in an interview this week.
According to Kuenzi, Thun will help Creative Planning’s owner and president, Peter Mallouk, to fulfill his ambition of expanding his highly successful advice business globally, working with Thun to take advantage of synergies where possible.
Until now, Creative Planning has tended to turn away, or refer to expat specialists like Thun, those of its clients or would-be clients who were heading overseas or already abroad, Kuenzi explained.
“We’ve been talking [about this tie-up] for more than two years,” Kuenzi added.
“During that time we’ve gotten to know each other very well. For about two years I said I wasn’t interested in selling my firm.
“But then, starting in late 2019, I became increasingly convinced that Creative Planning was such a compatible firm with us, in terms of the way they invest, and their emphasis on investing and financial planning, that we both were after the same thing – and also, that their commitment to their vision for an international business wasn’t fly-by-night.”
‘US$45bn in assets’
Creative Planning’s claims to be one of the largest RIAs in the U.S. stems from the fact that it currently looks after around US$45bn in assets for clients throughout the U.S., from its headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas.
According to Kuenzi, it has achieved almost all of that through organic growth rather than through acquisition, which he notes is an “unheard-of” achievement in such a short time.
(Kuenzi says Thun Financial currently manages approximately US$625m on behalf of its clients, almost all of whom either live abroad or, if they live in the U.S., tend to have cross-border tax and/or investment issues.)
Creative Planning was acquired by its current owner, Peter Mallouk, in 2004, after he had worked there for five years as an estate planner – when it was looking after only around US$34m in assets on behalf of clients. These assets under advice and management had grown to US$38bn by February, 2019, when it made its first acquisition, according to Barron’s, the U.S. financial news website.
At that time, Barron’s noted that it had ranked Creative Planning first in its 2017 list of “top RIA firms”.
According to press reports and LinkedIn, Mallouk is a 50-year-old Midwesterner with an undergraduate business degree, MBA and law degree from the University of Kansas, who went straight to work at Creative Planning in 1998, and who has been there ever since.
A little more than a year ago – 15 years after he acquired it – Creative Planning began to acquire a number of other, smaller RIA firms, and today the company says it has 28 offices in 17 states, and clients in all 50 U.S. states.
Mallouk wasn't immediately available for comment.
Kuenzi told the American Expat Financial News Journal that Creative Planning shared Thun Financial’s view that there was “a very great opportunity to service Americans abroad and international markets more generally”, and that by joining forces, the two businesses would be able to make the most of it.
“That is the genesis for this deal: to combine Thun Financials’ unique expertise in cross-border advising with CP’s size, reach and resources, to build an unparalleled cross-border investment and financial planning business,” Kuenzi added.
“Together, Thun Financial and Creative Planning will work to embrace cross-border investors, even as other major financial firms are giving up on them.”
Kuenzi, who grew up in the Madison, Wisconsin area, says he founded Thun in 2008 after working abroad for more than five years, and discovering there was a lack of advisers who had even a basic understanding of what American expats should and shouldn’t do, such as with respect to such basics as their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).
Thun, which is pronounced “tune”, rather than to rhyme with “one”, is named after a town overlooking Lake Thun (Thunersee) in the canton of Bern, Switzerland, where, Kuenzi says, his grandfather is from.
“We wanted a name that would work for a company that would be looking after Americans abroad, and since Kuenzi is a very Swiss name, we thought a Swiss name might be appropriate,” Kuenzi explains.
“Zurich Financial, of course, was already taken. But Thun, it turned out, was still available.
"So we went with Thun.”
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