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Ashland Partners acquired by New York firm

In an industry dominated by firms headquartered in financial hubs such as New York, Tokyo and London, the specialized accounting firm of Ashland Partners & Co. has stood alone on Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville.

But it was only a matter of time before someone found Ashland Partners' Global Investment Performance Standards verification and performance operation to its liking.

ACA Compliance Group, a $54 million New York firm, proved to be the one.

ACA announced Wednesday it had acquired Ashland Partners & Co. and will split the operation. The GIPS staff will join ACA Compliance Group and remain at the Bigham Knoll office. Founder and managing partner Mel Ashland and three partners — Scott Cosentine, Jessica Parker and Carrie Zippi — will carry on operations on Livingston Road in Jacksonville, while keeping offices in Boston and Chicago.

Terms were not disclosed, and the transaction is expected to close in June.

"We looked at a lot of different partners, and going forward we thought this was the best offer for our employees and clients," said Richard Kemmling, president of Ashland Partners.

More than 40 Ashland Partners employees will join ACA Compliance Group. The combined organization will handle more than 1,000 clients, including 49 percent of the verified firms listed in the top 100 managers of institutional assets worldwide as ranked by Pensions & Investments magazine. 

Kemmling joined Ashland Partners 15 years ago and was named president seven years ago. He will share leadership of the ACA office with Justin Guthrie, an ACA Performance Services partner.

"We believe that investors will continue to push more asset managers to comply with the GIPS standards, and this transaction best positions ACA for future growth in this space," Guthrie said. "The addition of the Ashland performance team will allow us to expand further into the global performance assurance space."

Mel Ashland launched the firm in 1992, providing compliance and verification services to the investment management industry, later adding financial statement audits, tax services, custody examinations, and anti-money laundering consulting for the financial industry.

Ashland Partners has more than 100 employees worldwide, with field offices in Boston, Chicago, Denver, New York, Shanghai, Seoul, and a joint venture with a CPA firm in Tokyo. ACA Compliance will lease the Bigham Knoll office suite. In cities where both firms have a presence, offices will be merged.

"The good news for Southern Oregon is that no jobs will be leaving," Kemmling said. "Ashland Partners will stay in business as a still fairly large accounting firm."

Prior to the sale, Ashland Partners & Co. was just outside the Top 100 accounting firms, with 850 clients, Zippi said.

"We'll be in the Top 200 now," Zippi said. "It's an exciting endeavor because it provides opportunities for everybody."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.