When Michael Benson recently walked into his golf and country club in Naples, he received congratulations and attaboys all around on his impending “retirement.”
News has learned that the company he founded 46 years ago, Naples-based Benson Blackburn, a financial services company specializing in insurance advice for ultra-affluent families and private businesses, has been acquired . Although true, Benson, 66, pushed back on the R-word. “I said, ‘wait a minute, I’m not retiring,'” Benson said. “I’m just getting started. I am more excited than ever to take this business to the next level. »
Benson will do this in conjunction with Alera Group Wealth Services, a division of Alera Group, an independent national insurance and wealth management services company. Financial terms of the deal, announced Nov. 2, were not disclosed. Benson and company director Scott Blackburn will remain with the company as it continues under the Benson Blackburn banner, an Alera Group company, according to a statement.
“Benson Blackburn is one of the few specialty firms in the country with the skills to sit at the table with ultra-high net worth clients and their close advisors to develop wealth preservation strategies,” said Tina Hohman, vice -executive chair and head of the wealth services practice at Alera, said in the statement. “The team’s expertise will benefit clients not only in wealth management services, but across all other divisions of the Alera Group.”
Benson Blackburn, with three employees and a team he operates at M Financial, an insurance buying consortium where he places insurance, is one of the most prominent firms serving high net worth clients in Naples.
Benson founded the company in Cleveland in 1976 and recalls being “on planes 17 days a month” when it was in build-and-grow mode in Ohio. He moved to southwest Florida and moved the company’s headquarters to Naples in 2007 to “get off planes,” also realizing that many wealthy snowbirds were making similar moves, either for six months or all year. The company had six customers in Naples that first year and has since increased that number to some 250 families. In total, Benson Blackburn has placed nearly $8 billion in life insurance since its inception. Additionally, in 2013, Benson and company founded the NextGen Speaker Series, which brought an A-list of accomplished business and philanthropy speakers to town.
Benson started thinking about succession a few years ago, in part to recognize Scott Blackburn, who, at 34, is the company’s next generation. “The question was how do you provide capital for an exit strategy?” Benson said. “We concluded that we needed a strategic partner.”
Benson researched companies that might be suitable and he made a cold call to the Alera Group.
Founded in 2017, Alera has completed at least 150 acquisitions, according to Hohman, generating more than $1 billion in annual revenue. It has 3,500 professionals in offices nationwide who provide employee benefits, property and accident, pension plan services and wealth management services.
Hohman, in an interview with the Business Observer from its Chicago office, explains that Alera’s model is to find and acquire businesses in well-defined niches, while embracing a range of advisor business models. While Alera will manage HR, IT and other services for Benson Blackburn, she has no plans to change the business model or customer approach. “We acquired them because they have phenomenal activity,” Hohman says. “We didn’t buy them just so we could change everything they do. We believe the best ideas win.
Benson adds that Alera’s entrepreneurial partnership approach is a key reason the deal is working and why it closed relatively quickly, eight months after that first call in March. That goes for both the company’s long-term future and Benson’s short-term future as he continues to retire in stiff arms. “I see this more as a merger than an acquisition,” he says. “I was so energized by that.”