There is no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year, as advisors shifted to mostly digital practices and navigated market volatility alongside their clients. Year-end will represent a welcome relief for many advisors who were forced to reevaluate their approaches over the last several months. But as the new year beckons, succession planning is one significant item that should be on every advisor’s checklist.
A well-designed succession plan preserves the personal and business relationships that advisors have developed within their practices. It is an essential element if a business is expected to continue beyond the advisor’s retirement. Yet, 73% of financial advisors do not have a written succession plan in place, and 60% of those without a plan are within just five years of retirement, according to a 2018 survey from the Financial Planning Association.
The strongest succession plan is considered early and evolves as your business expands; it is a living document that you adjust to align with your values and goals for your business as it grows. The plan is created with the owner in mind, but also has direct benefits for your clients, business associates and family. While you focus on doing everything in your power to better the lives of your clients daily, don’t lose sight of the fact that having a plan in place for your future impacts them as well.
1. Start by Taking a Step Back From the Day to Day
The first step in designing a strong succession plan is quite simple: Put pen to paper and translate your thoughts and goals into a concrete, yet flexible plan. Take a step back emotionally from your business, and gather the hard data on every aspect of your book. This includes total assets under management, types of assets, number of households, client demographics and more. These data points will be instrumental in reaching a reasonable and realistic valuation of the business.
Advisors tend to numerically overvalue their firm. And we understand why: Trying to put a number on something you have devoted your whole life to is difficult! GVA offers valuation services that provide an objective industry perspective on the dollar value of your business, but we also recognize that your practice is more than just a company. It is an integral piece of your family’s legacy and should be considered as such. Your loved ones should be incorporated into the succession planning process as well. When developing your plan, be sure to clearly outline what your family and beneficiaries will gain from the sale of the practice. Once the numbers have been clearly defined, you can begin to dive into the less quantifiable facets of succession planning.
2. Keep the Intangibles Top of Mind
Throughout the process of creating a succession plan, you should envision what you want your practice to look like after you have exited. Which aspects of the company would you most want to see preserved? These elements help define your legacy.
No matter your sales timeline, you have a responsibility to your clients. They work with you for a reason that likely relates to shared values. The advisor-client relationship is based on more than just trusting someone with your money; it consists of abstract constructs, such as the alignment of ethics and values. The successor who takes on the business also assumes responsibility for the company culture and should be made aware of what clients will expect. This intangible construct should be a key factor as you search for a successor.
3. The Right Partner Shares Your Philosophy
Choosing a successor is often what holds advisors back from beginning the succession planning process. The FPA survey referenced above notes that 67% of advisors worry the business will not be as successful if they are not at the helm. Overcoming this fear can be as simple as establishing trust with the right person.
Whether potential successors are courted internally or externally, plans should be considered early and often because they take time to design and execute. Some advisors choose to mentor a junior advisor already on the team or proactively identify a candidate through an internship program. When selecting an internal candidate, it is vital to foster open communication within the team to ensure everyone remains aligned with the end goal.
If you have not been able to locate the right candidate internally, you should start seeking outside partners. GVA provides support for advisors in this position, offering resources and tools to facilitate a successful pairing and transition process. Our network is expansive and opens the door for conversations with the right types of advisors. We help to identify someone who is both fit for the job and aligns with your values.
No matter how you find the successor, it is critical to do your research. Don’t choose a successor until you are absolutely certain they are the person you want to carry on your legacy. To GVA, finding your perfect match is the top priority. In some cases, the advisor match may be clear but the financing presents a challenge. GVA can help by providing capital up front to facilitate the transaction, so both sides can rest easy.
4. Continue Growing and Improving Upon Your Business Model
As you design your plan, identify areas of improvement for your practice. This process will make your business stronger in the immediate term and more marketable over the long term. Some pain points might not be easily addressed, but identifying them could help you choose the right buyer to improve your offering for clients. Be sure to document how you have resolved issues and overcome challenges, so you can share these relevant details with potential buyers.
GVA understands your business and respects what it means to you, your family and your livelihood. Realizing that you do not have to go through this sensitive, yet critical, process on your own can be the catalyst you need to embark on the journey of succession planning.