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The price tag of CI Financial Corp.’s acquisition spree is pushing $2-billion.

Throughout the pandemic, the financial services company has purchased registered investment adviser, or RIA, firms in the United States at a furious pace, acquiring more than 23 since January, 2020.

CI has not disclosed its total spending on its U.S acquisitions. But according to securities filings, it spent $1.76-billion from the beginning of 2020 through Sept. 30 on acquisitions in its wealth-management business, most of which are the U.S.-based registered investment advisers.

In the first seven quarters of deal-making, CI spent just over $1-billion in cash, almost $100-million in stock, and committed just under $600-million in estimated future payments to the owners of the acquired companies.

The $1.76-billion doesn’t include the company’s four latest wealth-management deals, closed or announced since Oct. 1, that account for an additional $18.5-billion of assets.

In the U.S., an RIA company typically follows an independent business model – it is not part of a larger brokerage – and advisers have a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of clients. The U.S. RIA market has more than 17,000 companies but has undergone a wave of consolidation in recent years.

During a quarterly earnings call on Thursday, CI chief executive officer Kurt MacAlpine told analysts that the acquisition pipeline will see a “slight slowing down in 2022″ as many RIA firms pushed ahead on deals in 2021 because of tax uncertainty. Advisers fear the potential for capital gains taxes to increase in the Biden administration.

Mr. MacAlpine told analysts on Thursday to “keep an eye” out for changes to the company’s disclosures that would may provide additional information on the profitability of the RIA strategy.

Analysts have generally been supportive of Mr. MacAlpine’s strategy, which has helped CI grow and combat declining fund flows in its traditional asset-management business. But one analyst critical of the plan, James Shanahan of Edward D. Jones & Co. LP, noted CI’s outstanding debt has now increased to more than $3.4-billion, 74 per cent higher than a year ago.

“Despite the sharp increase, bond-rating agencies have maintained their investment grade unsecured senior debt ratings,” Mr. Shanahan said. “Given the robust competition to acquire wealth-management platforms in the U.S., which is driving up acquisition premiums, we would prefer to observe debt paydowns and share repurchases.”

On Thursday, CI Financial reported third-quarter net income of $43.8-million or 22 cents a share, down from $130-million or 61 cents in 2020′s third quarter.

Adjusted net income for the quarter – which strips out certain items including acquisition costs – is $159-million or 80 cents a share, up from $133-million or 63 cents for the same quarter last year.

CI Financial’s latest streak of wealth-management acquisitions has also helped boost the company’s total assets, which hit an historic high of $331.8-billion as of Oct. 31, up sharply from $202.6-billion the year prior.

CI’s RIA expansion now means the wealth-management arm dominates the asset-management division, which was the backbone CI was built on. The company’s U.S. and Canadian wealth divisions saw assets climb to $174-billion, up from $66-billion in September, 2020, and now account for more than half of the company’s total assets. Including the recently announced deals, the U.S. wealth-management arm will exceed US$98-billion in assets.

In June, the company hired Marc-André Lewis as its first head of investment management to help boost its asset-management business, which includes the company’s exchange-traded funds business and cryptocurrency funds.

The asset management arm reported its highest quarterly net sales since 2015, with total sales of $821-million, a reversal from redemptions of $2-billion for the same quarter in 2020.

“In the third quarter, we were very active in product development, building out our lineup with new ETFs, liquid alternative funds and ESG mandates,” Mr. MacAlpine said in a statement.

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